What a fascinating time in the industry. Rather than seeing airlines slowly add back suspended routes, we’re instead seeing airlines launch some surprising new routes.
A few weeks ago Virgin Atlantic announced plans to launch flights to Pakistan. Well, these flights are now on sale, and I wanted to share some observations I find to be interesting.
Virgin Atlantic’s new Pakistan routes
Virgin Atlantic will be launching flights between the UK and Pakistan as of December 2020. Not only will the airline start flying to Pakistan, but it will operate three routes, including:
- London Heathrow to Islamabad
- London Heathrow to Lahore
- Manchester to Islamabad
These flights are now on sale, so I wanted to take a look at the schedules, equipment, and award redemption opportunities for these flights.
As you’ll see below, the Islamabad flights are clearly scheduled around connections to the US, while the Lahore flight isn’t. It’s also interesting how the Islamabad flights have identical schedules (with minor frequency variations).
Virgin Atlantic’s London to Islamabad flight
As of December 12, 2020, Virgin Atlantic will fly 3x weekly from London to Islamabad, with the following schedule:
London to Islamabad departing 12:30PM arriving 1:00AM (+1 day) [Mon, Wed, Sat]
Islamabad to London departing 3:30AM arriving 7:00AM [Tue, Thu, Sun]
Virgin Atlantic will use a Boeing 787-9 for the route. The flight will cover a distance of 3,750 miles in each direction, and is blocked at 7hr30min eastbound and 8hr30min westbound.
Virgin Atlantic’s London to Lahore flight
As of December 13, 2020, Virgin Atlantic will fly 4x weekly from London to Lahore, with the following schedule:
London to Lahore departing 9:50PM arriving 10:20AM (+1 day) [Tue, Thu, Fri, Sun]
Lahore to London departing 1:25PM arriving 5:00PM [Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat]
Virgin Atlantic will use a Boeing 787-9 for the route. The flight will cover a distance of 3,903 miles in each direction, and is blocked at 7hr30min eastbound and 8hr35min westbound.
Virgin Atlantic’s Manchester to Islamabad flight
As of December 10, 2020, Virgin Atlantic will fly 4x weekly from Manchester to Islamabad, with the following schedule:
Manchester to Islamabad departing 12:35PM arriving 1:00AM (+1 day) [Tue, Thu, Fri, Sun]
Islamabad to Manchester departing 3:30AM arriving 7:00AM [Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat]
Virgin Atlantic will use a Boeing 787-9 for the route. The flight will cover a distance of 3,819 miles in each direction, and is blocked at 7hr25min eastbound and 8hr30min westbound.
Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787-9
All three Pakistan routes will be operated by Virgin Atlantic’s fleet of Boeing 787-9s. Virgin’s 787-9s feature a total of 258 seats, including:
- 31 business class seats
- 35 premium economy seats
- 192 economy seats
Unfortunately Virgin Atlantic’s 787-9s don’t feature the new Upper Class seats, which are exclusively available on A350-1000s. Rather the 787-9s have herringbone seats, in a 1-1-1 configuration, facing the aisle.
Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Upper Class
Redeeming miles on Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic has plenty of award seats on its new flights to Pakistan, and award pricing through Flying Club is identical to Virgin Atlantic’s India flights. You can expect to pay the following number of miles one-way between the UK and Pakistan through Virgin Atlantic Flying Club:
- Economy — 10,000 miles (off-peak), 20,000 miles (peak)
- Premium economy — 17,500 miles (off-peak), 27,500 miles (peak)
- Business class — 37,500 miles (off-peak), 47,500 miles (peak)
Those mileage amounts don’t include taxes and carrier imposed surcharges, which can be significant on Virgin Atlantic. For example, a one-way London to Islamabad business class flight comes with 371 GBP (~478 USD) in taxes, fees, and carrier surcharges.
At least if you’re originating in the US, the incremental surcharges aren’t that significant. A New York to London to Islamabad one-way business class flight will cost 85,000 miles plus 564 USD.
However, at that point you’d probably be better off booking through Delta SkyMiles, since you’d pay 95,000 miles plus 64 USD in taxes.
Why this Pakistan expansion is interesting
There are a few things I find especially interesting about this announcement.
First of all, Pakistan has in general been doing well as an aviation market in recent years. We’ve seen many airlines add or resume flights to Pakistan. Specifically from the UK, we saw British Airways resume flights to Islamabad in mid-2019. Now British Airways is also adding flights from London to Lahore as of October, clearly trying to beat Virgin Atlantic to the punch.
On top of that, keep in mind that Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has been having problems. The airline has been in the news for its “fake” pilots, and both European Union and United States regulators have issued bans against the airline in recent months.
Lastly, Virgin Atlantic is following the industry trend whereby airlines aren’t necessarily adding back the routes that they previously operated, but rather are adding new ones altogether. Not only is Virgin Atlantic axing many of its existing routes, but the airline was supposed to launch flights to Sao Paulo in March 2020, but plans for that have been scrapped altogether.
Adding routes to Pakistan makes sense with the current environment. There’s a huge Pakistani population in the UK, and travel for the purposes of visiting friends and relatives will be the first to recover.
Virgin Atlantic will launch three routes to Pakistan
Virgin Atlantic will be launching flights to Pakistan as of December 2020. Not only that, but the airline will be adding three routes, which is pretty cool to see.
Ultimately this service makes sense — travel for the purposes of visiting friends and family will recover first, and this route is ideal for that. Furthermore, Virgin Atlantic could face limited competition, given PIA’s current struggles.
If you’re considering booking one of these flights, they’re now on sale.
What do you make of Virgin Atlantic’s new Pakistan service?