Virgin Atlantic Celebrates 37 Years After A Really Bad One

Today Virgin Atlantic celebrates 37 years since it first flew from London Gatwick to Newark Liberty International Airport as VS1. However, the past year is likely one that Virgin would rather forget, given the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virgin Atlantic, Anniversary, Bad Year
Virgin Atlantic turned 37 today, but the last year wasn’t one for the history books. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

For most airlines, an anniversary is typically a reason to celebrate. This year will be different. We’ve seen a slew of airlines ceasing operations, and not many of those who haven’t have had cause for celebration. The hit has been nasty for UK airlines, with most international travel ending up banned for much of 2021 so far.

Not the best year…

The past 12 months haven’t been the best for Virgin Atlantic. The airline operated no flights in June 2020, given the impact of the pandemic, according to aviation data experts Cirium. Since, traffic levels slowly recovered to a peak of 649 flights in January. Sadly, this didn’t last long. What had been gained again was lost when the UK Government banned all non-essential travel until May, with fines of up to £5,000 threatened.

To illustrate how bad it was for the airline, we only need to look at how many people were flying with the airline. Virgin told Simple Flying that on April 23rd, only 70 passengers were onboard flight VS131 to Barbados. With 258 seats on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, this gave a load factor of just 27%.

Virgin Atlantic, Anniversary, Bad Year
The airline took a massive hit from the impact of COVID-19. Data: Cirium

However, it wasn’t just flights that got the ax since the start of COVID-19. The airline also announced the retirement of its Boeing 747 fleet. The last Queen of the Skies left Virgin Atlantic’s fleet in December 2020, but not before Simple Flying’s Jake Hardiman managed to get onboard one last time.

What about the coming year?

It wasn’t all bad news for Virgin Atlantic in the past 12 months. While the airline suffered from a lack of passengers, it turned its head to cargo. This saw the airline’s aircraft operating to some exotic (for it) destinations such as Brussels and Frankfurt. The airline also operated mammoth long duty legs from London Heathrow to London Heathrow via Shanghai.

There is hope that the next 12 months will be far better than the previous 12, and there are some small indications that this will be the case. It has been suggested that the quarantine requirement will be lifted for double-vaccinated travelers coming to England from amber list countries in August.

Boris Johnson, Joe Biden, UK-US Travel Corridor
The airline is hoping for a better 38th year. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Currently, quarantine-free travel is only possible from a handful of destinations on the green list. The only one of these destinations served by Virgin Atlantic is Tel Aviv in Israel. Currently, foreign nationals are only permitted to enter Israel with an entry permit, meaning that it is not now a viable destination for many tourists.

The UK and US are also currently in talks about resuming travel between the two countries. This would be a boon for Virgin Atlantic, given that their flagship route is to New York.

What do you think of Virgin Atlantic’s rough year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!