Special report: Virgin Atlantic launches Vancouver route

28 May 2012 by BusinessTraveller

Virgin Atlantic has launched a four-times weekly service to Vancouver, to run for the summer season on A340-300 aircraft.

The city is effectively the first Canadian destination for the carrier (although it briefly served Toronto in 2001 at around the time of 9/11). It is competing with British Airways and Air Canada on the route.

Flight VS95 departs Heathrow Terminal 3 at 1300 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, arriving into Vancouver at 1510. Return flight VS96 leaves Canada at 2005 on Tuesdays and Saturdays (landing at 1400 the next day) and 1920 on Thursdays and Sundays (arriving into London at 1315 the next day). The service will initially run until October 27.

The inaugural flight took place last week and Business Traveller was on board. While the service will be operated by a three-class A340, the airline rostered its new A330 aircraft featuring its redesigned Upper Class suite for the first service (for a review of the flight, click here). A Virgin spokesperson told Business Traveller that the route should have the new seat towards the end of the summer season.

At the launch, Sir Richard Branson – who posed for pictures at touch-down in Canada with British Olympian Amy Williams, gold medallist in the skeleton at the 2010 Vancouver and Whistler winter games – said he hoped the route would become a year-round daily service.

“We’ve got slots at Heathrow for the summer season. We hope to get slots next year for all year round but, if not, within the next couple of years,” he said. “Our plan is to put our toe in the water and, if it goes as well as we hope, then to go daily year-round sometime over the next couple of years.”

He added: “Vancouver is booming. It doesn’t have a lot of [airline] competition and we felt it deserved a bit more… There’s also lots going on in Britain and many reasons for people to visit us, so I think our timing is auspicious.”

Branson also spoke of his desire to take on the short-haul Heathrow slots British Airways is relinquishing as part of parent company IAG’s purchase of Bmi.

He said: “We very much hope to get hold of the slots and we’re hoping the EU will keep them together in one package so that Virgin can offer a seamless service to places such as Edinburgh, and bring some competition to British Airways on the handful of routes that those slots would enable us to do it on.”

As to what kind of short-haul airline Virgin Atlantic would be, Branson said: “We’ll wait to unveil that until just prior to summer next year, when we’ll be up and running. But you’ve got a taste of what it would be like if you’ve ever flown on Virgin America or Virgin Australia – they’re two great domestic airlines, so we’ve had an awful lot of practice.

“So when British Airways questions whether or not we would be able to run a domestic airline, I think we’ve had plenty of experience. We’ll give them a run for their money.”

In addition, Branson attacked the recent rise in UK air passenger duty. He said: “The taxes the government has been imposing on travellers have been unacceptable. We’ve asked them to do a report on whether it’s having an effect on people travelling to and from the UK, and if they don’t we’ll get an independent report commissioned ourselves because we know it will show it has been having a negative effect.

“I think they’ve gone far too far and we’ve got to fight hard to get it reversed. We will as an industry try to get it reduced – we’ll do everything we can because it has become unrealistic when you’re paying the same for your tax as for your ticket price.”

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Report by Michelle Mannion

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