Thirty-six years after Virgin Atlantic’s first flight took off from Gatwick airport, destination New York Newark, the airline has revealed details of the routes it is moving from its Sussex birthplace to Heathrow.
On 22 June 1984, Richard Branson launched the airline which signified his move from music to mass transportation.
Restrictive “traffic distribution rules” designed to protect incumbent carriers at the time meant Virgin Atlantic could not fly from Heathrow.
Although the airline was able to move some flights to the UK’s biggest airport from 1991, Virgin retained a presence at Gatwick for almost three decades – until the slump in demand and international restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Virgin Atlantic is making more than 3,000 staff redundant and closing its Gatwick base, at least temporarily. Operations will be consolidated at Heathrow airport.
The airline has now given some details of when former Gatwick services will relaunch.
The premier holiday link to Orlando had been originally scheduled for 20 July. But with only four weeks before departure and no clarity about when or whether the rules for travellers to the US will be eased this summer, the Florida flight has been postponed to 24 August.
Virgin’s first Heathrow-Barbados flight will take off on 1 August.
Links to Montego Bay in Jamaica and Antigua will begin in October. Virgin Atlantic has also said that Grenada and Tobago will once again be served, via Antigua. There had been speculation that “add-on” services might be dropped.
The airline has not said when the first nonstop flights from Heathrow to Havana might be launched.
But it has confirmed that it will be operating long-haul services from Manchester, with Orlando planned from 24 August and Barbados from October.
Assuming restrictions are eased, many other links will be restarted in August, including Shanghai, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Miami, Lagos and Atlanta.
Juha Jarvinen, the airline’s chief commercial officer, called for the UK government’s controversial quarantine policy to be dropped, saying: “We know that as the Covid-19 crisis subsides, air travel will be a vital enabler of the UK’s economic recovery.
“Therefore, we are calling for government to continually review its quarantine measures and instead look at a multi-layered approach of carefully targeted public health and screening measures, including air bridges, which will support a successful and safe restart of international air travel for passengers and businesses.”
His airline has been criticised for the time taken to refund money to passengers whose flights have been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
When Virgin Atlantic celebrated its first three decades in 2014, Sir Richard Branson said: ”When we started 30 years ago, we were competing with 18 different American carriers – people like Air Florida, Pan Am, TWA, People Express.
“They’ve all disappeared. If you’re going to take on a big guy, just make sure you’re much better than them, and then you’ll survive.”