Operators voice fears after Virgin cuts routes

Virgin Atlantic axes long-haul routes to Cape Town, Tokyo

Specialist tour operators are expressing disappointment at Virgin Atlantic’s decision to axe long-haul routes to Cape Town and Tokyo in favour of more capacity to the US. Virgin is cutting routes from London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita and Mumbai from January 2015, and seasonal services to Vancouver and Cape Town will also be axed.

The airline, which is now 49% owned by US carrier Delta, is instead concentrating on US services with a new route to Detroit and extra flights to cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and San Francisco.

The Cape Town seasonal service will run as planned during winter 2014-15 but will not return after the final departure on April 26, 2015. South African Airways also cancelled its direct route between Heathrow and Cape Town in 2012. Virgin will, however, continue flying between Heathrow and Johannesburg.

Rob Slater, a director at Africa specialist operator Safari Consultants, said losing Virgin’s Cape Town flights would be a “blow” as it would leave British Airways as the only operator on the route.

“It will be a shame if it comes down to just BA flying to Cape Town,” he said. “Convenience is very important to clients, so they would prefer to fly direct to Cape Town rather than going via Johannesburg. We have clients who prefer flying in Virgin’s Upper Class instead of Club World with BA. If BA is the only operator on the route then we may also see fewer special offers.”

Inside Japan Tours also said it was “surprised and disappointed” at Virgin’s decision to cancel the Tokyo service, adding that the number of people going to Japan had been going up substantially this year.

Other operators were less worried. Amrit Singh, managing director of India specialist Transindus, said that Virgin’s service to Mumbai suffered from a lack of connections to cities such as Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kochi and Chennai.

TTG Digital

[pictured: Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400, “Lady Penelope”, taking off from London Heathrow]

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