Virgin Atlantic Plans 37 European Routes If Heathrow Expansion Goes Ahead

Virgin Atlantic is planning to add short-haul destinations to its operations. The plans revolve around the airline accessing more Heathrow slots as part of the airport’s planned expansion.

Virgin Atlantic, Short Haul Network, Heathrow Slots
Virgin Atlantic would like to launch a short-haul network. Photo: RHL Images via Wikimedia

Virgin Atlantic currently flies to 19 destinations from London Heathrow. All of these are long-haul destinations. However, the airline today announced plans to increase this number to 103,  over five times as many destinations as are currently offered. A key part of this route expansion network is the launch of domestic and short-haul flights. The airline is calling for “an end to IAG’s stranglehold over the UK’s only hub airport”.

Domestic carrier

London Heathrow is the UK’s busiest airport and in the top ten busy airports in the world. Currently, British Airways and Flybe offer domestic flights from London Heathrow. Virgin Atlantic was part of the company which bought Flybe earlier this year. Flybe currently flies to four destinations, all domestic, from London Heathrow. These are Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Guernsey, and Newquay.

These flights are likely planned to be operated by Virgin Atlantic, as they are in the new route plan. It wouldn’t make sense for Virgin to compete against an airline which it partly owns. Additionally, within the UK, Virgin wants to serve eight more destinations. These are Inverness, Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Exeter, Belfast City, and Jersey.

Virgin Atlantic, Short Haul Network, Heathrow Slots
Four of Flybe’s routes are included in the proposed expansion. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Short-haul aspirations

Despite previous attempts at launching short-haul operations not working out, the British airline is giving things another look. In fact, according to the airline, they hope to launch 37 European destinations ranging from Lisbon to Stockholm and Toulouse to Istanbul.

By launching a complete short-haul network, it would allow the airline to feed traffic for its long haul flights. Currently, if a passenger in Munich wants to travel on a Virgin Atlantic flight to New York, they’d have to fly with another airline to reach London.

This could cause them to instead opt to fly direct with a carrier such as Lufthansa or to choose an airline such as British Airways, where the flight is operated as a connection.

Virgin Atlantic, Short Haul Network, Heathrow Slots
Virgin’s planned short-haul flight network. Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Why the expansion?

Virgin Atlantic want’s to challenge IAG’s “dominance” at London Heathrow. IAG is the owner of British Airways and holds more than 55% of slots at the airport. Virgin argues that no other airline has more than 5%.

As such, the airline is arguing for a reform of the way that slots are handed out to airlines. With a third runway planned for the UK’s busiest airport, plenty of slots are sure to open up soon.

Speaking about the announcement Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said: “Heathrow has been dominated by one airline group for far too long. The third runway is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the status quo and create a second flag carrier. This would lower fares and give real choice to passengers, as well giving Britain a real opportunity to boost its trade and investment links around the world.”

Do you think Virgin has what it takes to launch a short-haul network? Would you choose to fly with them? Let us know your views in the comments!