Virgin Atlantic announces London Heathrow to Manchester route from March 2013 with three daily flights

Ken O’Toole, CCO Manchester Airport Group, is happy that Manchester is Virgin Atlantic’s first destination in its short-haul expansion, breaking BA’s new monopoly to London.

Ken O’Toole, CCO Manchester Airport Group, is happy that Manchester is Virgin Atlantic’s first destination in its short-haul expansion, breaking BA’s new monopoly to London. “We are pleased to see Virgin Atlantic increasing their presence in Manchester and to see competition returning on the London route, as that will be to the benefit of passengers flying from our airport.” However, passenger numbers on the route have declined since 2004.

Whether coincidentally or not, within days of being informed that Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group had lost the UK West Coast rail franchise from the end of this year, Virgin Atlantic has announced that it will start operating three daily A319 flights between London Heathrow and Manchester from the beginning of the summer 2013 season. The airline has said that it will utilise its own slots currently leased to another airline, and will not be relying on any so-called ‘remedy slots’ that it has applied for that BA is being forced to give up at Heathrow in return for EU approval of its acquisition of British Midland. Virgin Atlantic has not yet confirmed where it will source the aircraft and crew from.

With IAG (British Airways) having acquired bmi from Lufthansa earlier this year, the city-pair has now basically become a BA monopoly, a far cry from the choice of five airlines that passengers had in both 2005 and 2006 between London and Manchester.

London – Manchester traffic peaked in 2004

Air passenger numbers between London and Manchester have fallen by almost 50% since the peak of almost two million in 2004. Last year, only Heathrow and Gatwick offered flights to Manchester and the total number of passengers was just under one million, of which just over three-quarters were between Heathrow and Manchester.

London - Manchester 1996-2011 Annual passengers (millions)

Source: UK CAA

A review of weekly frequencies offered by the various players since the summer of 2004 for the peak summer month of September clearly highlights how the market has declined.

Heathrow Gatwick Stansted London City
September 2004 BA 65, BD 47 BA 44 T3 15 VG 47
September 2005 BA 69, BD 47 BA 44, LS 17 T3 15 VG 42
September 2006 BA 61, BD 47 BA 44, LS 16 AB 12 VG 38
September 2007 BA 55, BD 47 BA 44 AB 12 VG 38
September 2008 BA 56, BD 52 BA 44 T3 19 VG 31
September 2009 BA 51, BD 40 BA 35
September 2010 BA 51, BD 41 BA 35
September 2011 BA 51, BD 43 BA 28
September 2012 BA 93 BA 21
Source: Innovata data
AB: airberlin, BA: British Airways, BD: bmi, LS:, T3: Eastern Airways, VG: CityJet

Apart from British Airways and bmi, the market has seen airberlin, CityJet, Eastern Airways and all come and go during the last decade.

What they said

Virgin Atlantic’s CEO Steve Ridgway said: “Flying between Heathrow and Manchester is just the start for our new short haul operation. We have the means to connect thousands of passengers to our long haul network as well as to destinations served by other carriers. Our new service will provide strong competition to omnipresent BA. It will keep fares low and give consumers a genuine choice of airline to fly to Heathrow and beyond.”


  1. David Johnson says:

    Understand that Virgin will wet lease aircraft + crew to operate Heathrow-Manchester.
    Rather a coincidence that the deadline for applying for remedy slots at Heathrow to Aberdeen and Edinburgh should be only a couple of days after Virgin announce a Manchester route. If these remedy slots are granted to an airline other than Virgin, how persistent will Virgin on their Manchester route in the face of likely initial losses ?

  2. David Johnson says:

    The part of the article about the decline of air traffic on the London-Manchester route omits the core reason for this decline, namely the major upgrade of the train line for this route – perhaps you might like to add a sentence somewhere for your audience ?
    Trains used to take 3+ hours. Once the upgrade was complete around 2005, trains were able to run every 20 minutes throughout the day, taking just 2h10 for a city centre – city centre trip.

  3. Parker West says:

    This is an interesting scenario that has many similarities to Houston-Dallas, LA-San Fran, Chicago-Minniapolis, St Louis in the State’s. It would have been helpful to have some idea of the total tavelors divided up by train and airplane, along with an approximation of the average fare, and, as the person before me stated, the time in transit. To outsiders, a rough estimation of the distance would also complete the story. With the outlandish security measures, or more truthfully, security theatre, at some point the trade off between traveling by train vs plane comes out very much in favor of the train. I can see Virgin offering a connection fare at the same price as the fare out of London on a long haul. That capture, helps them and saves the passenger the cost of the train. So this makes sence for some folks. If we in the US, had the quality and availability of train transportation as you in the UK and Europe overall, I would live on trains. I can fly to LA from my home in 50 minutes, Las Vegas in 40, IF I could skip all the hassles and time wasted and go by train, that would be my choice. Airlines have killed proposals to offer fast train service between large cities 200-400 miles apart, meaning we have no options.

Comments are closed