Confirmed: Virgin Atlantic Launching Austin – London Heathrow This Summer

I wrote on Friday that Virgin Atlantic was expected to launch Austin – London Heathrow as its new U.S. route. Virgin is part of the joint venture across the Atlantic with Delta and Air France KLM. This is now confirmed, and credit to SPD travels who was first with the news on Twitter.

Starting May 25, 2022 Virgin Atlantic will operate with a Boeing 787-9 4 days a week,

    London Heathrow – Austin, 11:35 a.m. – 4:05 p.m., VS231 (Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun)
    Austin – London Heathrow, 6:05 p.m. – 9:00 a.m.+1, VS232 ((Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun)

For years Austin has been one of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the country, tracking the city’s growth more generally. This growth has continued – Austin isn’t just UT Austin and Dell Computers, it’s Google, Facebook, Apple, and Tesla now. It’s Oracle, Facebook, Indeed, Amazon, VRBO and eBay. Here’s what the Austin hype is all about.

We’ve seen huge growth in the past several years and that’s returning during the pandemic.

  • American Airlines launched more than two dozen new routes quadrupling the destinations they serve from the city.

  • KLM was supposed to launch Amsterdam service in spring 2020. That was pushed off, but this begins in March with a Boeing 787.

  • Lufthansa will re-start its Frankfurt flight in March as well

  • Allegiant now operates a base in Austin

The British Airways London route was originally made possible as an experiment with the smaller Boeing 787. British Airways even flew a Boeing 747 Austin – London when Norwegian introduced London Gatwick service to the city. With Norwegian out of all transatlantic markets, there’s no longer a competitor between Austin and London so Virgin entering the market makes some sense. BA will fly its Airbus A350 to Austin.

Austin is one of only two focus cities Delta decided to keep, and between KLM and Virgin Atlantic the large, gorgeous Delta SkyClub opened in 2019 may finally get used in a meaningful way.

Unfortunately Virgin’s Boeing 787s have their old business class seats, not competitive with the new seats BA offers on the route and Virgin’s flight isn’t daily the way BA’s is. Virgin also lacks the connectivity at London Heathrow, so the route would need to survive on local traffic between the two cities – and without American’s bigger presence in the corporate space that supports the British Airways flight. In other words, they are at a competitive disadvantage relative to British Airways flying this route. able to appeal to the limited number of Delta loyalists flying to London and those they can attract with lower fares.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You’d be surprised about how much traffic VS flows to BA at Heathrow. They have an interline agreement and will transfer a lot of people to European flights to feed their long haul flights

  2. Austin appears to be about serving secondary US cities as part of US-EU/UK joint ventures. Delta started several international routes from its focus cities/non-hub cities and those have been primarily to AMS or CDG. BA has stated it will start service to a couple cities in which DL started service so AUS might be the shootout between BA and DL about service to secondary cities. With JV hubs at LHR, AMS and CDG and a single JV for all of those hubs, Skyteam has an advantage over oneworld in terms of coverage of Europe. DL/Skyteam would be the only carrier serving AUS with two longhaul international flights.
    AMS is likely a better and more efficient hub for connecting beyond the European gateway; AA/BA’s abililty to compete for beyond gateway traffic limits their ability to compete for local LHR traffic; DL/VS does not have that issue since AMS exists and DL,VS,AF/KL are all part of the same joint venture so there is no benefit or loss as to which carries non gateway traffic.

    DL has not come close to detailing its plans for AUS so they very well could add more flights that could feed an AUS-LHR flight but the point of these flights is not beyond US gateway connections but rather local traffic. and AA offers very few connections beyond AUS that logically flow over AUS – cities that don’t require backtracking or aren’t already BA cities.

  3. If London (or the U.K.) is not the final destination, for flying onward to other European destinations it makes more sense to connect in AMS or CDG to avoid the outrageous LHR surcharges.

  4. Both arriving and departing from London is vastly more pleasant on Virgin—especially Upper vs BA J. Connecting is too, if you’re going one of the few non-America places Virgin flies, but for O/D traffic, it’s a much better experience.

  5. Since there were two competitors on the AUS-LHR route before and one of them was irrational enough to force itself out of the transatlantic market, there isn’t necessarily the huge glut in new seats that some might think.
    Delta/Virgin Atlantic/Skyteam does have an advantage in that it will have two transatlantic flights from AUS with LHR and AMS. Delta’s joint venture with Virgin Atlantic as well as Air France and KLM in the same joint venture gives DL/VS/AF/KL an advantage which BA/oneworld and LH/Star cannot duplicate from AUS.
    the pics above seem to disagree w/ your assessment. Gary is correct that the DL AUS SkyClub is large and gorgeous.

  6. Tim
    You never cease to amuse. Right… The only AA JV hub in Europe is Heathrow… I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you.

    And to be clear, Heathrow is hardly a JV for skyteam or for the DL JV.
    There’s no advantage for Skyteam in Europe with hubs.

  7. Jake,
    Delta does have a joint venture with Virgin Atlantic and DL/Virgin Atlantic/Air France and KLM are all in the same, unified joint venture.
    Delta has joint venture partners at three of the top 4 airports in Europe, something oneworld and Star do not have.
    And, more significant to this discussion, Delta and its partners will operate two routes to Europe. It should be clear that Delta/Virgin Atlantic are focused on the local traffic on AUS-LHR while connecting traffic will go over AMS on KL.
    The amount of capacity for BA and for the AUS-LHR market as a whole will be smaller than when Norwegian was in the market and profitability for both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways will likey be higher.

    btw, U-Haul says there is such an imbalance in moves from California vs. to the state that they are turning away people that want to rent trucks including to Texas even though prices have been higher throughout the pandemic. Texas has returned as the number one destination for fleeing Californians, a title that has been shared with Florida and Tennessee during the pandemic.

  8. Heathrow is hardly a delta hub. VS is in the JV but calling heathrow a delta hub is laughable.

    The star JV offers more connectivity at heathrow than Delta and their partners

  9. You continue to miss the point.
    The AUS-LHR flight for VS is about point to point traffic. Not connecting at AUS or LHR. Nowhere did I say that DL intended to connect traffic at LHR.
    And as some have noted, VS does connect traffic to/from BA at LHR. The notion that DL and VS can’t connect traffic at LHR is as wrong as the notion that DL loses the abililty to connect traffic at SYD because UA is now partnering with Virgin Australia. Without an Australian partner, UA had no choice but to connect traffic onto other carriers in and industry standard interline agreement – which is exactly what DL and VS do at LHR and DL will now do at SYD.

  10. An interline agreement aside, VS is at a disadvantage here. I write that the flight is clearly about the O/D market, but they have far less to supplement it than BA does. And they don’t have the same customer base and sales from Delta that the BA flight has with AA. The on board product is inferior And it’s not a daily flight.

    None of that means the flight cannot succeed. But it’s hardly a shoo-in.

  11. Gary,
    is it hard for you to accept that AUS just might be large enough to support 2 carriers on the same longhaul route? AUS has grown since Norwegian and BA did it and BA and VS will offer less capacity than the previous pair of competitors did.
    Please provide evidence to back up your statement “And they don’t have the same customer base and sales from Delta that the BA flight has with AA” All of the evidence seems to say that DL does indeed have a more successful sales force in getting business traffic on Delta and its partners. Not only does DL get a significant yield premium to AA but there are very few routes where DL does not have average fare parity or better with AA or its partners.
    And I have yet to see evidence that putting a door on a flat bed seat results in higher revenue. Feel free to share that evidence if you have it.

    As much as you want to think AUS is the center of the world, the real joint venture shootout will be in Miami this year and it will be between AA and DL and their partners.

  12. Tim, You’re the one that called Heathrow a hub for the DL JV. No one is missing the point. You’re forgetting your own words. Hub implies connectivity; it is not that in any sense of the word for Delta and VS. As mentioned, even the Star Alliance North Atlantic JV has more connectivity at Heathrow than the Delta JV.

    No one is missing the point except you. Delta is, by far, weaker in Austin vs AA. VS is, by far, weaker in Heathrow vs BA. It’s an interesting route but you can skip your normal Delta “ra ra” nonsense.

    And please…. Miami and Delta with their five gates there. There’s no shootout to be had; even Delta is committing to nothing in Miami at this point. Delta and LATAM need to figure out what LATAM will even be post bankruptcy, something that is far from certain right now.

    Your “delta ra ra” is always amusing, but please. Get off of the Passport Plum High for once.

  13. There is ample data that shows that Delta and Virgin Atlantic do connect passengers at Heathrow via interline connections. How do you think United connects passengers beyond Sydney without a partner?
    Sit tight about Miami. We will leave it there

  14. Right… because VS or DL interlining on BA in anyway implies VS does a lot of connecting at Heathrow…

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