Virgin Atlantic Swells U.S. Network as Reopening Spurs Sales
(Bloomberg) -- Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. will double the number of services it operates to the U.S., adding back six routes suspended at the start of the coronavirus crisis as the Biden administration relaxes border curbs.
The U.K. carrier will restore flights from London Heathrow to San Francisco starting Saturday, followed by links to Orlando, Florida, and Las Vegas next month, it said Friday. November will also see the resumption of services from Manchester to Orlando and New York, with Atlanta following in December.
Richard Branson’s flagship airline is rebuilding capacity in a North Atlantic market that accounted for 80% of revenue before the pandemic shattered global travel. The surprise decision last month to lift an American ban on foreign visitorsprovided an immediate spur to demand, with bookings up 600% overnight.
Virgin Atlantic will also extend unlimited free date and flight changes as a further enticement to customers concerned about the risk of renewed Covid curbs and lockdowns, stretching the rebooking horizon to April 2023.
The U.S. has yet to specify when Britons and other foreign nationals will be allowed in, saying only that a ban will lift in early November. Officials in a virtual meeting of G-7 transport and health ministers suggested the date could slip to mid-month, a person familiar with the matter has said.
Crawley, England-based Virgin Atlantic has pushed back plans for an initial public offering into 2022 to focus on the U.S. restart, Bloomberg News reported Thursday. The delay could strengthen its hand in pricing a share sale as passenger numbers rebound.
Virgin, 49%-owned by Delta Air Lines Inc., currently operates only five U.S. routes, to New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta and Boston from Heathrow.
The airline said it’s expanding Caribbean operations amid “a significant increase in consumer demand,” restoring flights from the London hub to St. Lucia and adding new services to St. Vincent and the Bahamas. It will also open its first international route from Edinburgh, flying to Barbados.
Virgin Atlantic averted collapse last year with the support of a 1.2 billion-pound ($1.6 billion) rescue package from owners and lenders after the U.K. government refused it access to state funds.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.