UK long-haul specialist Virgin Atlantic is to introduce its first scheduled flights from Northern Ireland in summer 2015 as it expands its network to Orlando, one of flagship leisure destinations, with a short series of flights from Belfast International Airport.
The airline will offer four return flights in June and July 2015 through its joint venture with transatlantic partner Delta Air Lines, whose code will also appear on the flights and provide connection options across the US market. The flights will be operated on Thursdays from June 25, 2015 using a Boeing 747-400 configured with 14 Upper Class seats, 66 Premium Economy seats and 375 seats in Economy.
“This is one of the most exciting announcements we have had at Belfast International Airport in recent years,” said Uel Hoey, business development Director, Belfast International Airport. “We are delighted that an airline with the status and reputation of Virgin Atlantic has decided to expand its network by adding Northern Ireland departures.”
Despite the popularity of Orlando as a destination for UK and Irish travellers this will be the first scheduled programme from Belfast since Thomas Cook Airlines offered flights in July 2011. Prior to that flyGlobespan and MyTravel Airways had offered longer summer schedules to Orlando Sanford Airport.
The Virgin Atlantic service will complement the existing year-round Aer Lingus offering between Dublin and Orlando, a route it launched in October 2007 and could see passengers travel across from the Republic of Ireland to use the new flight. The Irish carrier has been regularly attracting passengers from Northern Ireland to its own services for many years, especially after Air Passenger Duty was first introduced on UK flights.
“Virgin has an enviable global brand and this vote of confidence in Belfast International Airport and the market in Northern Ireland is a welcome boost in our efforts to attract additional airline activity and sustained growth across Northern Ireland’s air transport network,” added Hoey.
Virgin Atlantic and Belfast International will hope the new service emulates the success enjoyed by the carrier when it launched its flights between Glasgow and Orlando some years ago, a programme which now offers extensive capacity to Scottish holidaymakers throughout the entire summer holiday season.
Virgin Atlantic offers nearly 40 return flights a week across its network to Florida and the airline’s service from Northern Ireland will add an additional 3,600 seats to and from the Sunshine State over the season.
“I am delighted we are able to offer customers in Northern Ireland the opportunity to travel on Virgin Atlantic to one of our most popular leisure destinations next summer,” said Craig Kreeger, chief executive officer, Virgin Atlantic. “It’s incredibly important to us to offer customers from all across the UK access to our long-haul network during peak travel periods.”
In our analysis, below, we look at Virgin Atlantic’s annual seat capacity from the UK to Orlando over the past ten years by departure airport. The analysis clearly shows the success of the carrier’s flights between Glasgow and Orlando, which now accounts for 5.6 per cent of its total capacity to the US destination. Since launching Glasgow – Orlando flights in 2007 annual capacity has grown every year since and Virgin Atlantic now offers almost 27,000 annual seats in each direction up from just 2,316 in the first year.