[Updated] Virgin Atlantic Plans Three Routes To Pakistan From December 2020


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Updated 21 September 2020 to show winter and summer schedules on London – Lahore Route

Virgin Atlantic has announced that it plans to offer three new services between the United Kingdom and Pakistan from December 2020. To some, this may seem like an odd path for Virgin Atlantic to choose, but the fact is that what we’re witnessing is an airline coming to terms with a very key weakness and looking for ways to mitigate the risks that weakness brings.

What Are The New Routes?

From December, Virgin Atlantic will be operating the following routes:

  • London Heathrow – Lahore (4x/week)
  • London Heathrow – Islamabad (3x/week)
  • Manchester – Islamabad (4x/week)

London – Lahore

Virgin Atlantic has published a winter and a summer schedule for this route and they’re noticeably different:

Winter (13 December 2020 – 27 March 2021):

VS364 LHR 21:50 – 10:20+1 day LHE (Tue, Thu, Fri & Sun)
VS365 LHE 13:25 – 17:00 LHR (Mon, Wed, Fri & Sat)

Summer (28 March 2021 – 29 October 2021):

VS364 LHR 09:20 – 20:50 LHE (Tue, Thu, Fri & Sun)
VS365 LHE 03:35 – 08:10 LHR (Mon, Wed, Fri & Sat)

London – Islamabad

VS378 LHR 12:30 – 01:00+1 day ISB (Mon, Wed & Sat)
VS379 ISB 03:30 – 07:00 LHR (Tue, Thu & Sun)

Launching on 12 December 2020.

Manchester – Islamabad

VS362 MAN 12:35 – 01:00+1 day ISB (Tue, Thu, Fri & Sun)
VS363 ISB 03:30 – 07:00 MAN (Mon, Wed, Fri & Sat)

Launching on 10 December 2020.

The new schedules now show that all three new routes will be operated by Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners which means that anyone hoping to fly in the new Upper Class “suite” to Pakistan will be disappointed. On a poritive note, Premium Economy passengers will have one of the best Premium Economy products around.

Why Is Virgin Atlantic Doing This?

It’s no secret that the airline industry has taken an incredible beating at the hands of Covid-19, but airlines like Virgin Atlantic have taken a bigger beating than most. While airlines like American, Delta, British Airways, United, and Lufthansa have all suffered greatly, it’s worth remembering that these are airlines with regional and global networks that allow them to access every single bit of business that is available. They’ve been able to use those networks to keep the cash coming in. Virgin Atlantic hasn’t been so lucky.

Virgin Atlantic is a one-trick pony. With the exception of a handful of routes, the airline is what its name suggests it is – a transatlantic airline – so not only does it not have a short-haul network to fall back on, it also doesn’t have a truly global reach which allows it to access what few open markets there are. Yes, the airline has been able to bring in some cash by flying cargo to a few destinations here and there, but nothing close to scale that we’ve seen from a lot of the other major carriers.

Covid-19 has exposed Virgin Atlantic’s over-reliance on the transatlantic market, and with current conditions dictating that the airline will only be able to operate a maximum of five US destinations through October (in June it was expecting to have 10 US routes up and running by the beginning of September) and with virus spikes in the Caribbean not helping the airline’s plans to back up in the air, Virgin Atlantic has realized that it needs to diversify its network – that’s where this route expansion comes in.

Pakistan offers Virgin Atlantic the chance to operate a number of routes with limited competition (British Airways only offers flights to Islamabad and Pakistan International Airlines is currently banned from flying to/from the UK) and it offers it the chance to fly routes that are (mostly) different to the rest of its schedule – those are the types of routes that Virgin Atlantic needs right now.

Virgin Atlantic is overreliant on its transatlantic routes and its relationship with Delta

Bottom Line

Virgin Atlantic has announced that, from December 2020, it plans to operate services from London Heathrow to Islamabad and Lahore and a service from Manchester to Islamabad. All flights should be open for bookings from later this month.

It will be interesting to see if these routes to Pakistan stick once the world has gone back to normal (or whatever “normal” will look like) or if Virgin will feel that its aircraft are better employed on routes that it currently can’t operate (Virgin isn’t likely to be increasing its fleet size any time soon). One would think that this crisis would have taught Virgin a lesson in route diversification, but whether that’s a lesson that Virgin can act upon is a whole other matter.

Featured image courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

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