Why Virgin Wants Far More Heathrow Slots Following Expansion

Preparing for London Heathrow having a third runway, Virgin Atlantic is calling for more slots at the UK’s busiest airport once the project is complete. Comments were made earlier this summer – in June – but the issue is back in the spotlight after Air Transport World reported yesterday that the airline wants changes to London Heathrow’s slot regime.

Virgin A350
Virgin Atlantic recently took delivery of its first A350, which will begin operation soon. Photo: Virgin

The battle for slots

According to ATW, Virgin Atlantic wants changes to Heathrow’s slot regime, allowing it to grow from 30 to 160 slots once the third runway is complete. Although it’s still an estimated seven years away, the third runway at Heathrow is anticipated to increase flight capacity by nearly 60% over the next 30 years according to TTG Media.

The same article reports that Weiss wants 43% of the 350 new slots at Heathrow. Virgin Atlantic has alleged that British Airways parent company IAG has a “stranglehold” at London Heathrow. This is supported by IAG holding more than 55% of capacity at Heathrow when considering all of its subsidiary airlines: BA, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus, and LEVEL. This greatly overshadows Virgin and its partners (Delta and Air France-KLM) who hold less than 10%.

According to CityAM, Weiss wrote a letter in June to Lilian Greenwood, chair of the government’s Transport Select Committee. In it, Weiss said the current rules around slot allocation give IAG an effective monopoly at London Heathrow:

“As things stand, International Airlines Group holds more than 55% of all take-off and landing slots at Heathrow, with no other airlines having more than 5% of capacity. One group’s stranglehold on our nation’s hub airport means other airlines do not compete effectively on anything approaching a level playing field, and passengers are paying the price. Expansion offers a genuine once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shake up the market in favour of creating strong competition, greater choice and lower fares for consumers and business.”

Response from IAG

In response to the letter and Virgin’s assertions, an IAG spokesperson said the following:

“Cost-effective expansion of Heathrow will enable more airlines to fly from the airport and we welcome the additional competition. However, slot allocation should be undertaken according to Iata’s internationally agreed and very effective world slot guidelines.”

Why Virgin Wants Far More Heathrow Slots Following Expansion
IAG is the parent company of British Airways. Photo: cedarjet201 via Pixabay

Slot guidelines are set in great detail by IATA – the International Air Transport Association. According to Travel Weekly, new slots are distributed based on airlines’ existing proportion under existing rules.

According to the Times, Weiss says these rules would be “favoring the incumbent”.

The UK’s second flag carrier

“Our ambition is to become Britain’s second flag carrier.” -Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic

Previously, the airline’s CEO, Shai Weiss, announced a 10-year goal for Virgin to become the UK’s second flag carrier after British Airways. In an interview with Travel Weekly, Weiss made mention of all the moves the airline has made in recent years to achieve this goal:

We bought Flybe, saving over 2,000 jobs and 1,400 pensions. It’s a great opportunity to feed passengers into Manchester and Heathrow. We’re taking delivery of 12 Airbus A350s which are 30% more fuel efficient [than the Boeing 747s Virgin currently operates] and we have a wholly new cabin.

“We’re going after new markets – we’ll fly to Tel Aviv from September and to Sao Paulo from 2020. Later in the year, we’ll extend our transatlantic joint venture with Air France-KLM.”

Virgin A350 with icon
Virgin’s new A350. Photo: Virgin


What do you think of Virgin Atlantic’s calls for more slots? Should they be following IATA’s rules or is it an uneven playing field as the majority of airlines are under IAG ownership? Let us know by leaving a comment.

We reached out to both Virgin Atlantic and London Heathrow for comment but have not yet received a response from either.