Virgin Atlantic

Following Delta’s purchase of 49% of Virgin Atlantic, the two airlines are determined to challenge the long held dominance of British Airways & American Airlines on flights between Heathrow & New York.

AMERICAN AIRLINES NEW LOOKAs with British Airways & American Airlines, the new Delta / Virgin Atlantic pairing is set to be granted anti-trust immunity which will allow the two airlines to co-ordinate slots and schedules as well as sharing revenue. The new joint venture is set to come into being in early 2014 and will be the first serious challenge to the British Airways / American Airlines partnership which accounts for around 50% of traffic between London & New York, the world’s single most important airline route.

Code sharing between Delta & Virgin commences on 3rd July with Virgin Atlantic placing its code on 91 Delta flights and the US carrier placing its flight number on 17 Virgin flights, including the new short-haul routes between Heathrow and both Edinburgh & Manchester.

Between them, the 2 airlines operate 23 daily flights between Heathrow & the US including 9 daily flights between Heathrow and New York JFK.

Delta’s President, Ed Bastian, has also indicated that they are seriously looking into new, direct flights between Heathrow & Seattle, a service that British Airways currently holds a monopoly on, although there was no indication of whether these flights would be operated by Delta or Virgin (we would assume the latter).

Virgin Atlantic




Virgin Atlantic has announced the suspension of flights between London Heathrow and Accra, citing the high cost of fuel in Ghana as well as poor flight timings.

Virgin Atlantic Virgin launched flights some 3 years ago but has struggled to compete with British Airways which has the obvious benefit of a far greater onward route network at Heathrow. In addition, the scarcity of slots at Heathrow meant that Virgin was only able to offer a morning departure from Accra, less popular and convenient than British Airways overnight flight back to the UK which allows for many more onward connections, especially to the US. Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have also complained about the high cost of aviation fuel in Ghana, somewhat ironic as the sudden interest in Ghana has come about because of the discovery of huge offshore oil reserves.

Commenting on the decision, Edmond Rose from Virgin Atlantic stated: “We have had to take the difficult decision to suspend our services between London and Accra. We were excited to enter the market and have been pleased to be part of the growth and development taking place in the country. However, we have been severely impacted by the price of fuel in Ghana which has resulted in us being forced to tanker fuel into Accra from the UK. Scarcity of slots at London Heathrow has meant that we have been unable to offer morning arrivals into London, which makes us a less attractive option for the business traveller. This has also limited our ability to offer connections onto our wider transatlantic network. These are still challenging times for the airline industry and we have to deploy our aircraft to routes with the right level of demand to be financially viable.”

The airline’s last flight from Ghana will depart on 23rd September.

For British Airways, under pressure on so many routes around the world, today’s announcement will come as welcome news. West Africa is, in many ways, the ideal market for British Airways; a growing population, increasingly affluent middle class, a significant business travel market, near total lack of local airline competition and an insignificant threat from indirect carriers, means that this a region we can expect the airline to profit from for many years to come.

British Airways daily 777 service to Accra

British Airways daily 777 service to Accra








virgin little red

Over the years British Airways & Virgin Atlantic have had numerous colourful disagreements. Now, with the launch of Virgin’s domestic service, Little Red, the battle will be played out over the skies of the UK for the first time.

Following its takeover of bmi in 2012, British Airways was forced to give up a number of slots on routes between Heathrow and Manchester, Edinburgh & Aberdeen. It would have had to do the same on flights between Heathrow & Glasgow except for the fact that bmi had already stopped operating the route before the takeover. Having given up the slots, it came down to a straight flight between Virgin Atlantic & Air Lingus as to who would take them over and, as the former could boast a complementary long-haul route at Heathrow, it came as no surprise to industry watchers when the slots were awarded to Virgin.

British Airways Terminal 5 ArrivalsStarting with services to Manchester, followed by the launch of flights to Scotland this April, Little Red now offers six daily flights between Heathrow & Edinburgh, three daily flights between Heathrow & Aberdeen and four daily flights between Heathrow & Manchester. One of the amusing ironies of this story is that because Virgin Atlantic doesn’t have any experience of flying short-haul, Little Red flights will be operated by aircraft and crew from, yes, you guessed it, Air Lingus.

All flights will be operated by A320 aircraft in the Virgin Atlantic livery, as per the picture above. The airline will offer a single cabin service with all-leather seats and hot-breakfast rolls on flights before 9am.

So, will Virgin be able to compete with British Airways and make a profit? Well, it’s always been hugely difficult for anyone to make a profit on UK domestic flights but especially full service airlines. In terms of cost, Little Red is unlikely to be able to compete with Easyjet & Ryanair (although neither fly to Heathrow) while British Airways has more slots and bigger aircraft which it could use (surely not!) to drive prices down. As a stand-alone service it seems highly unlikely that Little Red will ever make money so its value to the airline can only be considered as a feeder service. Clearly there are passengers near all three airports who will welcome the ability to fly Virgin all the way to the US, Africa & Asia but are there enough of them? Having recently seen US carrier Delta take a 49% stake in the airline,  and with talk of Virgin Atlantic joining the Sky Team alliance, Richard Branson must feel confident that Little Red won’t go the way of bmi.

A lovely BA plane in flight