Virgin Atlantic yesterday operated its inaugural flight to Pakistan from Manchester Airport, the United Kingdom’s busiest non-London airport. The route launch comes after the airline relaunched its Barbados route from the airport at the weekend.
Virgin Atlantic was forced to seriously trim its route network as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the airline altogether scrapped flights from its London Gatwick home. CEO Shai Weiss has since indicated that his airline may return to Gatwick in the future. The drastic route cuts have been joined by fleet cuts, meaning the airline now has just three aircraft types.
Manchester to Islamabad
Virgin Atlantic first revealed its Pakistan intentions back at the end of August. The airline announced that it would be flying from Heathrow to Lahore and Islamabad, while from Manchester, it would just serve the latter of the two. Yesterday marked the first Pakistan flight from Manchester.
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Virgin flight VS362 departed from Manchester at 13:06, roughly half an hour behind schedule. Some flights will make up delays en route. The Virgin flight was not one of these as it landed in Islamabad at 01:34 this morning, almost 35 minutes late.
The seven and a half hour flight was operated by G-VOWS, a five-year-old Boeing 787-9 named Maid Marian. According to Planespotters.net, the aircraft was built at Boeing’s Charleston facility before being delivered in December 2015.
Targetting VFR flyers
While VFR commonly means visual flight rules in aviation, it can also have a second meaning in airline terms. In this context, VFR stands for ‘visiting friends and relatives’ and is exactly the type of traveler that Virgin is attempting to target with its Manchester-Islamabad route. A significant portion of the UK’s Pakistani diaspora lives in the Manchester region.
Commenting on the route launch, the airline’s CCO Juha Jarvinen said,
“We have missed flying customers from Manchester, our home in the North, so I’m pleased we can continue to mark our return with the launch of our new service to Pakistan. This is our first route launch since the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is an extremely important one for us as we look to reunite families and loved ones.”
Competing against British Airways
While no direct competition currently exists on the new route from Manchester, Virgin will be competing directly against rival British Airways on flights from London to Pakistan. Following Virgin Atlantic’s route announcement, British Airways also launched a new connection to Lahore. It comes after British Airways resumed Islamabad flights last year following a ten year hiatus. The airline was forced to suspend the route earlier this year but has since continued flights to the Pakistani capital.
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