Virgin Atlantic Israel Flights Now Bookable

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.


This has been rumored for a while, and it looks like it’s finally happening.

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).


EL AL’s 787 business class

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. 😉

Bottom line

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?

Comments

  1. While it’s true that El Al and BA are the 2 companies that currently fly to LHR, there are also EasyJet and Wizz Air that fly direct between TLV and London (both fly to LTN and EasyJet also to STN and LGW), so the actual competition is even bigger on the route.

  2. Exciting. Note that in summer BA offer a similar schedule to VS. A BA 167 777 service that leaves LHR at 16:45 and arrives TLV at 23:50, before departing back for LHR at 07:10 the next morning. This is clearly timed for North American connections (times slightly vary depending on the day of the week).

    This winter the schedule is particularly brutal, with the 777 service leaving LHR between 20:00 and 21:00 and arriving in TLV 03:30ish… awful time to arrive.

    On many days in summer they also offer the redeye BA 163 that arrives early and then provides a second TLV-LHR morning service. This is operated on a 321, but has not always been a daily service. On certain days/around holidays, this has sometimes also been upgauged to a 777.

  3. I’d say Virgins product is more superior than BA and El Al- especially as El Al still operate their 777 on this route (alongside 787) featuring angle flat beds.

  4. Also remember this route falls just outside the 2000 mile band for the lower rate of Uk tax and airport charges, which means the flights on this route for UK O-D traffic are far more expensive than only going 200 or so miles fewer to say Larnaca.

    Going for the North American connections market seems brave; Af/KLM have 4 flights a day to TLV, Lufthansa 5, Swiss 3, Iberia 3… all with late morning departures from Western Europe

  5. @Lucky that photo of the VS 330 J cabin is outdated. They’ve reconfigured their 330’s for some time now (both ex-Air Berlin and the ones with the 33 seat J cabin).

  6. if you are flying from the United States to Israel through London it seems a bit risky to me because if your flight from the u.s. to London is delayed you could be stuck in London for 24 hours until the next fight

  7. @ Jay / @ Lucky – yes – all of their A330-300s have now (at least I believe) been re-configured with the same UC seats as in the 787. The A330-200s (i.e. the ex-Air Berlin aircraft) have had the Air Berlin seats refurbished. So there are none of the “Dream Suite” (as pictured) left in the fleet.

    In any event, “31 seats” definitely points to a refurbished A330-300.

  8. there is just too much competition on this route! In the summer BA have 3 daily Heathrow flights one 77W one 77E and a321. While El Al has 17 weekly 787-9 to Heathrow during the busy summer time. EasyJet follows and god 3 daily a320 to Luton, 5 weekly to Gatwick and stanstead together during the summer, wiz daily from Luton. Arkia has 3 weekly to stanstead as well during summer only. Plus el al has 17 weekly flight to Luton during the summer, with one flight usually operated by a 767( to replaced by 788). Soooop yeah competition hugggeeeeee.

  9. actually those red eye flights are very popular among us Israelis, as it allows to travel all day long than flying back without the need to pay for another night in hotel. With no landings curfew in TLV, landing in the middle of the night is no big deal as the airport is located in central Israel, there are trains, buses and taxis available all night long.

  10. This route makes no sense at all. İf you are flying from the US why would you connect in London again, especially if you already connected in the US already?? Seems like another irrational route purely for the indulgence of their new CEOs personal wishes… No business sense in this at all.

  11. @vlcnc

    I disagree – there are a number of major cities that have A) Large Jewish and business communities and B) Virgin Atlantic flights to London but are NOT served by a non-stop to Israel – Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, etc.

    For people in these cities, a one-stop new to Israel on Virgin is really exciting! And for the rest of the cities that Virgin Atlantic serves in the US – NYC, SF, DC, Miami, Boston, etc., the non-stop fares to Israel on Delta or El Al or United are often exorbitant – making this one-stop still very attractive.

    I think it’s an exciting new route and one that I plan to fly next year out of ORD! Love Virgin Atlantic.

  12. I wouldn’t call this red eye “brutal”. Departing at 10:30ish PM and arriving at 5:30ish PM seems great to me. The late departure allows dinner with your family and/or dinner at the lounge, and and the early arrival allows for an early start to your day. To me this seems like a win-win for tourists and business travelers alike.

  13. @Aaron: it’s brutal in the sense that in a best case scenario you end up sleeping 4 hours, so it’s a bit short especially if you have a full day of meetings ahead

  14. @vicnc —> I’m with @JP in Chicago. Let me preface this by saying I’m Jewish, have never been to Israel in my life, but hope to…soon. That said, I’m pleased that El Al started flying out of SFO (my home airport); I much prefer nonstops to landing, layovers, and taking off again. Now, I *do* like VS (more so than BA), and were I living in a city served by Virgin but without nonstop service to Israel, I could definitely see going to TVL via LHR.

    /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

    @Lucky —> You wrote in conclusion, “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…” It *is* clear the focus in on NA connections, and I actually think that’s a smart choice on their part, with both VS and DL flights “feeding” pax onto this route.

  15. Lucky,
    From my experience, on all the flights from Europe to TLV in business class your seat is an economy seat and the middle seat left empty.
    What type of seat will Virgin Atlantic’s new route will have in business?

  16. @Richard- you can discount AF/KL as competition. DL will start to offer the VS as another option on top of the AF/KL options they already offer.

    I do have to laugh at some of the comments on here. You would think that both VS and DL (because lets not forget that DL now really pull the strings at VS) have no clue how to run an airline. they won’t have decided to open this route on a punt. Research, more research, analysis and more analysis will have been undertaken.

    Lucky points out this will be their shortest flight. Yep of the current network and not for much longer- all those BE is to be branded VS apparently!

  17. Virgin gets a new CEO who happens to be of Israeli origin, and a few months later they announce flights to Israel. Coincidence? Maybe the CEO has knowledge of the market that others in the company had overlooked? Or perhaps the CEO is biased towards one of his favorite travel destinations?

  18. As if Virgin’s Upper Class couldn’t be more less private they’ve now made the Privacy Dividers see through……yuk.

  19. “This will be their shortest flight yet”

    Didn’t Virgin Atlantic used to fly from Heathrow to Athens? That’s far shorter…

  20. @Jack virgin Atlantic will operate an A33 on the route, flat beds with 1-2-1. Your wrong that that will be the first flight from Israel to Europe with 1-2-1 or flat bed business class. el al has 1-2-1 double daily business class seats and BA double daily flat beds as well as Aeroflot aer Europa and Swiss all offer flat beds daily.

  21. flights time here is not so good. most people prefer morning’s departures, and late red eye flight from london. there is room for another airlines as ba and elal fares are high, and low cost airlines flying this route departs from luton airport.

  22. The corporate travel industry email issued today confirms that the equipment assigned on the route are the ex Air Berlin A332 ;

    “You can book right now, with flights leaving from 25 September 2019, departing from London Heathrow at 16.45 and arriving in Tel Aviv at 23.30 on an A332 aircraft.”

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