2 Weeks In: Virgin Says Transatlantic Flights Will Be 60%+ Full

Virgin Atlantic is seeing strong booking numbers in the run-up to Christmas. Just two weeks into the border reopening, the airline has seen a significant rebound in demand, and this looks to be lasting for a few more months. Let’s find out more.

Virgin Atlantic, Airbus A350
Virgin Atlantic has seen packed flights to leisure destinations like Orlando since the US lifted restrictions. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

New numbers

In a statement seen by Reuters, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss shed light on the airline’s US booking numbers for the next six to eight weeks. This period sees hundreds of thousands of passengers across the Atlantic for the holidays, starting from Thanksgiving and ending in the first week of January.

The airline is currently expecting a load factor of 60-70% during the run-up to Christmas, usually a bustling time for airlines. This is a major recovery compared to pre-November numbers, which saw some flights only carrying a few dozen passengers at a time. Weiss said,

“We will be trading all the way up to Christmas, probably with a 60 to 70% load factor, which is a material improvement.”

Virgin Atlantic, Frankfurt Airport, Cargo Flights
Virgin Atlantic is seeing a strong improvement compared to the last time last year. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

This winter’s load factors are expected to be far lower than the 81% figure Virgin netted for 2019. December tends to be one of the busiest months, with 90%+ load factors not uncommon on the run-up to Christmas. However, with the pandemic still depressing demand, the airline will be happy to see a figure this high to begin with.

US leading the recovery

For Virgin Atlantic, the US market is critical to driving the airline’s recovery through 2022. With much of Asia still out of bounds due to strict quarantines, the US will play an even more outsize role in the airline’s finances than usual. Other major markets for the airline include India and the Caribbean.

Virgin B787
Virgin has been expanding in the Caribbean as passengers look for new holiday destinations. Photo: Getty Images

However, the airline’s route map has grown significantly in the last few months thanks to a global easing of borders. South Africa was removed from the UK’s red list last month. Moreover, the carrier has launched routes to new leisure destinations, capitalizing on growing demand.

To stay afloat, Virgin has pivoted to cargo, flying hundreds of freight-only flights. This was a big change for the airline, which had flown no sole cargo flights in its 37 years of existence before March 2020. However, now, cargo has become an important part of the balance sheet.

US rules

For those looking to travel to the US on Virgin, or any other airline, here are the entry rules. All foreign passengers over-18 must be fully vaccinated with an FDA or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine, with very few exemptions. Additionally, all travelers also need to provide a negative test taken within three days of departing.

Unvaccinated Americans and permanent residents can still fly but must get a negative test within one day of flying and book a post-arrival test. All documents will be verified at check-in or on an app beforehand.

What do you think about Virgin’s current recovery? Let us know in the comments!