This is an update to a previous post to note that this flight is now bookable, so I’ve added a section below regarding award availability.
Virgin Atlantic’s new Tel Aviv flight
Virgin Atlantic will be launching daily nonstop flights between London Heathrow and Tel Aviv as of September 25, 2019.
The flight will initially operate with the following schedule:
VS453 London Heathrow to Tel Aviv departing 1:30PM arriving 8:35PM
VS454 Tel Aviv to London Heathrow departing 7:15AM arriving 11:10AM
Then as of October 27, 2019, the flight will operate with the following schedule:
VS453 London Heathrow to Tel Aviv departing 4:00PM arriving 11:05PM
VS454 Tel Aviv to London Heathrow departing 6:05AM arriving 9:55AM
Virgin Atlantic will use an A330-300 for the route, featuring 31 business class, 48 premium economy, and 185 economy seats. The new flight is expected to go on sale on February 25, 2019.
Virgin Atlantic A330 Upper Class cabin
At just 2,233 miles, this will be by far Virgin Atlantic’s shortest flight, as they’re an airline that only operates longhaul flights. This flight is blocked at 5hr5min eastbound and 5hr55min westbound.
This is a competitive route
Virgin Atlantic is going head-to-head with both British Airways and EL AL in this market (and several low cost carriers if we count other London airports), so faces quite a bit of competition. Both British Airways and EL AL operate two widebody flights each daily between the two airports, so this will be the fifth flight (with the exception of during Shabbat, when EL AL doesn’t fly).
With this new flight, Virgin Atlantic is adding over 180,000 seats each year to the market, which will add some competition, and which largely seems targeted at maximizing North American travelers, based on the departure times.
Virgin Atlantic’s schedule is timed around US connections
On one handI find the schedule that Virgin Atlantic is using here to be surprising. As you can see, the plane will initially sit on the ground in Tel Aviv for about 11 hours, and then in winter will sit on the ground in Tel Aviv for “only” seven hours. My expectation was that Virgin Atlantic would make the eastbound flight a brutal redeye, similar to what both British Airways and EL AL offer. For example, they offer:
LY318 London Heathrow to Tel Aviv departing 10:20PM arriving 5:05AM (+1 day)
BA163 London Heathrow to Tel Aviv departing 10:30PM arriving 5:30AM (+1 day)
But clearly the focus here isn’t efficient turnarounds, but rather is North American connections, and they’re much more likely to sell those if they’re offering connections of 1-4 hours at Heathrow, rather than connections of 10 hours. Still, from an efficiency standpoint they’re using an entire “frame” for this flight, which seems costly.
As Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic’s CEO explains:
“2019 marks the start of a new phase of growth for Virgin Atlantic as we work to achieve our ambition to become the most loved travel company. Tel Aviv represents a fantastic opportunity for us – Israel’s economy is booming and as one of the world’s leading tech hubs we’re anticipating many business travellers and entrepreneurs flying between Tel Aviv and the UK. We also see a significant opportunity to increase competition in the US – Tel Aviv market, using the strength of our trans-Atlantic Joint Venture with Delta to offer customers from Tel Aviv a wide range of US destinations connecting through London Heathrow including New York and San Francisco.”
“I’m also thrilled to introduce this new destination to our leisure customers and I know it’s somewhere they’ll love to visit. Renowned for its cultural sites and with UNESCO recognised architecture, Tel Aviv also boasts beautiful beaches, a buzzing artistic and nightlife scene, incredible food and is a great base to explore the tourist destinations of the region including the iconic historical city of Jerusalem, Nazareth, and the Dead Sea”.
Jaffa, Tel Aviv
Award availability on Virgin Atlantic’s TLV flight
Virgin Atlantic’s flight to Tel Aviv is bookable as of today. The airline seems to be in the process of loading award availability, and I suspect we’ll see a lot more award availability as time goes on.
As of now I see a good amount of availability from London to Tel Aviv in Upper Class starting November 1, while I don’t yet see any Upper Class award space from Tel Aviv to London, though I imagine that will change.
If redeeming Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, not surprisingly this will be the least expensive Upper Class redemption there is (in terms of mileage requirements), at just 28,000 Flying Club miles one-way. Unfortunately there’s a significant cash component if originating in London, since you’re on the hook for carrier imposed surcharges and the UK APD.
One cool thing is that if you’re redeeming SkyMiles the cost is the same as other business class redemptions to Europe, or in some cases even lower. For example, take the below itinerary from New York to London to Tel Aviv, which you can book for 85,000 SkyMiles (getting you two Upper Class flights).
If you booked just the same flight from New York to London and left off Tel Aviv, it would cost you 86,000 SkyMiles. So you save 1,000 SkyMiles by taking an extra Upper Class flight — works for me. 😉
It’s exciting to see Virgin Atlantic finally launch flights to Tel Aviv, given that this has been rumored for so long. This will be their shortest flight yet. On one hand I’m surprised to see the schedule they chose, which is actually quite pleasant in both directions. It’s clear that the focus was on North American connections, rather than efficient aircraft utilization.
Anyone plan on taking Virgin Atlantic’s new flight to Tel Aviv?