Virgin Atlantic Will No Longer Fly To Hong Kong

Virgin Atlantic announced today that they will no longer fly between London Heathrow and Hong Kong. It’s a sad day for aviation…or is it?

Virgin Atlantic Suspends Flights To Hong Kong, Closes Hong Kong Base

Virgin Atlantic published this internal memo today (October 5, 2022):

“After careful consideration we’ve taken the difficult decision to suspend our London Heathrow – Hong Kong services and close our Hong Kong office, after almost 30 years of proudly serving this Asian hub city. Significant operational complexities due to the ongoing Russian airspace closure have contributed to the commercial decision not to resume flights in March 2023 as planned, which have already been paused since December 2021.

“Our people and customers in Hong Kong have been amazing since we first touched down at the famous Kai Tak Airport in 1994 and since then we’ve provided important connectivity between the UK and Hong Kong for thousands of customers and supported global supply chains through our cargo operations. We’re sorry for the disappointment caused to our loyal customers on this route and anyone booked to travel from March 2023, will be offered a refund, voucher or the option to rebook on an alternative Virgin Atlantic route.”

“After careful consideration we’ve taken the difficult decision to suspend our London Heathrow – Hong Kong services and close our Hong Kong office, after almost 30 years of proudly serving this Asian hub city. Significant operational complexities due to the ongoing Russian airspace closure have contributed to the commercial decision not to resume flights in March 2023 as planned, which have already been paused since December 2021.

“Our people and customers in Hong Kong have been amazing since we first touched down at the famous Kai Tak Airport in 1994 and since then we’ve provided important connectivity between the UK and Hong Kong for thousands of customers and supported global supply chains through our cargo operations. We’re sorry for the disappointment caused to our loyal customers on this route and anyone booked to travel from March 2023, will be offered a refund, voucher or the option to rebook on an alternative Virgin Atlantic route.”

To recap (Virgin Atlantic’s operational difficulty history with Hong Kong, and not necessarily the press release):

  • Virgin Atlantic started flying to Hong Kong over 30 years ago, and operated daily flights pre-pandemic
  • At one point Virgin Atlantic even operated fifth-freedom flights between Hong Kong and Sydney
  • They stopped flights between London and Hong Kong during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but restarted flights at lower frequencies later on in 2020
  • At some point, due to lack of demand, Virgin Atlantic closed their Clubhouse in Hong Kong
  • They were forced to suspend flights to Hong Kong several times due to imported cases from London, causing them to call a suspension of flights in December 2021
  • These flights never restarted, partially due to the closure of Russian airspace


This will no longer be a sight at Hong Kong Airport

This Make Sense for Virgin Atlantic’s Strategy

Obviously this is sad news on the surface, but even disregarding the fact that Hong Kong was closed up until last week, this fits with Virgin Atlantic’s growth strategy:

  • Hong Kong always seemed like a bit of a rogue route for the airline, since they don’t otherwise fly any flights to East Asia (apart from Shanghai, where there are more SkyTeam connection opportunities on China Eastern)
  • Virgin Atlantic is trying to grow their network to the US, as well as connecting traffic to the US (I don’t remember the last time I’ve heard anyone fly from Hong Kong to the US via London)
  • Virgin Australia cut long haul flights a few years ago, so there’s very limited connecting traffic beyond Hong Kong, especially since Virgin Atlantic only very recently joined SkyTeam

For A Passenger Experience This Isn’t Bad News (Unless You’re Loyal To Virgin Atlantic)

Obviously the root causes of Virgin Atlantic’s route suspension to Hong Kong are fairly sad, and are a reflection of how travel has changed since 2019. I also imagine that people would have been laid off, especially in Hong Kong.

However, from a passenger experience standpoint, Virgin Atlantic was near the bottom of the pack in all three cabin classes that they operated to Hong Kong, at least in comparison to Cathay Pacific and British Airways (for direct flights). While Virgin Atlantic acquired new A350s in 2019 with better seats in all cabins, their Hong Kong flights were always operated by their 787s (and given Hong Kong’s lessening appeal as a travel and business destination, this was unlikely to change).

In Upper Class (or business class), Virgin Atlantic operated outdated herringbone seats in business class, which had zero storage and privacy.


Virgin Atlantic 787 Upper Class

Meanwhile Cathay Pacific always operated their excellent business class seat on their 777s/A350s (mostly the latter post-pandemic), and while British Airways always operated inferior business class products to Hong Kong (which I felt like were still marginally more comfortable than the Virgin Atlantic seats), they plan to fly their Club-Suite equipped 777s to Hong Kong in 2023. Both options are far superior to Virgin Atlantic’s seat, and I found inflight service to be comparable on all three airlines.


Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class


British Airways 777 Club Suite

In economy class, all three airlines operate fairly narrow seats between London Heathrow and Hong Kong, though I found Virgin Atlantic’s seat to be one of the least comfortable (especially in comparison to what Cathay Pacific offered – I’ve never flown BA in economy).


Virgin Atlantic 787 Economy Class

Meanwhile, I’ve flown all three airlines between Hong Kong and London Heathrow in premium economy, and thought that Cathay Pacific and British Airways had industry-leading seats, catering and amenities, whereas Virgin Atlantic didn’t blow me away in the same way (though they were still very good).


Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Premium Economy

For a couple of other passenger experience observations:

  • Virgin Atlantic featured the least competitive WiFi offering of the lot, where they had data caps, whereas Cathay Pacific and British Airways didn’t (they also weren’t particularly cheap, despite having data caps)
  • Virgin Atlantic was also least competitive timings wise – even post-COVID, Cathay Pacific operates multiple daily flights and British Airways is working on reintroducing their second daily flight on the route, whereas Virgin Atlantic only ever had one flight a day
  • To be fair, Virgin Atlantic did feature the best ground experience at Heathrow when flying business class, where they had their fantastic Clubhouse
  • You might also miss the inflight bar on the 787 (though it really wasn’t much)


You’ll no longer be able to visit the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse before boarding a Hong Kong-bound flight


Virgin Atlantic’s bar on their 787s (which you’ll also no longer see on Hong Kong-bound flights)

From a pricing standpoint:

  • Virgin Atlantic occasionally had good fare deals between Hong Kong and London, but a majority of the time they failed to pull down prices for direct travel between Hong Kong and London, with direct tickets often being the most expensive in the market, even post-COVID
    • This was a good reason to explore connecting flights between Hong Kong and London, which were often much cheaper, and featured a better passenger experience in premium cabins
  • Award space also wasn’t great on Virgin Atlantic (in general, but especially on this route)

Conclusion

Virgin Atlantic is no longer flying between London Heathrow and Hong Kong, after operating the flight for almost 30 years. This is obviously a sad reflection of the difficulties of travel in 2022, especially with the closure of Russian airspace and repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, from a passenger experience standpoint, this isn’t bad news, unless you’re a Virgin Atlantic loyalist or an inflight bar addict.

2 comments

  1. “since they don’t otherwise fly any flights to East Asia” – I might be wrong, but I think they are still committed to flying to Shanghai.

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    1. You’re right, and I’m wrong – Virgin Atlantic is still planning to fly to Shanghai. There are more SkyTeam connection opportunities out of Shanghai (well theoretically, but not at the moment)…

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