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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?
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.