Where Did Virgin Atlantic Fly The Boeing 747?

Virgin Atlantic operated 30 Boeing 747s across three variants: the -100; -200; and -400. Some 13 B747-400s (code: 744) were operated, with scheduled service ending in March 2020 following a flight from Los Angeles to London Heathrow. We look at the role of the 744 for Virgin.

Virgin Atlantic 747-400
Virgin used the B747-400 from 1991 until 2020. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Just before last Christmas, Virgin operated its last ever 744 flight from Heathrow. The destination was Las Vegas, and the honor went to G-VROY. This specific aircraft was delivered to Virgin in June 2001, ch-aviation.com shows, just three months before the horrific events of September 11th.

Oscar Yankee was one of seven 744s delivered to the carrier in 2001, with the last (G-VROC) arriving two years later. G-VROY has since entered service with Atlas Air as N482MC.

Virgin B747-400
Orlando was hugely important for Virgin’s 744s. Photo: Getty Images.

The end of the runway for quads

Virgin’s retirement of the B747-400 was sped up by coronavirus, just as it was for British Airways, Corsair, KLM, Qantas, and others. It brought to an end Virgin’s 36-year history with the iconic quadjet. The author has a good memory of flying it from Newark to Heathrow and having a wonderful late evening view of Manhattan.

Indeed, Virgin also retired the A340-600 in March 2020, meaning it no longer has any fuel-inefficient four-engine widebodies (admittedly with inferior hard products) in its fleet. Like other airlines, the carrier’s foreseeable future is now in the hands of twins:

  • A330-200/300
  • A330-900 (on order)
  • A350-1000
  • B787-900
Virgin B747-400
Virgin’s 747-400s were used from five UK airports. Photo: Getty Images.

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25 destinations saw the 744

If the period from 2004 to 2020 is added up, Virgin used the 744 to some 25 destinations from the UK, according to aviation data experts Cirium. Specific routes included Belfast International to Orlando (from 2015) and Glasgow to Orlando (from 2007) and Las Vegas. Glasgow-Las Vegas had just four round-trips in 2015.

Of course, the vast majority of services were from Gatwick, Heathrow, and Manchester. With some 23.5 million seats by the B747-400, Gatwick saw it the most, followed by Heathrow (14.3 million) and Manchester (7.2 million). The quad’s last full year at Heathrow was 2015.

With three-quarters of all departures, the B747-400 was overwhelmingly used to the USA. It had over eight times more flights than Barbados, the second-most-served nation. The lack of 744 services to Asia is very notable. Historically, this continent was primarily served by the A340-600 and the A340-300.

Virgin's B747-400 network 2004 to 2020
This is Virgin’s B747-400 network between 2004 and 2020. The type last served Washington Dulles in 2004. Image: OAG Mapper.

The B747-400 was very much about the USA

Between 2004 and 2020, Virgin’s US network saw 10 airports served by the type. Most intriguingly, these included Atlanta, which operated from Manchester beginning in 2018 to feed 49% owner Delta over its number-one hub.

In the peak year of 2019, Manchester-Atlanta had an average seat load factor of 73%, according to the Department of Transportation’s T-100 dataset. Virgin replaced Delta, which had operated the route itself for many years until 2017.

Virgin B747-400
Virgin used the 744 to just airport in Asia in 16 years: Mumbai. And that was only in 2009 and for a limited time. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Top-10 routes

Virgin’s B747-400 operation was hugely about Orlando, for which the 455-seat aircraft was very suited. Indeed, the Florida airport had nearly one-third of Virgin’s departures by the type, as reflected in the top-10 routes. Gatwick-Orlando had more flights than the last five routes combined.

  1. Gatwick-Orlando
  2. Manchester-Orlando
  3. Heathrow-New York JFK
  4. Heathrow-San Francisco
  5. Gatwick-Barbados
  6. Heathrow-Newark
  7. Heathrow-Miami
  8. Gatwick-Montego Bay
  9. Heathrow-Los Angeles
  10. Gatwick-Havana

Did you fly the quad with Virgin? If so, what are your memories? Please share them in the comments.