Virgin Atlantic Celebrates Its 35th Birthday – A Brief History

Virgin Atlantic celebrates its 35th Birthday this year! After starting operations in 1984, the airline has grown to become a prominent long-haul carrier in the UK. Now, as the airline seeks its next major expansion, let’s take a look back and see how Virgin Atlantic became what it is today.

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Virgin Atlantic’s had a long road to their 35th birthday. Photo: Boeing


On June 22, 1984, Virgin Atlantic operated its first flight. A 747 carried passengers from London-Gatwick to Newark. The aircraft, dubbed Maiden Voyager, was a 747-200.

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Virgin Atlantic’s first aircraft was a 747-200 dubbed Maiden Voyager. Photo: Steve Fitzgerald via Flickr

One of the most important routes out of London is to the New York Area. Today, this route sees all major US carriers operating in addition to flights on both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic metal.

Since then, Virgin Atlantic has grown. Throughout the 1980s, Virgin inducted additional aircraft, including 747s, and opened new routes to Tokyo and Miami.

Virgin Atlantic in the 1990s

In the early 1990s, Virgin Atlantic began operations at London Heathrow after new government actions opened up Heathrow for additional flights. Then, Virgin Atlantic launched Premium Economy. Now, in 2019, some airlines are only just starting to unveil new Premium Economy products.

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The 747 has always had a place in Virgin’s operations. Photo: Virgin

The 747 kept flying and building up Virgin’s route network. Los Angeles, Boston, and Orlando opened up during the 1990s.

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Early Virgin Atlantic aircraft tails. Photo: Virgin

At the end of the 1990s, Singapore Airlines purchased a 49% share of Virgin Atlantic. In addition, throughout the 1990s, Virgin Atlantic got into some notable spats with British Airways. This included the launching of a new campaign against a merger between British Airways and American Airlines.

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A Virgin Atlantic A340 with the “No Way BA/AA” slogan. Photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia Commons

Virgin Atlantic in the 2000s

The 2000s started with the 9/11 attacks. These attacks left global airlines reeling from the impact of reduced travel demand. After a few years, Virgin Atlantic returned to turning large profits and ordered 787 Dreamliners and A330 aircraft.

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Virgin Atlantic ordered A330 aircraft in 2009. Photo: Aero Pixels from England via Wikimedia Commons

Virgin Atlantic from 2010

In this last decade, Virgin Atlantic underwent a few changes. From 2013 to 2015, Virgin Atlantic wet leased A320s from Aer Lingus to conduct domestic services. This was under the “Little Red” brand. After suffering losses, Virgin Atlantic eventually wound up the airline.

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Little Red operated with wet leased A320 aircraft. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

British Airways and American Airlines worked closely as partners. Virgin Atlantic also wanted a similar tie-up with an American airline, and found a partner in Delta Air Lines. In 2012, Delta Air Lines bought Singapore Airlines’ 49% stake. Since then, Delta Air Lines and their partners Air France-KLM have worked closely with Virgin Atlantic on a transatlantic tie-up.

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Virgin Atlantic found a transatlantic partner in Delta Air Lines. Photo: Delta

Virgin Atlantic also put the 787 into service. The 787 offered the carrier unbeatable economics on several routes. With a large number of technological improvements, the 787 also improved the passenger experience onboard.

Recent developments

Virgin Atlantic will soon take delivery of the A350-1000. With these aircraft, Virgin Atlantic can phase out older A340-600s and 747-400s. Virgin is just continuing the trend of replacing four-engined aircraft with more efficient twinjets.

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Virgin Atlantic will soon fly their first A350-1000. Photo: Virgin

Furthermore, on their A350-1000s, Virgin Atlantic will introduce a brand new Upper Class product.

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Virgin Atlantic will debut a new Upper Class on their A350-1000s. Photo: Virgin

In addition, to continue the trend of fleet simplification, Virgin Atlantic will replace their A330ceos with new A330-900neo aircraft.

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Virgin Atlantic will soon operate new A330-900neo aircraft. Photo: Virgin

Even now, Virgin Atlantic’s acquisition of Flybe means they can open up more connecting opportunities and bring more passengers onto their aircraft. This is a huge step after Little Red previously failed. After some years of cutbacks, Virgin Atlantic is now back and expanding with route resumptions.


Virgin Atlantic plans to keep expanding and beating expectations. Long a thorn in British Airways’ side, Virgin is on the path to strengthening their position in the United Kingdom. 

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