Virgin Atlantic Ending Flights To Dubai In 2019

Filed Under: Virgin Atlantic

We’ve seen many airlines rally against the Gulf carriers, arguing that there’s no way to compete with them. There’s no denying that the Gulf carriers have stolen a lot of market share, particularly for travel to/from India, and for travel between Europe and Asia/Australia.

Dubai International Airport accommodated over 88 million passengers last year, though a vast majority of passengers at the airport are only connecting, given what a global hub it is. So while Dubai is still a pretty big destination, it’s a market that’s dominated by Emirates and FlyDubai.

It’s no surprise that many airlines can’t operate flights to Dubai profitably, and if anything I’m surprised that many major Asian and European airlines still fly there. It’s simply hard to compete with Emirates, given their cost structure and how well they’ve scaled their route network. One more airline has just announced that they’ll stop flying to Dubai.

Virgin Atlantic will stop operating their daily flights to Dubai as of March 31, 2019. The airline says that operating flights to Dubai is no longer economically viable. Presumably passengers booked on this flight after that date will be rebooked on another airline — probably British Airways or Emirates.

Here’s what Virgin Atlantic’s chief commercial officer had to say:

“It‘s never an easy decision to withdraw a route, and we’d like to thank our customers and dedicated team in Dubai for their loyalty over the last 12 years. We’ll continue to offer daily flights between Dubai and London Heathrow until March 31, 2019, and will be sad to say goodbye to this fantastic city.”

I imagine London to Dubai is an especially challenging market for any airline to operate once daily. Emirates operates 10 daily flights to London, including six to London Heathrow, three to London Gatwick, and one to London Stansted. With the exception of the Stansted flight, all the other services are operated by A380s. How can any other airline compete with that kind of frequency, not to mention the connectivity beyond Dubai?

Virgin Atlantic isn’t the only airline to cut flights between London and Dubai. Royal Brunei is also discontinuing flights between Dubai and London as of October 2018, which they’ve operated as part of their Bandar Seri Begawan to Dubai to London service. Instead the airline will fly nonstop from Bandar Seri Begawan to London. Furthermore, Qantas discontinued their Dubai to London flights in March 2018, as part of them restructuring their longhaul route network.

I’ll be curious to see what Virgin Atlantic does with this available slot, especially given that it’s for a late night departure out of London, so probably can’t be used to the US.

On a side note, keep in mind that Virgin Atlantic is 49% owned by Delta. I’m shocked that Virgin Atlantic wasn’t told to spin this announcement with more anti-Gulf carrier rhetoric. 😉

Are you surprised to see Virgin Atlantic cutting flights to Dubai?

  1. As someone who lives in Dubai less airlines (and less competition) flying to Dubai is not good. Emirates already charges a hefty premium for flights for expats.

  2. No, not surprised at all. We’re going to see Virgin offering less and less flights to destinations outside the US I think. Even now, it’s hard to believe that once upon a time you could fly VA to Tokyo or Sydney…

    It’s going to be only North American routes very shortly I imagine. And the leisure destinations offered out of Gatwick and Manchester of course.

  3. This is why subsidization can’t be allowed. This is always the next step….monopoly power. Literally straight out of macroeconomics textbook.

  4. I know Virgin Atlantic has a late night departure flight to JNB and that they’re adding a second flight to JNB starting in October. If South Africa is a profitable market for VS, then I really hope they’d start flying to Cape Town again.

  5. Rumour has it that Delta is planning to resume flights to Dubai as of 31st of March 2019.
    It’ll indeed be interesting to see what they’ll do with that slot. The timing would be perfect for a flight to Asia.

  6. I can’t tell if Virgin Atlantic is even a serious airline vs a pet project. They have generally withdrawn non-US routes over time so not too surprised.

  7. I could see Virgin adding another flight to Delhi however I don’t see this happening unless they decide to reschedule their existing flight and use this slot. They can then launch a morning departure from London to facilitate a late night arrival into Delhi and an early morning arrival into London on the return to optimise connections to North America via delta. Currently their departure from Delhi is in the afternoon meaning that they can offer onward connectivity to just a handful of destinations such as New York. Delhi is a good performing market for them with lesser capacity then Mumbai so I would be curious to see if this happens.

  8. Nonstop to/from Cape Town, South Africa would be awesome!

    Interestingly, the withdrawal of service to/from Dubai takes effect with the Spring/Summer 2019 schedule change…

    …who knows, they might swap slots with another airline to gain an additional trans-Atlantic frequency…

    …or launch/resume service to/from a destination in Asia…

    We’ll know soon enough, as the major seasonal schedules and corresponding slot pairs at Heathrow are usually established many months in advance…

    …but any resumption of service to previously discontinued city, or an entirely new destination must be disclosed even sooner given the long lead time it takes to obtain: rights from foreign governments; gates; terminal/cargo facilities; hire staff; install sales teams/lease offices; or at many congested airports, gain slot pairs at times that are commercially viable; among other things.

  9. Love how Lucky can’t bring himself to admit this may have something to do with subsidies aiding Emirates’ flooding of the market with seats. “Cost structure”. How brilliantly vague.

    He’s as one sided in that debate as The US3 are.

  10. Somewhere like Cape Town would need an additional plane. If I understand the timing correctly, a single plane (with the usual maintenance swap outs) can maintain a daily Dubai service. With the slot times, I think anything further than about 7 hours from London would need a second plane. I don’t think Delhi is viable with these slot times.

    As others have said, the outbound slot just before midnight is better suited to flying east from London. It is genuinely difficult to see an obvious alternative to Dubai.

    I suspect Virgin might try to trade slots but their network is starting to be so restricted that I would have doubts about their long-term future unless they can diversify their route network fairly soon.

  11. Hey Ben

    Sort of unrelated to this. But did you hear about Chase adding Flying Club as a transfer partner?


  12. mumbai should be brought back on the radar. I am fed up of flying 9W for lack of quality seats on direct flights from LHR to BOM in J.

  13. Emirates it s too expansive , i flew multiple time from brussels with lufthansa or klm for about 400 euro , with emirates it s more than the double , ok with emirates you can fly directly but for 400 euro less per pers i take with pleasure the escale in frankfurt or amsterdam

  14. Me thinks Virgin Atlantic drops Dubai, Delta adds Dubai. There were a number of Americans flying Delta or Virgin Atlantic to London, then Virgin Atlantic to Dubai. Just as many Americans fly to London or Amsterdam and then onward to South Africa on Virgin Atlantic and KLM.

  15. I love Emirates, best airline ever. Dubai is probably honestly the ONLY city in the world where I dont even question what airline to pick to fly there, always Emirates.

  16. Do not believe this bs. Virgin Atlantic drop Dubai, and Delta are rumored to start flights to Dubai? Delta have ruined VS, and in the future Virgin Atlantic will only fly to the states and other leisure destinations. Don’t be surprised if they drop Johannesburg, Delhi, Lagos, Shanghai and Hong Kong in the future and replace them with routes to crappy American cities that no one wants to go to. Remember when Virgin Atlantic ended Cape Town route and started flying to Detroit, and a year later dropped the Detroit route. That was such a stupid decision, on one wants to go to Detroit because its an absolute shit hole.

  17. This is surprising as their flights to Dubai are always full, I fly on the LHR-DXB-LHR route with VS up to 4 times per year. They have been focusing on US routes, but those are also not viable (think Detroit). Where next Virgin Atlantic? Think it is time to use up all my miles and give up Gold Flying Club status on Virgin, then forget about them all together! Standards have also been dropping so I do not think that I will miss them.

  18. @Alex,

    FYI – Virgin is adding a 2nd daily LHR-JNB nonstop for the northern hemisphere Fall 2018/Winter 2019 seasons.

    In fact, I flew Virgin’s LHR-JNB-LHR nonstops earlier this year and the flights were full in all classes, both ways.

    So, it’s hard to imagine that Virgin Atlantic will be discontinuing this popular route anytime soon!

    Indeed, had Virgin Altantic operated nonstops LHR-Cape Town chances are would’ve booked that flight for the back to London to eliminate the need for taking the connecting flight on SAA and then having to bother with the time and expense of making a domestic to international connection at JNB!

  19. @Traveler,

    For daily nonstops to/from Cape Town, you’re correct, a minimum of two planes would be needed as most of the flights to/from South Africa from the major northern European cities red eyes in both directions, with the inbound flights from Europe arriving early morning with the planes then spending the entire day parked at remote stands after arriving passengers and crew disembark before being towed back to terminal gates in the late afternoon/evening for their return flights to their respective airlines’ hubs in time for onward connections the next morning.

    However, one plane could be deployed for 3x per week LHR-South Africa nonstops, as British Airways will be doing when it implements service to Durban this year.

    Not sure how many aircraft are required for Air France or KLM to serve Cape Town, but IIRC neither airline operated at CPT daily, so ops to/from CPT by Virgin Atlantic, were they to restart this route, and depending on the frequency operated, may/may not require more than one plane.

  20. Gutted. I use my reward flights and miles on virgin for this route 2-3 times per year. Use my va card for this purpose too. I’m not a big fan of many US routes.

    Any ideas on a reward card which works well with Dubai??

  21. Virgin Atlantic is on the way out. Having such a big chunk owned by Delta will be the death of them as Delta will steal all the good routes and start taking the money out of the rest. Even now Virgin Holidays are pushing Delta flights rather than VA ones. If you’ve got a stack of VA miles I would start using them pretty quickly, lol.

  22. But that’s only Virgin, and other airlines will continue, the only way to be profitable is to partner with EK.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *