Virgin Atlantic Adds Tel Aviv To Its Network – I Don’t Get It


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Over the weekend Virgin Atlantic announced that it plans to launch flights between London and Tel Aviv from September this year. This route has been rumored for quite some time so it’s not surprising to see Virgin Atlantic launching a flight to Israel but I’m not convinced it’s a good idea.

From 25 September 2019 Virgin Atlantic will operate a daily service between London Heathrow and Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport on the following schedule:

VS453 LHR 13:30 – 20:35 TLV (Daily)
VS454 TLV 07:15 – 11:10 LHR (Daily)

This schedule changes for winter season (from 27 October) to the following:

VS453 LHR 16:00 – 23:05 TLV (Daily)
VS454 TLV 06:05 – 09:55 LHR (Daily)

The airline will operate the route with one of its Airbus A330-300 aircraft which offers passengers the full range of Virgin Atlantic’s seat/fare options:

  • Upper Class (Business Class)
  • Premium Economy
  • Economy Delight (more legroom)
  • Economy Classic (regular legroom)
  • Economy Light (hand baggage only)

Virgin Atlantic will be competing with British Airways and Israel’s own EL AL on this route and it looks as if the carrier is already marketing this route to transatlantic flyers:

“Offering over 180,000 seats each year, the new service will offer seamless connections and a consistent long haul onboard experience for those customers connecting from Tel Aviv seamlessly via London Heathrow to destinations throughout North America across both the Virgin Atlantic and Delta networks including New York, Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

But I don’t get it.

This doesn’t feel like a Virgin Atlantic route and I’m struggling to see how Virgin will differentiate itself from the two carriers already operating on the route.

EL AL already offers 11 weekly flights between London Heathrow and Tel Aviv and British Airways offers 19 weekly flights on the same route so both offer a lot more flexibility than the planned 7 flights per week that we’ll be seeing from Virgin.

EL AL already operates non-stop flights to Tel Aviv out of LA, San Francisco, New York and Miami with United and Delta offering no-stop flights between the US and Tel Aviv too….so who’s going to be booking the Virgin Atlantic flights that require a layover?

And if you’re a passenger who wants a layover why not go with Air France/KLM?….or SWISS?…or even Iberia?

All of these airlines currently offer a better Business Class product than Virgin Atlantic and, although Virgin’s Economy Class products may be a bit better than what you’ll get on one or two of those carriers, how many transatlantic leisure travelers will choose to transit in London rather than elsewhere in Europe?

Bottom Line

At a little over 5 hours in length this is easily going to be Virgin Atlantic’s shortest non 5th freedom route and I cannot see how the airline plans to make the economics work.

Virgin is going to have an A330-300 sitting at Tel Aviv for over 11 hours during the summer season and 7 hours during the winter season and it’s taking on two very established carriers on a route where both offer customers a lot more choice when it comes to flight flexibility.

With so many other destinations Virgin Atlantic could fly to it’s hard to come up with many rational reasons why this route is the one they’re going with and, unfortunately, it’s also hard to see past the fact that this may well be a case of ego getting in the way of good sense (it wouldn’t be the first time this happened in the aviation world).

Shai Weiss is the CEO of Virgin Atlantic and he also happens to be Israeli so I can’t help but wonder if this had a big bearing on Virgin’s decision to offer flights on a route that, to the outside observer, makes very little sense and which doesn’t really add anything to the Virgin Atlantic offering.

Anyone care to suggest why this route may be a success for Virgin Atlantic? I can’t see it but perhaps others can.

12 COMMENTS

  1. What don’t you understand ? You mean two of the world’s most visited cities can’t take a 3rd carrier to fly between them? Tel Aviv is attracting very young travelers and it’s obvious Virgin does better attracting the “Milleniel” crowd. Either way , not sure how you don’t get it.

  2. This isn’t about VS or even London at all. This is merely DL wanting a lower cost lower risk option of scissor hub US passengers to TLV without adding more US-TLV service themselves.

    Perhaps it’s also their higher spenders complaining about the un-glamorous experience of AF 32X or KL 737 for 4:40 after getting off of Delta One.

  3. It’s rather easy to understand and by reading your article self-explanatory. British and El Al already fly this route multiple times a day and increasing their service, Virgin also wants to serve money making routes. Why to invest money in exploring something new when you can piggy back on the competitors and use what is already proven to work.
    From the outside it seems to be cool to try out something new, but business are in business to make money and fast, hence they would rather use what already works.

    • I wasn’t suggesting Virgin explored something new….I was suggesting that there may be other routes on which it wouldn’t be competing against multiple airlines who cam offer more flights and therefore more flexibility

  4. Woah, you missed the boat on this one. NYC-London is one of the most lucrative routes, and so is the NYC-TLV route. There are many people traveling for business to London who would continue on to TLV, besides for the leisure travelers.

    • But why would a business traveler choose to fly NYC-LHR-TLV when he/she can fly NYC-TLV non-stop?

      Of course, I’m sure there will be some who will want to do the stopover but we’re always being told how business folk care most about schedules and non-stop flights (and not things that miles & points people care about) so why suddenly will there be enough business travelers who need to get from NYC to TLV but who also want to stop in London?

  5. Passenger traffic has doubled at TLV in the last 10 years. Tourism in Israel has expanded well beyond its historical (religious) draw. The economy is strong, driving demand for both inbound and outbound traffic. Who thought 5-10 years ago San Francisco would warrant a daily nonstop? Now UA has one, with an El Al flight in the works. Alitalia flies ATH-TLV…strange route, but there is demand.

    This route will benefit from both LON, TLV and USA O&D, and I suspect there will be no problem filling seats. For many DL flyers, a LON stopover is attractive, and it helps that the premium offering on VS is far superior to the Euro-style business class on AF/KL.

    Finally, El Al will soon have no 747s and may be too slot constrained at LHR to add more frequencies on 787/767s. They can (and have) served LTN and STN, but, may be fleet constrained as well. The premium demand is at LHR, and VS can probably take its share.

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