Virgin Atlantic Stops Offering Flights To Hong Kong

  • Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350-1041 (2)

    Virgin Atlantic

    IATA/ICAO Code:
    VS/VIR

    Airline Type:
    Full Service Carrier

    Hub(s):
    London Heathrow Airport

    Year Founded:
    1984

    CEO:
    Shai Weiss

    Country:
    United Kingdom

  • Asia Pacific Airlines, 2020 Loss, COVID-19

    Hong Kong International Airport

    IATA/ICAO Code:
    HKG/VHHH

    Country:
    China (Special Administrative Region)

    CEO:
    Fred Lam

    Passenger Count :
    1,196,000 (2021)

    Runways:
    07R/25L – 3,800m (12,467ft) |07L/25R – 3,800m (12,467ft)

    Terminals:
    Terminal 1 |Terminal 2

After almost 30 years of flight services to Hong Kong, UK-based Virgin Atlantic has made the decision to suspend its Heathrow-Hong Kong route indefinitely and will also be closing its Hong Kong office. The route closure will lead to nearly 50 job cuts, including the office staff and Hong Kong-based cabin crew.


Virgin Atlantic bids Hong Kong farewell

The route has been paused since December 2021 due to the strict pandemic restrictions in Hong Kong and when the Hong Kong government enforced a flight suspension for UK-Hong Kong passenger flights. Regardless, Virgin Atlantic had confidently planned to resume flights from March 26th next year.

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It seems all previous plans were thrown out of the window. However, Virgin Atlantic emphasizes that it was a tough decision, and the indefinite suspension of the route was the only viable option. A spokesperson for the airline said:

“After careful consideration, we’ve decided to suspend our London Heathrow – Hong Kong services and close our Hong Kong office, after almost 30 years of proudly serving this Asian hub city. We’re sorry for the disappointment caused to our loyal customers on this route. Anyone booked to travel from March 2023 will be offered a refund, voucher, or the option to rebook on an alternative Virgin Atlantic route.”

The indefinite suspension of the Heathrow-Hong Kong route means the Virgin airline brand will bid an unfortunate farewell to the Asian city.

In 2019, Virgin Australia ended its Hong-Melbourne, and Hong Kong-Sydney services, reducing the number of connecting passengers inbound and outbound from Australia. Photo: Virgin Australia

Virgin Atlantic cites operational difficulties

But why would Virgin Atlantic cease such a long-established international route, and crucially, why now, since Hong Kong has finally relaxed most of its strict regulations? The full-service carrier said the decision was made due to significant operational difficulties, specifically from the closure of Russian airspace due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Based on the continued airspace closure, the Heathrow-Hong Kong route flight time would require approximately an additional hour. The return flight time from Hong Kong to Heathrow would take even longer, almost two hours compared to before the airspace closure. Longer flight times would require additional fuel uplifted, and given the current fuel prices, it’d be too much of an expense for the airline.

And according to Virgin Atlantic, the Heathrow-Hong Kong route was already losing its profitability before the pandemic due to the lack of connecting passengers. Pairing declining profitability with reduced demand and the airspace closure, it is understandable why Virgin Atlantic deemed the route as no longer viable.

With the extended flight time on Virgin Atlantic, passengers might also prefer flying with other airlines with shorter flight times on the same route, further reducing demand for the British carrier. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Virgin Atlantic was already on the losing side

Considering Virgin Atlantic had already axed two Hong Kong services before the pandemic, it’s pretty indicative that the Asian city was quite a loss for the carrier. The lack of connecting passenger traffic and a significant airline partner was the major disadvantage for Virgin Atlantic compared to its rival flag carriers British Airways and Cathay Pacific, the remaining two airlines serving the Heathrow-Hong Kong route.

Not to mention, Virgin Atlantic houses a much smaller long-haul fleet compared to the flag carriers, so the airline has to strategize its fleet and network properly to maximize growth potential. The airline’s strategy would then be the North Atlantic market, given its joint venture with Air France-KLM and Delta Air Lines having almost 50% ownership stake in the airline, so focusing on its transatlantic network would be its safest bet.

And it plans to do just that. With Hong Kong axed out, Virgin Atlantic has some freed-up capacity, which it will use to increase frequencies in other critical markets for next year’s summer schedule. Perhaps, the airline has some transatlantic expansions and maybe increases in the East, such as Africa, India, and Pakistan, where passengers could connect from North America.

Virgin Atlantic used its Boeing 787-9 aircraft for the Heathrow-Hong Kong route. Photo: Getty Images

Bottom line

It is indeed disheartening to see a route terminated after nearly 30 years, although Virgin Atlantic says it still looks forward to returning to Hong Kong if possible. But given the lack of profitability, it’s unlikely, as the airline stated:

“We’re constantly reviewing the performance of our network and as part of our long-term strategy of being sustainably profitable. We’re committed to only flying profitable routes.”

Although in an exciting twist, Virgin Atlantic still plans to resume flight services to Shanghai. Given how the airline will soon join the SkyTeam alliance and how Shanghai is an alliance hub with China Eastern Airlines based there, staying in Shanghai seems strategic for Virgin Atlantic. Connections would also probably come easier in Shanghai since it is a much larger market.

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