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Virgin Atlantic has record winter ASKs; serves 29 destinations with JFK number one

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic’s first commercial flight was between London LGW and Newark in June 1984. More than 39 years later, the long-haul-only airline is the fourth-largest carrier to serve the UK by Available Seat Kilometres (ASKs) this winter. Only British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet are larger in this sense.

According to Planespotters.net, Virgin’s 41-strong fleet averages 7.2 years in age. It has A330-300s, A330neos, A350-1000s and 787-9s. Its short-haul narrowbody operations – the most recent being domestic-only Little Red – did not last long.

Serves two UK airports this winter, but three in summer

Due to COVID, Virgin closed its London LGW operation. While British Airways has since returned, including long-haul, Virgin has not. Instead, the carrier, partly owned by Delta Air Lines, consolidated at Heathrow, and transferred leisure-driven routes. As such, Cirium indicates that the airline’s Heathrow ASKs have risen by 8% versus W19 – against about a +1% increase generally.

Virgin remains the second-largest airline at Heathrow by ASKs, just as it has been for decades. The airport now accounts for 92% of capacity production, up from just 71% in W19. Manchester accounts for the remaining 8% with routes to Atlanta (to feed Delta), Barbados, New York JFK (partly to feed Delta) and Orlando.

Virgin Atlantics winter capacity 2013-2023

Glasgow and Belfast are no longer served

Glasgow, which entered Virgin’s network in 2007, was cut in December 2019. It shifted to Edinburgh in December 2021 with service to Barbados, but it ceased the following February. Its sole route – Orlando – is now summer-only.

Northern Ireland was previously also served on a long-haul basis. In June 2015, it inaugurated Belfast BFS-Orlando on a summer basis mainly using the 747-400. It ended amid the pandemic in June 2022.

Prague International Airport

29 destinations are served this winter

Examining Virgin’s W23 network reveals 29 destinations in 16 countries and five continents/regions. Not surprisingly, North America is first (12 destinations, all in the US), followed by the Caribbean (eight), Asia (four), Africa (three) and the Middle East (two).

Recent additions include Heathrow-Malé, launched on 22 October 2023 (3-weekly), and Heathrow-Providenciales on 4 November 2023 (2-weekly). They build on others, such as Heathrow-Tampa on 2 November 2022 (5-weekly), the first time the airport pair has been served, and Heathrow-Austin on 25 May 2022 (4-weekly). The Texas route ends in January 2024.

Destinations launched (or relaunched) during the pandemic and which remain served this winter include Cape Town, Nassau, and St. Vincent (Europe’s first flights). Given COVID saw VFR markets perform well, Virgin also started Pakistan service. Three routes started in December 2020: Manchester-Islamabad and Heathrow to Islamabad and Lahore. They have since ended.

Virgin Atlantic Male

JFK is number one

Given 12 of Virgin’s 29 destinations are in the US, and the general high frequency of service, it is not surprising this one nation – of the 16 it serves – accounts for more than one in two ASKs (57%). It has five times more capacity than number two, India. Half of the airline’s top 10 destinations are in the US, with JFK alone responsible for a quarter of capacity.

Top 10 Virgin destinations W23

Milan Bergamo Airport