** Update: 13/04/20 @ 12:46 UTC: Virgin Atlantic has responded to Simple Flying stating that this flight was not repatriation but a normal passenger service that allows US nationals to fly back to New York. Read below for more information. **
Earlier this week, Virgin Atlantic joined in with efforts to fly stranded passengers home. The airline used an Airbus A350-1000, of which it has four, to fly stranded citizens back to JFK in New York. However, the plane was filled well below capacity. This particular Virgin Atlantic service had just seven passengers on board!
Details of the flight
Virgin Atlantic is believed to have completed a flight earlier this week to bring stranded American’s back to the US. According to a post on the business networking site LinkedIn, Ian Norman, a captain with Virgin Atlantic, said that he was proud to have been part of a critical workforce that delivered the citizens home.
It is thought that the flight was primarily an aid flight. The aircraft had been carrying cargo but there was also space for the seven customers who were keen to get back to New York City. We contacted Virgin Atlantic to find out more. A spokesperson told us:
“We have not done any specific repatriation flights to JFK. As part of our skeleton operation, we continue a passenger service between LHR and JFK which transports both passengers and cargo, allowing movement of US nationals back to New York and the transportation of key supplies between the two destinations.”
At this time, Virgin Atlantic has not revealed any additional information such as the flight number or aircraft registration of this service.
However, a FlightRadar24 search suggests that the aircraft is likely to have been G-VPRD. It is an Airbus A350-1000 aircraft (named as Rain Bow) which was acquired by the airline in September 2019. According to publicly available data, the aircraft was completing flight VS685 between London Heathrow and John F. Kennedy International Airport on 10th April. At 15:36 UTC, the aircraft left London Heathrow and completed the nearly seven-hour flight. It arrived in JFK, New York at 22:47 UTC.
Playing its part in the repatriation efforts
Whilst perhaps Friday’s flight was not the most impactful in terms of passengers rescued, it is part of a wider rescue mission to bring citizens home. The airline posted on Twitter saying that it had been part of numerous repatriation efforts in the past few weeks and it has more scheduled.
We’re so glad to have the opportunity to operate a number of rescue flights for the @foreignoffice to bring UK citizens home and are very proud to play a part in getting people safely back. pic.twitter.com/gdEybSOtqf
— virginatlantic (@VirginAtlantic) April 10, 2020
Virgin Atlantic is now getting to the very last few repatriation flights it will offer. Its website offers assistance for those stuck in India and South Africa with the airline saying:
“If you’re stuck in India: Flights will depart Mumbai and Delhi on 10th April and 12th April…If you’re stuck in South Africa: Flights will depart Cape Town on 9th April and Johannesburg on 11th April.”
These are the final Foreign and Commonwealth Office repatriation flights that Virgin Atlantic is offering. In theory, by the end of today, Virgin Atlantic’s rescue mission will be complete.
Shut down of passenger routes
Options for those seeking repatriation are slowing dwindling. As are Virgin Atlantic’s passenger operations. The airline has announced that it will soon suspend all passenger flights for one week at the end of April. Currently, Virgin Atlantic is only operating three passenger flights. These are from London Heathrow (LHR) to:
- New York (JFK)
- Los Angeles (LAX)
- Hong Kong (HKG)
These three services will carry passengers until 19th April. After that point, the routes will continue to run but they will not be open to passengers. Instead, the airline will carry just cargo.
In a statement from Virgin Atlantic obtained by The Points Guy, the air carrier said:
“Following the rapid acceleration of Covid-19 and extensive travel restrictions, coupled with a sharp drop in customer demand, Virgin Atlantic is continuing to review its flying programme each day and has made the decision to move most of its current scheduled services to cargo-only services from 20 April until 26 April.”
It is currently unclear what will happen after 26th April when passenger services could be scheduled to resume.
What do you make of this story? Have your say in the comments.