Virgin Atlantic launches first ‘eco’ flight from London to Florida amid promise of ‘guilt-free travel’

Virgin Atlantic has launched the first direct flight between London and Florida using the “greenest plane in the skies”.

The inaugural flight to Tampa departed from Heathrow at 8am on Tuesday and is due to arrive at Tampa International Airport 10 hours later, 2pm local time.

An Airbus A330neo – nicknamed Billie Holiday – was used for the flight. Virgin is the first UK airline to fly the aircraft, which is described as “one of the quietest and most fuel efficient in the sky”.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss said the A330neo planes paved the way to “guilt-free travel”.

Eight Miles High: The Wandering Hands provide in-flight entertainment on the way to Tampa (Ross Lydall)
Eight Miles High: The Wandering Hands provide in-flight entertainment on the way to Tampa (Ross Lydall)

Prior to a band called The Wandering Hands providing live in-flight entertainment, Mr Weiss told the Evening Standard: “To get to a place where there is guilt-free travel is exactly where all of us need to get to.

“The number one thing airlines need to do is fly the youngest fleet in the sky. This reduces carbon emissions considerably. We are flying in a brand new A330-900neo, from Airbus. The plane it replaces, the A330, which is a good one, is 11 per cent less efficient.

“Over the last decade we have reduced our carbon emissions by 36 per cent, despite flying six per cent more. We are calling on other airlines to do exactly the same – invest, and have the youngest fleet in the sky.

“Our fleet is [on average] seven years old. Our closest competitor is about 13 years old. We are all on the road to net-zero flying by 2050.”

Virgin first used the A330neo aircraft last month on its route between Heathrow and Boston. It will take delivery of thee of the aircraft this year and plans to have 16 in use by 2026.

On November 10, Miami will become its third destination on which the A330neo is used.

Virgin regards Florida as its “heartland” and, by the end of November, will fly daily to Tampa, twice a day to Miami and up to four times a day to Orlando.

Virgin is the only airline to fly directly between Heathrow and Tampa. It will provide more than 190,000 seats a year on the route.

The A330neo also includes an improved upper class area and more “social space”, including a “retreat suite” plus its fastest-ever wifi.

The retreat suite consists of two suites at the front of the cabin. Each suite has an ottoman that doubles up as an extra seat, meaning up to four people can dine, chat, watch a film or play games in their own private space.

Virgin regards the A330neo as crucial to it operating the “cleanest fleet in the sky”. All its planes will be “next generation” by 2027.

It says the planes are designed to be 11 per cent more fuel and carbon efficient than the A330-300 aircraft they are replacing, due to more fuel-efficient engines. The planes also deliver a 50 per cent reduction in airport noise contour.

Virgin Atlantic was founded by Sir Richard Branson in 1984. It employs 5,900 people worldwide and flies to 27 destinations across four continents.

About five million people live in the wider Tampa area, which includes Tampa Bay, St Pete and Clearwater.

Florida’s third largest city is regarded as a gateway to the Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and Busch Gardens theme parks.

Key industries include financial services and a growing technology sector. The area has year-round warm weather and “stunning” Gulf Coast beaches.

The city is also home to the American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and ice hockey team Tampa Bay Lightning.

Return economy fares start from £436 per person, premium from £937 and upper class from £2,256.