|Commenced operations||22 June 1984|
|Frequent-flyer program||Flying Club|
|Airport lounge||Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse|
|Parent company||Virgin Group|
|Headquarters||Crawley, United Kingdom|
|Revenue||£2.740 billion (2012)|
|Operating income||£-135. million (2013)|
Virgin Atlantic (a trading name of Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited) is a British airline and part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group. Delta Air Lines agreed on 11 December 2012 to purchase Singapore Airlines' stake, which will require regulatory approval to be completed. Virgin Atlantic's headquarters is in Crawley, West Sussex, England, near Gatwick Airport.
Virgin Atlantic uses a mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing wide-bodied jets and operates between the United Kingdom and North America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia from its bases at Gatwick and Heathrow airports. Domestic flights within the United Kingdom began from 31 March 2013.
In 2011 Virgin Atlantic carried 5.3 million passengers, making it the eighth largest UK airline in terms of passenger volume. In the year to February 2012, the airline had an annual operating loss of £80.2 million on a turnover of £2,740 million.
Randolph Fields, an American-born lawyer, and Alan Hellary, a former chief pilot for Laker Airways, set up British Atlantic Airways as a successor to Laker Airways. Fields got the idea for an airline operating between London and the Falkland Islands in June 1982, when the Falklands War had just finished. Fields needed expertise, and contacted Alan Hellary, Laker Airways' former chief pilot, who had also been thinking about establishing a regular commercial service to the Falklands. Hellary was in contact with colleagues out of work following the collapse of Laker Airways and they developed the idea.
However the short runway at Port Stanley Airport and the time it would take to improve it made the scheme unviable, so the idea of the Falklands service was dropped. Instead, Hellary and Fields tried to secure a licence from Gatwick Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. A three-day inquiry in May 1983 rejected the application after British Airways, British Caledonian, and BAA objected.
Hellary and Fields then applied for a licence between Gatwick and Newark, using a 380-seat DC-10. However, faced with the prospect of direct competition from People Express, a post-deregulation "no frills" discount airline at Newark, they decided to secure more funding before proceeding.
Fields met Richard Branson at a party in Central London during which he proposed a business partnership. After protracted and testy negotiations, Fields agreed to a reduced stake of 25% in the airline (renamed Virgin Atlantic) and became its first chairman. Following disagreements over operations, Fields agreed to be bought out for an initial sum of £1 million with further payment on Virgin's first dividend. As a result of a High Court action, this additional payment was received shortly before Fields' death from cancer in 1997.
On 22 June 1984, Virgin Atlantic operated its inaugural scheduled service between Gatwick and Newark using a leased Boeing 747-200 (registration G-VIRG), christened Maiden Voyager, formerly operated by Aerolíneas Argentinas. Part of Richard Branson's approach to business is to succeed within the first year or exit the market. This includes a one-year limit on everything associated with starting up. Virgin Atlantic became profitable during the first 12 months, aided by sister company Virgin Records' ability to finance the lease of a second-hand Boeing 747. The firm timed operations to take advantage of a full summer, from June to September the most profitable period of the year.
In 1986, the airline added another Boeing 747 and started a scheduled route from Gatwick to Miami. Additional aircraft were acquired and routes launched from Gatwick to New York JFK (1988), Tokyo (1989), Los Angeles (1990), Boston (1991), and Orlando (1992). In 1987, a service was launched between Luton and Dublin using Viscount turboprop aircraft, but this was withdrawn around 1990. In 1988 Club Air operated two Boeing 727 jet aircraft on behalf of Virgin. These served the Luton to Dublin route until about 1990.
In June 2002, Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to use the Airbus A340-600.
In 2003 Virgin Atlantic carried 3.8 million passengers. This increased to 4.6 million in 2006, placing it seventh among UK airlines, though the long-haul nature of its operations made it second in terms of passenger-miles. During the 2012 Summer Olympics bids, Virgin Atlantic attached London 2012 decals to the rear of many of their Boeing 747-400s.
As part of a test of biofuels, Virgin volunteered a Boeing 747 which flew in February 2008 without passengers from Heathrow to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Plant-based biofuel provided 20% of power for one engine. The airline said it expected to use biofuels based on algae.
In November 2010, it was reported that Virgin Atlantic had appointed Deutsche Bank to begin a strategic review of options for the airline following the tie-up between British Airways and American Airlines. By February 2011, it was confirmed that SkyTeam members Air France-KLM and Delta Air Lines had appointed Goldman Sachs to advise them on a joint potential approach for Virgin Atlantic. Etihad Airways was also reported to be considering a deal, and Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of International Airlines Group, stated that they would be interested in the airline, but only for the lucrative take-off and landing slots it holds at London Heathrow Airport.
On 11 December 2012, Delta Air Lines confirmed the purchase of Singapore Airlines' 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic for £224 million, with future plans to develop a transatlantic joint venture. The Virgin Group and Sir Richard Branson will continue to own the majority 51% of the airline. The deal requires regulatory approval and is expected to complete by the end of 2013.
Historically, Virgin Atlantic relied on an agreement with British Midland (BMI) to provide feeder traffic from elsewhere in the UK to its hub at Heathrow. In 2011 BMI was bought by the International Airlines Group and under the terms of the takeover, IAG had to relinquish the former BMI domestic slots. In 2012 Virgin Atlantic successfully bid for enough slots to start a domestic service in 2013. The domestic UK flights began from 31 March 2013 under the "Little Red" brand, operating a total of 26 daily services from London to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Manchester, providing a link for international passengers flying to London. Virgin will wet-lease four Airbus A320s for the flights, which will be operated by Aer Lingus.
The key trends for Virgin Atlantic over recent years are shown below (figures are for each year ending end February, but exclude Virgin Nigeria 2005-2008):
|Profits (EBT) (£m)||68.0||77.5||46.8||22.9||68.4||132.0||18.5||80.2||135.0|
|Number of employees||c.9,000|
|Number of passengers (m)||4.5||4.9||5.7||5.8||5.5||5.5||5.3||5.4|
|- passenger change year-on-year||8.9%||15.4%||1.4%||5.2%||2.3%||0.3%||2%|
|Passenger load factor (%)||74.3||72.8||76.5||76.9||78.9||82.5||77.5||78|
|Number of aircraft (at year end)||40|
Virgin Atlantic's head office, known as The Office, is located in the Business Quarter of Crawley, West Sussex, England, near Gatwick Airport. The same building houses the corporate offices of Virgin Holidays. Prior to the establishment of The Office, Virgin Atlantic had its head office in Ashdown House on the High Street in Crawley.
Virgin Atlantic has been a rival of British Airways since its inception, as British Airways had been the only airline from the United Kingdom serving long-haul routes to destinations in North America, the Caribbean and the Far East since the BA-BCal merger in the late 1980s.
In January 1991, the UK opened Heathrow Airport to Virgin when it abolished the London Air Traffic Distribution Rules (TDRs) in response to pressure from the industry. The London TDRs had come into effect in 1978, originally created to achieve a fairer distribution of traffic between Heathrow and Gatwick, the UK's two main international airports, to help Gatwick make a profit. The former rules stated airlines without an international scheduled service from Heathrow prior to 1 April 1977 would not be permitted operations there; instead they would have to use Gatwick. However, airlines that did not already operate at Heathrow were still able to commence domestic scheduled services there provided BAA, which ran both Heathrow and Gatwick on behalf of the UK Government, and the Secretary of State for Transport granted permission.
The decision to open Heathrow to all newcomers in 1991 other than those governed by Bermuda II angered BA's chairman Lord King, who stopped British Airways' donations to the Conservative Party in protest. Lord King was further angered by the subsequent decision of the CAA to transfer two pairs of unused landing slots that British Airways held at Tokyo's Narita Airport to Virgin to let it increase its frequency between Heathrow and Tokyo from four to six weekly round trips, making it easier for Virgin to compete against British Airways. King called the CAA's decision, which the Government had endorsed, "a confiscation of his company's property".
According to industry insiders, Virgin Atlantic had increasing financial problems during this period. This was primarily the result of a reduction in demand for travel caused by the recession of the early 1990s, as well as by public fear of travelling in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Britain's Conservative Government was aware that Dan-Air was on the brink of bankruptcy, and wanted to avoid the collapse of another independent[nb 1] British airline, especially if its profile was as high as that of Virgin Atlantic. The Government decided to let Virgin Atlantic into Heathrow despite opposition from British Airways, whilst Branson sold his prized Virgin Records in 1992 to EMI to raise capital to shore up Virgin Atlantic's position. In the year to October 1993, Virgin Atlantic declared a loss of £9.3m.
The decision to abolish the London TDRs and to let Virgin Atlantic operate at Heathrow in competition with British Airways became the trigger for BA's so-called "dirty tricks" campaign against Virgin. In 1993 BA's public relations director, David Burnside, published an article in BA News, British Airways' internal magazine, which argued that Branson's protests against British Airways were a publicity stunt. Branson sued British Airways for libel, using the services of George Carman QC. BA settled out of court when its lawyers discovered the lengths to which the company had gone in trying to kill off Virgin. British Airways had to pay a legal bill of up to £3 million, damages to Branson of £500,000 and a further £110,000 to his airline. Branson donated the proceeds from the case to Virgin Atlantic staff.
In the 1990s, Virgin Atlantic jets were painted with "No-Way BA/AA" in opposition to the attempted merger between British Airways and American Airlines.
In 1997, following British Airways' announcement that it was to remove the Union Flag from its tailfins in favour of world images, Virgin introduced a Union Flag design on the winglets of its aircraft and changed the red dress on the Scarlet Lady on the nose of aircraft to the union flag with the tag line "Britain's Flag Carrier". This was a tongue-in-cheek challenge to BA's traditional role as the UK's flag carrier.
Relations with British Airways improved with the arrival of Rod Eddington as BA CEO, though rivalry continued. Eddington replaced Robert Ayling, involved in the dirty tricks affair, who was dismissed by Lord Marshall, the long-serving BA chairman and Ayling's mentor, on behalf of BA's main institutional shareholders after BA had its first net loss since privatisation during Ayling's time during its 1999/2000 financial year.
In June 2006, a tip-off from Virgin Atlantic led US and UK competition authorities to investigate alleged price-fixing between Virgin Atlantic and British Airways over passenger fuel surcharges. In August 2007, BA was fined £271 million by the UK Office of Fair Trading and the U.S. Department of Justice; it could have been more, but the figure was upheld in recognition of a guilty plea. Virgin Atlantic was not fined as it was given immunity for reporting the cartel to regulators.
In April 2010, a tip-off from Cathay Pacific led to the UK Office of Fair Trading investigating alleged price fixing between Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific on flights to Hong Kong between 2002 and 2006. Cathay Pacific will benefit from immunity as long as they continue to cooperate with the authorities. A maximum fine if found guilty is 10% of turnover which based on the £2.5 billion in sales for the year to the February 2009 would be £250 million. At this stage, the competition authorities stressed that it should not be assumed that the parties involved have broken the law.
Virgin Atlantic's fleet uses both Airbus and Boeing aircraft, with an average age of 9.6 years as of April 2012. Boeing 747-400s and Airbus A330s are used on selected routes from Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester, with the A330 being used on other flights as well. Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s are used interchangeably on all routes from Heathrow. The ageing Airbus A340 aircraft will begin to leave commercial service, with its four engines making it less economical to run. Rising fuel costs make the aircraft less attractive to airlines but when the A340 was being developed, the ETOPs ratings allowed the A340 to travel more direct routes than its competitors such as the Boeing 777, but with much more developed engines, the 777 with only two engines can now fly the same routes and so therefore is more fuel efficient than the A340.
Virgin Atlantic has orders for Boeing 7879 and Airbus A380-800 aircraft for delivery beginning 2014 and 2015, respectively. The A380 was expected in service in 2006 but was delayed until 2009 because of problems within Airbus. Virgin then deferred its order to 2013, arguing it wanted the aircraft to prove itself before it began to operate them.
The order for 15 Boeing 787-9s, with options on eight more and purchase rights on 20 more, was announced on 24 April 2007. The aircraft will replace Virgin's older A340-300s. Virgin has listed Seattle, Vancouver, Bangkok and Melbourne as possible destinations for the aircraft, saying the 787 would make possible non-stop operations from London to Perth, Australia and Honolulu, Hawaii.
On 27 September 2006, Branson announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting aircraft weight and fuel consumption. There was also an experiment in 2007 in partnership with Boeing to have aircraft towed to the runway to save fuel, as a potential change to future operational procedures.
Two Virgin Atlantic aircraft are featured in the James Bond film Casino Royale. One Airbus A340-600 (G-VWIN) and one Boeing 747-400 (G-VWOW) along with Branson and Virgin Atlantic crew, are part of a scene set at Miami Airport, although the sequence was filmed at Prague's Ruzyn International Airport. Virgin Atlantic's relationship with the James Bond franchise continued in Quantum Of Solace, where James Bond and René Mathis travel to La Paz, Bolivia, on board Virgin Atlantic, in Upper Class, although in reality the airline has never flown to any destination in South America.
Virgin began refitting all of the "leisure fleet" 747s in April 2012, with the work due to be completed in October. This will include a deep clean of upper class, installation of the Premium Economy "space seat" and a new economy seat. The IFE will also be replaced with the state of the art JAM system seen on the A330 fleet. After the upgrades Virgin will then refit the two two-class A330s into a three-class layout and station them at London Heathrow.
Virgin Atlantic's fleet consists of the following aircraft as of January 2013:
|Airbus A340-300||4||34||35||171||240||Out of service 2012/2013|
||Entry into service: 2015|
|Boeing 7879||16 ||8||
||Entry into service: 2014|
In the past, Virgin Atlantic has operated a variety of aircraft. The retired fleet includes:
|Airbus A320||19952004||Operated for Virgin Sun.|
|Airbus A321||20002003||Operated for Virgin Sun.|
|Boeing 747100||19902000||G-VMIA named 'Spirit of Sir Freddie' after Sir Freddie Laker.|
|Boeing 747200||19842005||G-VIRG was Virgin's first aircraft.|
Virgin's first aircraft were painted with a "Eurowhite" design with a red stripe through the centre of the main deck windows. The engines were metallic silver and the tail red with the Virgin logo in white. In the 1990s the refreshed design was introduced, removing the centre red stripe through the windows, engines were painted red, the Virgin Atlantic titles in grey were added along the main fuselage and the 'Flying Lady' was introduced to the nose area.
In October 2006 with the delivery of G-VRED, Virgin introduced a new design, with the aircraft fuselage painted in metallic silver and a revised tail fin, with red and purple features and the Virgin logo.
Near the nose of each aircraft is a pinup girl, the "Scarlet Lady", carrying a Union flag, which was designed by British artist Ken White who modelled the motif on the World War II pin-ups of Alberto Vargas hence the naming one of the fleet Varga Girl.
Each aircraft has a name, usually feminine, such as Ladybird, Island Lady and Ruby Tuesday, but some are linked to registrations (e.g. G-VFIZ became Bubbles). There are a couple of commemorative names (e.g. G-VEILQueen of the Skieswhich was named by Queen Elizabeth II on 7 April 2004 in celebration of the centenary of the Entente Cordiale). An exception is Spirit of Sir Freddie. An early Boeing 747, it was named in honour of Freddie Laker of Laker Airways, who helped Virgin Atlantic run following the demise of his own airline.
G-VFABLady Penelopegained a special livery to celebrate Virgin Atlantic's 21st birthday. The Scarlet Lady was enlarged and moved to the rear of the aircraft, a Boeing 747400, and the aircraft was temporarily renamed Birthday Girl. The aircraft made a special flight recreating the first Virgin Atlantic flight, from London to New York, with Richard Branson and a number of special guests on board. Since Virgin's 21st birthday, this aircraft has maintained this special livery, with the minor change of the 21st birthday balloon's removal from the nose area.
In 2010, the livery was replaced with a latest design, going back to the "Eurowhite" design featuring purple billboard titles on the fuselage of the aircraft, slight changes to the Scarlet Lady and new red metallic paint for the aircraft's tail and engines. The wingtips, which previously carried the Union Jack flag, were repainted red, with the Virgin logo on the inside facing passengers on board. The Virgin Atlantic logo was also added to the underside of the aircraft, in purple billboard titles.
Over the years, Virgin has used many slogans, including:
|This section appears to be written like an advertisement. (June 2012)|
Economy is the standard basic class of Virgin Atlantic. Economy features include meals, drinks, headsets and amenity kits for all passengers. Seats have a minimum seat pitch of 31 in (depending on the aircraft type). In addition, updated economy seats have adjustable lumbar support, by October 2012, the entire fleet will feature updated economy seats.
Premium Economy has a separate check-in area, priority boarding, a wider seat with more legroom, and additional cabin services such as a preflight drink, newspapers and dedicated cabin crew. An updated Premium Economy service was recently introduced with meals served on china & glass with metal cutlery. As with Economy, in November 2006, Virgin launched an updated product with a wider seat that also supplies laptop power. It is being installed across the fleet starting with London Heathrow-based A340 aircraft. As of January 2013 all Airbus A340s, A330s, and London Heathrow Boeing 747s have the new product. The Premium Economy cabin on the new A330-300s consists of 59 seats at the front of the aircraft.
Upper Class is the equivalent of business class on all Virgin Atlantic Airways' flights. Virgin does not offer a traditional First Class cabin service. The Upper Class seat is claimed by the airline to be the biggest fully flat bed of any airline's business class service (it is approximately 202 cm long and 84 cm wide), although Air Canada and Singapore Airlines have made similar claims. The seat offers in-seat laptop power and power leads for iPods, and Upper Class passengers have access to a chauffeur, drive-through check-in and private security channel at some airports, Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses, a larger menu than that of Premium Economy and Economy passengers and an in-flight bar. The seats in the Upper Class cabin are arranged in a Herringbone seating design. Most A330-300 aircraft are not fitted with Upper Class but new A330s introduced in April 2012 will include Virgin Atlantic's new 'Upper Class Dream Suite' seats and cabin, which begins service on 21 April and will be rolled out through the rest of the Virgin Atlantic fleet by 2015.
All cabin classes on all Virgin Atlantic aircraft offer personal seat-back televisions. Most aircraft (some 747-400s, one A340-300 and all A340-600s) have an Audio/Video on Demand (AVOD) system called VERA On Demand. Some A340-300 aircraft have VERA Reel which is not on Demand. The new A330-300 aircraft and refitted Gatwick/Manchester 747's have a new touch screen AVOD system called VERA Touch.
Virgin Atlantic operates the Flying Club, which is a frequent-flyer program that allows members to earn and redeem miles on Virgin Atlantic services, as well as with partner airlines and companies. Members are divided into Red, Silver and Gold status, with members able to upgrade status' by accumulating tier points. Tier points are are used to calculate the member's eligibility for membership renewal, upgrade or downgrade during the membership year. Higher-tiered members are provided with increased travel benefits such as priority check-in, additional baggage allowance, priority flight booking and airport lounge access.
|Tier Level||Benefits||Requirements to earn||Requirements to retain|
||Free membership||N/A; miles expire if no account activity for 36 months|
||Earn 15 tier points within a rolling 13 month period||Earn 15 tier points within a membership year|
||Earn 40 tier points within a rolling 13 month period||Earn 40 tier points within a membership year|
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