Virgin Atlantic takes a leap of faith, enhances India operations

Virgin Atlantic is doubling its frequency to Mumbai and discussing a wider partnership with IndiGo as it aims to strengthen presence in the fast growing Indian market.

Virgin Atlantic began a London-Bengaluru service on March 31 – its fourth daily flight to India. On Wednesday, it announced a second daily flight to Mumbai from October 27. The new flight has been announced in anticipation of a revision in the India-UK air service agreement which will allow British carriers to increase flights to Mumbai and Delhi.

“We are taking a leap of faith,” Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said as he announced the additional service. India is the third largest market for the UK based airline after US and the Carribean and it will offer a million seats annually to India from next year.

Strategic bet

Virgin Atlantic, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, entered the Indian market nearly 25 years ago. However, it was only in 2018 that the airline took a strategic bet on India upping its operations. India’s economic recovery post-pandemic has only bolstered the airline’s confidence.

Weiss said the introduction of service to Bengaluru will help customers connect to tech hubs in the US via London on their own and partner airline Delta’s flights.

Currently, 80 per cent of its passengers from India end their journey in London and 20 per cent travel onward. Weiss expects the share of onward or transit passengers to go up, especially for the Bengaluru route. At present 30-35 per cent of tickets for its London-India flights get sold in India and over time Weiss expects the share to increase to 40-50 per cent.

Transatlantic JV

Delta owns a 49 per cent stake in Virgin Atlantic and two airlines are also part of a transatlantic joint venture which also includes Air France and KLM. In India, Virgin Atlantic has a code share pact with IndiGo which offers connectivity to its passengers to 36 domestic destinations. Weiss said the airline is looking to expand its partnership with IndiGo to add domestic and international routes over Bengaluru.

“To have the best partners in best markets is a strong pillar of our strategy. Our partnership with IndiGo is growing from strength to strength and we are expanding it even further,” Weiss said.

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