Virgin Atlantic boosts Transatlantic offering from Manchester

Twenty years after it first launched flights from Manchester, Virgin Atlantic is making history by offering the northern city’s first direct service to San Francisco as part of an expanded summer 2017 schedule that will also deliver a regular link to Boston. The two new routes will cut journey times to both US cities by eliminating the need for connections.

Two new routes from Virgin Atlantic linking the UK to North America will bring significant business benefits to northern England as well as supporting increasing transatlantic leisure demand. The flights from Manchester to San Francisco and Boston from summer next year will bring significant trade benefits to the technological industry and medical and financial industries in this part of the UK and bring long-requested long-haul routes to the Manchester Airport portfolio. 

Away from London, Manchester is the second biggest tech hub in the UK and the Tech North government agency that supports the sector says the north has an estimated 283,000 people working in tech roles generating an output of around £10 billion.  The industry has long lobbied for a link as Silicon Valley to further grow this important sector of the UK economy.

Virgin Atlantic’s Manchester offering, like much of its network outside of its London Heathrow main operation, has been predominantly targeted towards the leisure market.  The airline is celebrating 20 years of flights from Manchester Airport, but through its transatlantic joint venture with equity partner, Delta Air Lines, it is beginning to see additional network options as it strengthens its focus on the North American market.

In March 2015 it introduced a daily link to Delta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport hub in Atlanta, adding to its long-running flights to Barbados, Las Vegas (added in April 2011) and Orlando.  The brand new link to San Francisco and Manchester’s first regular business service to Boston since American Airlines ended its service in October 2007, are further evidence of this strateg.

UK leisure carrier Thomas Cook Airlines will actually inaugurate the only route to Boston from outside London when it inaugurates a summer only twice weekly link from Manchester in May 2016.  The airline was also expected to introduce summer flights between Manchester and San Francisco from May 2017, but this service has now been removed from sale following the Virgin Atlantic announcement, reports our Airline Route blog.

As part of Virgin Atlantic's summer 2017 schedule, San Francisco will be served three times a week and Boston twice a week from Manchester.  Both routes will be served using Airbus A330s configured in a three-class arrangement – Upper Class, Premium Economy and Economy and will operate in conjunction with Delta. The airline will also boost frequencies on its existing route to Barbados as part of the Manchester growth.

It will also secure additional feed in Manchester and to a lesser extent in London and Glasgow through a new codeshare arrangement with UK carrier Flybe that will add 18 European and UK points for transfer connections.

The ground-breaking new long-haul routes come off the back off a successful 2015 for Virgin Atlantic.  The airline served almost six million customers during the year on 26,739 flights to 29 non-stop destinations. Before tax and exceptional items, a profit of £22.5 million was recorded, thanks to a significant reduction in operating costs thanks primarily to a reduction in fuel costs.

The year’s performance was driven by growing synergies with Delta and a further focus on its transatlantic joint venture.  Capacity in this market increased by 14.8 percent in 2015 versus the previous year with passenger numbers rising 9.1 percent compared to 2014. The airline also continued its fleet renewal through the arrival of seven further Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

The expansion from Virgin Atlantic for 2017 brings further growth to Manchester Airport and its managing director, Ken O’Toole said the new San Francisco service was especially significant. Not only supporting the huge leisure demand around the airport, he said “it will deliver a deliver a real boost to the North's economy” by providing a direct link to the “world's leading location for tech and biomedical start-ups” with San Francisco now home to some of the biggest brands on the planet, like Google, Twitter and Uber.

After a record-breaking 2015 which saw more than 23 million passengers served, Manchester Airport will see further growth in 2016, having already handled almost three million passengers in the first two months of the year. A whole host of new destinations will be served throughout the year, including a landmark new link to mainland China from Hainan Airlines.

Data from intelligence provider, OAG, shows that Virgin Atlantic has already more than doubled its international offering from Manchester since the start of this decade and this year will offer more than 750,000 international seats in and out of Manchester, up 11.0 percent on last year, based on published flight schedules. This followed a growth of 29.2 percent in 2015 thanks primarily to the introduction of the new Atlanta service but also extra capacity into Las Vegas and Orlando.

With a full year of operation capacity between Manchester and Atlanta will be up 31.2 percent this year, while available seats between Manchester and Las Vegas will also rise 12.8 percent, to Barbados by 5.6 percent and to Orlando by 4.6 percent.