Virgin Atlantic has revealed its road map to recovery, with the launch of its flying schedule for 2021, confirming the closure of its base at London Gatwick.
The future existence of the beleaguered airline has been called into question during the coronavirus pandemic as global demand for air travel has plummeted. This week Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic’s owner, said he was selling £400 million worth of shares in his space project, Virgin Galactic, to prop up the carrier.
But the airline said bookings for next summer will open from Saturday, with routes announced to 24 destinations. It said in a statement: “As countries start to lift travel restrictions and demand for travel begins to return, it is expected that Virgin Atlantic will steadily increase passengers flying in the second half of the year, with a further, gradual recovery through 2021.
Services to the Caribbean, including Barbados and Montego Bay, and Orlando, which previously flew from Gatwick, have been moved to Heathrow, while Virgin doubled the frequency of its flights to Tel Aviv, to twice daily. The airline revealed it will continue to operate flights from Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast.
The flying schedule also confirmed the retirement of the airline’s Boeing 747s, with next year’s flights to be operated on A350s, A330s, and the 787 Dreamliner.
Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer of Virgin Atlantic, said the pandemic had given the airline time to “pause, reflect and reshape” its flying programme.
“We have taken the opportunity to pause, reflect and reshape our 2021 flying programme looking at efficiencies in our fleet and connectivity across our network, to ensure it is fit for the future, flying to the destinations we know our customers love to fly,” he said.
“We’re delighted that our popular Tel Aviv service, which launched in September 2019, will now increase to double daily, whilst regional flying from Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast will continue to play an important part in offering choice to customers and connecting UK travellers to Orlando, Barbados, Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles.”
The carrier is currently flying only cargo flights until May 24, with the date reviewed on a week’s rolling basis; it has not announced a date for the resumption of passenger services. Tickets for 2021’s schedule, which launches on March 28 next year, will be on sale from May 16.
Though more and more carriers are preparing for the return of flights, Virgin Atlantic, like many of the world’s airlines, are not out of the woods yet. Iata, the International Air Travel Association, has warned that it could take years for passenger numbers to recover.
Earlier this month, Virgin Atlantic announced it would pull out of Gatwick Airport and cut 3,150 jobs, roughly a third of its workforce, in an attempt to cut costs. The company is particularly exposed to the virus as long-haul flights have been the worst affected in the sector, and are likely to take the longest to recover.