|Commenced operations||22 June 1984|
|Frequent-flyer program||Flying Club|
|Airport lounge||Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse|
|Headquarters||Crawley, United Kingdom|
|Revenue||£2.90 billion (2013)|
|Operating income||£-128.4 million (2013)|
Virgin Atlantic, a trading name of Virgin Atlantic Airways Limited, is a British airline majority-owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group. The Virgin Group owns 51% of the airline, and Delta Air Lines owns the remaining 49%. Virgin Atlantic's head office is in Crawley, West Sussex, England, near Gatwick Airport. The airline was established in 1984, and was originally planned by its co-founders Randolph Fields and Alan Hellary to fly between London and the Falkland Islands. The pair met Richard Branson and, through negotiations, renamed the airline Virgin Atlantic. The maiden flight from Gatwick to Newark Liberty International Airport was completed on 22 June 1984.
Virgin Atlantic uses a mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing wide-body jets and operates between the United Kingdom, North America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Asia from its main bases at London Heathrow and Gatwick. The airline also operates a secondary base at Manchester, as well as a seasonal base from Glasgow. The airline has operated domestic flights within the United Kingdom since 31 March 2013. It is administratively separate from other Virgin-branded airlines.
In 2012, Virgin Atlantic carried 5.4 million passengers, making it the seventh-largest UK airline in terms of passenger volume. In the year to 31 December 2013, it reported a 51 million pound group pre-tax loss (approximately US$85.8 million).
- 1 History
- 2 Corporate affairs
- 3 Destinations
- 4 Fleet
- 5 Marketing
- 6 Services
- 7 Incidents and accidents
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes and citations
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Conception and birth
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 had the idea for an airline that operates between London and the Falkland Islands in June 1982, when the Falklands War had just finished. Fields needed expertise, and contacted Alan Hellary, 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 International 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 McDonnell Douglas 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 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 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 within the first 12 months, aided by sister company Virgin Records' ability to finance the lease of a secondhand 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.
Rivalry with British Airways
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 that 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 begin 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.
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.
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".
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 (OFT) and the US Department of Justice; it could have been more, but the figure was upheld in recognition of a guilty plea. Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, admitted becoming aware of the price fixing, but not taking action against it. Virgin Atlantic was not fined, as it was given immunity for reporting the cartel to regulators.
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 its Boeing 747-400s.
Two Virgin Atlantic aircraft were featured in the 2006 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 Ruzyně 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.
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. Virgin also volunteered a Boeing 747 for a test of biofuels in February 2008. The aircraft flew without passengers from Heathrow to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, with 20% of the power for one engine provided by plant-based biofuel. Virgin said that it expected to use algae-based biofuels in the future.
In April 2010, a tip-off from Cathay Pacific led to the OFT investigating alleged price fixing between Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific on flights to Hong Kong between 2002 and 2006. Cathay Pacific received immunity from prosecution for reporting the alleged offence. A maximum fine, if found guilty, was 10% of turnover which based on the £2.5 billion in sales for the year to February 2009 would have been £250 million. At the time, the OFT stressed that it should not be assumed that the parties involved had broken the law. The OFT cleared both airlines in December 2012, concluding there were "no grounds for action".
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 operates several offices and contact centres around the world. While the largest office is located in Crawley, the largest contact centre is located in Swansea, Wales. The contact centre in Swansea deals with reservations, baggage claims and customer complaints for English-speaking passengers around the world. There is also an office in Johannesburg which deals with English speaking passengers as well as those that are based in Southern Africa. Local offices are also located in Delhi, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo for local-language passengers.
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. Regulatory approval from the United States and European Union was granted on 20 June 2013, and the purchase was completed on 24 June.
The key trends for Virgin Atlantic over recent years are shown below (figures are for each year ending end February; they exclude Virgin Nigeria 2005–2008):
|Profits (EBT) (£m)||68.0||77.5||46.8||22.9||68.4||−132.0||18.5||−80.2||−69.9|
|Number of employees||c.9,000||9,580|
|Number of passengers (m)||4.5||4.9||5.7||5.8||5.5||5.5||5.3||5.4||5.5|
|- passenger change year-on-year||8.9%||15.4%||1.4%||5.2%||2.3%||0.3%||2%||3.5%|
|Passenger load factor (%)||74.3||72.8||76.5||76.9||78.9||82.5||77.5||78.1||79|
|Number of aircraft (at year end)||40||40|
Historically, BMI provided feeder traffic into Virgin Atlantic's hub at Heathrow Airport from elsewhere in the UK and Europe. In 2011, BMI was bought by British Airways' parent company International Airlines Group; 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, all operating out of BMI's old domestic base at Gate 8 of Heathrow's Terminal 1. 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 wet-leased four Airbus A320s for the flights, operated by Aer Lingus under an initial three-year partnership. Virgin Atlantic Little Red flights are timed to provide the most convenient connections to long-haul operations at London Heathrow. The service operates in an all-economy configuration; and complimentary snacks and drinks are provided, including a hot breakfast on flights departing before 09:00.
|This section is outdated. (May 2014)|
Virgin Atlantic uses a mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft, with an average age of 9.6 years as of February 2014. Boeing 747-400s and Airbus A330-300s are used on selected routes from Gatwick, Glasgow, and Manchester, with the A330 being used on other flights as well. Boeing 747s, Airbus A340s and Airbus A330s are used interchangeably on all routes from Heathrow. In August 2002, Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to operate the Airbus A340-600. The ageing Airbus A340-300 aircraft is due to be phased out of commercial service, as rising fuel costs have made it less economical to run. Virgin has begun to use the two-engine A330-300 on routes operated by the A340-300.
Virgin Atlantic has orders for Boeing 787-9 and Airbus A380-800 aircraft for delivery beginning 2014 and 2018, 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 that it wanted the aircraft to prove itself before it began to operate them. In July 2013, Virgin announced it was delaying the delivery of its A380s until 2018, primarily due to studies as to whether it is a suitable aircraft for the airline.
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 nonstop operations from London to Perth, Australia and Honolulu, Hawaii.
Virgin refitted all of the "leisure fleet" Boeing 747-400s in 2012. This included a deep clean of upper class, installation of the Premium Economy "space seat", and a new economy seat. The inflight entertainment system was replaced with the new JAM system seen on the A330 fleet. The airline received three-class versions of the Airbus A330 in April 2012, and stationed them at Heathrow Airport.
Virgin Atlantic's fleet consists of the following aircraft as of May 2014:
|Airbus A340-300||3||—||—||34||35||171||240||Phased out by 2018|
|Airbus A380-800||—||6||6||TBA||Entry into service: 2018|
|Boeing 787-9||—||16||5||31||35||198||264||Deliveries from September 2014|
In the past, Virgin Atlantic has operated a variety of aircraft. The retired fleet includes:
|Airbus A320-200||1995–2000||One leased for a London to Athens service, replaced by an A321 in 2000.|
|Airbus A321-200||2000–2003||Leased for a London to Athens service to replace an A320, named Hellenic Beauty|
|Boeing 747-100||1990–2000||G-VMIA named 'Spirit of Sir Freddie' after Sir Freddie Laker.|
|Boeing 747-200||1984–2005||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 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 pin-up 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-VEIL—Queen of the Skies—which 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 following the demise of his own airline.
G-VFAB—Lady Penelope—gained 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 747-400, and the aircraft was temporarily renamed Birthday Girl. The aircraft made a special flight to recreate 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 the latest design, going back to the "Eurowhite" design featuring purple billboard titles on the fuselage, 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 in purple billboard titles to the underside of the aircraft.
Over the years, Virgin has used many slogans, including:
- "No Way BA/AA": Used in the late 1990s on several 747-400s to express Branson's displeasure with the proposed British Airways – American Airlines partnership. Between them, BA and AA held 100% market share on several US–UK routes (for example Dallas-Fort Worth to London), and a market share of more than 50% in several more (for example Chicago to London and JFK to London). The slogan was brought back starting in September 2008, after merger talks between British Airways, Iberia Airlines, and American Airlines began.
- "Britains Flag Carrier" : When British Airways was utilising its "ethnic liveries", Virgin painted the Union Flag on its fleet's winglets.
- "4 engines 4 long haul" : At a time when competitors were switching to ETOPS twin engine airliners, Virgin's fleet of A340s and B747s was all 4-engined, hinting at greater safety on long routes. Hastily removed when orders for A330s and B787s were announced.
- "Still Red Hot For 25 Years": Introduced as part of the 25th anniversary television advertisement in 2009.
- "Your Airline's Either Got It, Or It Hasn't": Revamped 2010 slogan, which made its first appearance on the new commercial, alongside a new logo and livery.
- "Flying in the face of ordinary (FITFOO)": Alongside a brand new advertising campaign created with agency RKCR/ Y&R – this slogan focuses on how Virgin Atlantic staff make the airline stand out from its competition
Economy is the standard basic class of Virgin Atlantic. Economy travel includes meals, drinks, in-flight entertainment and headsets, as well as amenity kits for all passengers on night flights. Seats have a minimum seat pitch of 31 in, depending on the aircraft type. In addition, updated economy seats with adjustable lumbar support were introduced across the fleet by October 2012.
- Premium Economy
Premium Economy has a separate check-in area, priority boarding, a wider seat with more legroom, and additional cabin services such as a pre-flight drink, newspapers, and dedicated cabin crew. An updated Premium Economy service was recently introduced with meals served on china and glass with metal cutlery. As with Economy, Virgin launched an updated product in November 2006 with a wider seat that also supplies laptop power, beginning with the 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 on the 747-400s are sometimes mixed with economy on the upper deck. The Premium Economy cabin on the new A330-300s consists of 59 seats at the front of the aircraft.
- Upper Class
Virgin Atlantic does not operate a traditional business class or first-class service, but rather a combination product branded Upper Class. This features a seat that converts into a 6' 6" fully flat bed, and also offers in-seat laptop power and power leads for iPods. Most Upper Class passengers have access to a chauffeur, drive-through check-in and a 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. Virgin Atlantic introduced a new 'Upper Class Dream Suite' seat and cabin in 2012, to be introduced through the rest of the fleet by 2015.
Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer personal entertainment for all passengers in all classes. All aircraft offer personal seat-back televisions. All new and refurbished aircraft (some Boeing 747-400's and Airbus A330-300's) offer VERA Touch, which allows passengers to access films, television programmes, music and video games and other content via a touch-screen control and a touch-sensitive screen. All other aircraft (some Boeing 747-400's and all Airbus A340-600's) offer VERA on Demand, which offers on-demand entertainment, including films, television programmes, music and video games. Some A340-300 aircraft have VERA Reel, which is not on-demand.
Frequent flyer programme
Virgin Atlantic operates the Flying Club, 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; members may upgrade status by accumulating tier points. Tier points 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, 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|
Incidents and accidents
- On 5 November 1997, after numerous attempts to shake free the jammed main landing gear of an Airbus A340-300 (G-VSKY) failed, the aircraft en route from Los Angeles to Heathrow, made an emergency landing at Heathrow Airport. The aircraft sustained major damage to the undersides of engines 1, 2, and 4, which made contact with the runway surface during landing. The runway surface was also damaged and several runway lights were broken as the right main landing gear wheels broke up during the deceleration. The aircraft was evacuated safely. Two crew members and five passengers sustained minor injuries during the evacuation.
- On 8 February 2005, on board an Airbus A340-600 aircraft (G-VATL) en route from Hong Kong to Heathrow, the fuel control computer system caused a loss of automatic fuel transfer between tanks. The left outboard engine lost power, and shortly afterwards the right outboard engine also began to falter until the crew began to crossfeed fuel manually. The crew diverted to Amsterdam and landed safely. The interim accident report made four safety recommendations addressed to the primary certification bodies for large transport category aircraft (EASA and the FAA), advising on the need for a low-fuel warning system for large aircraft.
- Air transport in the United Kingdom
- List of airports in the United Kingdom
- Transport in the United Kingdom
Notes and citations
- Independent from government-owned corporations
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- Branson, Richard (2006). Losing my Virginity – The Autobiography (2nd reprint ed.). London: Virgin Books. p. 362.
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