Virgin Atlantic To Ground 85% Of Fleet Amid Massive Service Cuts

UK long-haul airline Virgin Atlantic has today announced that it will ground almost all of its fleet amid massive cuts to its services. The airline said today it will ground up to 85% of its fleet, while working towards cutting four-fifths of its services. As a result, all Virgin Atlantic staff have been asked to take two months of unpaid leave out of the next three months.

Virgin A350
Virgin has announced huge service cuts and asked staff to take two months of unpaid leave. Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Flight reductions

The details shared by Virgin Atlantic show that the airline is looking to reduce its flying scheduled by around 80% by the 26th March. The airline is gradually cutting back flights from tomorrow, March 17th, until the 26th, when it will achieve the 80% reduction level.

As a consequence of this, the airline is parking up approximately 75% of its fleet by the 26th of March and anticipates that this number will rise to 85% in April.

While the airline hasn’t released details of specific route cuts or services lost, it has said that it is aiming to focus only on its core routes, and those which still have a level of customer demand. It did, however, say that its London to Newark route would be terminated permanently with immediate effect. The route was the first one flown by the airline, and carried the flight number VS1.

Virgin Atlantic To Ground 85% Of Fleet Amid Massive Service Cuts
Virgin Atlantic’s first-ever transatlantic route has been permanently scrapped. Photo: Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons

Cost reduction measures

Virgin is painfully aware of the consequences of maintaining its workforce alongside this drastically reduced flight schedule, and as such it is taking additional steps to drive down its financial obligations. Following consultation with the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) and union body UNITE, the airline has come up with a few measures to mitigate its losses.

The first, and most notable, of these is a request to all Virgin Atlantic staff to take two months unpaid leave over the next three months. This is equivalent to reducing its workforce by two thirds, although temporarily. The airline says that the cost of this will be spread over six months’ salary, so that it can avoid laying off workers and drastically drive down its costs.

Virgin reception
All staff will be asked to take two months’ unpaid leave. Photo: Virgin

In addition to this, workers are being offered a onetime voluntary severance package and sabbaticals of six to 12 months. Pay increases have been frozen until January 2021, and employer pension contributions will be reduced for a period of a year. While it will still offer an enhanced sick pay policy, this will be reduced to 12 weeks of full pay.

And it’s not just the staff taking a hit. CEO Shai Weiss has taken a 20% pay cut, and will now extend that through to the end of 2020. All of the executive leadership team are taking a pay cut of 15% for the same period.

An appeal to the UK government

The airline is struggling under the current weight of the coronavirus pandemic, and has taken these drastic measures in an attempt to drive down its costs and liabilities during these uncertain times. However, it’s not out of the woods yet, and neither is the rest of the industry.

In a bid to garner more support from the UK government, the airline has appealed for some decisive action on the part of the purse-string holders. Specifically, it is asking for emergency credit facilities to the value of £5 – £7.5bn ($6.14 – $9.2bn), in a bid to boost consumer confidence in the airline industry.

Virgin 2019
The airline has called on the government for support. Photo: Virgin

It has also publicly demanded slot rules relaxation for the full Summer 2020 season to reduce the need for unnecessary, slot preservation flights. A spokesperson commented on this,

“The aviation industry is facing unprecedented pressure. We are appealing to the Government for clear, decisive and unwavering support. Our industry needs emergency credit facilities to a value of £5-7.5bn, to bolster confidence and to prevent credit card processors from withholding customer payments.

“We also need slot alleviation for the full summer 2020 season, so we can match supply to demand – reducing costs and preventing unviable flying and corresponding CO2 emissions. With this support, airlines including Virgin Atlantic, can weather this storm and emerge in a position to assist the nation’s economic recovery and provide the passenger and cargo connectivity that business and people across the country rely on.”

Virgin assures customers that, amid these changeable times and uncertain pressures, the airline will continue to monitor the situation closely. As such, passengers should keep watch for further announcements if they are scheduled to fly with Virgin Atlantic later in the year.

What do you make of all these airline cancellations and service suspensions? Are you impacted by Virgin’s announcement? Let us know in the comments.