Virgin Atlantic Considering Non Stop Flights To Perth

Virgin Atlantic used to fly to Australia, with daily flights from London Heathrow to Sydney, via Hong Kong. The flights were operated by fuel guzzling Airbus A340 aircraft, so this factor, combined with the fact that the flights had to stop somewhere along the way (so no real advantage over the dozens of other carriers flying one stop between Australia and Europe), led to the route being discontinued back in 2014.

Virgin Atlantic still flies from London to Hong Kong, but now operates the flights using much more fuel efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

British Airways is the only European carrier that currently flies to Australia, with their daily service to Sydney via Singapore (using Boeing 777 aircraft).

Perth

Qantas commenced direct flights from Perth to London Heathrow (one of the world’s longest flights) earlier this year using their new Boeing 787-9 aircraft to great fanfare.

I was skeptical about the benefits of such a long direct flight versus the endless connection options between the two continents, but the route is apparently doing even better than expected, and is now one of, if not the most profitable route in the Qantas international network.

The 787 is the perfect aircraft for this sort of long, thin route. I believe Perth is the only major city in Australia the 787 currently has the range to reach from London, non stop.

While I’d be happy to fly the route in Qantas’ new business class, as I’ve flown it on the shorter Hong Kong to Melbourne flight and thought it was great, their ‘revolutionary’ premium economy product on their 787 has been very poorly received due to the subpar leg room.

As for their standard 3-3-3 economy, I cannot understand why anyone would put themselves through that for 16+ hours, even if they were originating from Perth (noting many passengers taking this flight are connecting from other cities in Australia, so it’s still one stop to Europe).

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic operates the exact same aircraft type as Qantas does — the Boeing 787-9. They have obviously been taking note of how well the non stop Perth to London route is performing, because they have now said they are considering launching the same non stop route, with the same aircraft (given they know it has the range, and know the economics of this aircraft work).

Virgin Atlantic also partners with Virgin Australia which could provide feed and onward domestic connections. But if I was a loyal Virgin Australia customer I would much rather fly another of their partners like Etihad or Singapore Airlines between Europe and Sydney or Melbourne.

I am surprised there is this much demand from Perth for such a long flight when you have the likes of the Qatar and Emirates A380s to choose from as well, though obviously they are not direct to Europe.

The 787 is the right aircraft for this route, and far better than the A340s Virgin Atlantic used to send to Sydney.

But I’ve flown the Virgin Atlantic 787 in Upper Class twice and would choose the Qantas 787 in a heart beat instead. The Virgin soft product was fine, but I don’t like the seats at all — there’s no privacy, no storage and why any seat designer thought every passenger in business class would want to face away from the window is beyond me.

I do think their premium economy would do well on this route, given the Qantas 787 premium economy is unpopular, and the big players like Emirates and Qatar don’t have a premium economy product.

But that cabin is only a small part of the plane to fill each flight.

Bottom line

I’m skeptical that there’s enough demand for two carriers to operate non stop on this route — I think Qantas would have launched additional flights if there was, given how profitable the route is for them. But then again, I was skeptical this route would be successful even for Qantas.

Virgin Atlantic isn’t the greatest airline in the world, but it would be good to see another European carrier service Australia.

Do you think Virgin Atlantic will launch non stop flights to Perth?

Comments

  1. Not sure why everyone wants privacy in business class. What exactly is it you do that you don’t want others to know?

    You don’t hear a lot of economy passengers talking about privacy.

  2. This is just SRB getting free publicity with wild statements. He has a long history of this
    No way DL are going to approve this idea

  3. It makes little sense for Delta UK 🙂 to start this route. It’s quite random too.

    Their customers sd realise SRB also has very little to do with the airline.

    The 31 % purchase by Air France KLM is pending and sd be completed next year which means DL AF KL have an 80% interest

    They do have a good product , however it would make more sense for AF KL to fly direct to Australia as they have far more connectivity however they have no plans to do so

  4. There’s a huge British born population in WA, there’s a large Australian population in the UK. I don’t think there’s any need to be shocked that they’d be demand between those two cities.

    As to choosing this flight over the competition, a lot of people just want to get their flight over and done with and/or don’t want to mess around with a connection. Even for those connecting from Australia, getting it out the way right at the beginning may be preferential.

  5. @tom

    Agreed, especially since they seem to be removing as many non-US routes as it is. It would be odd to see them start focussing again on non-US destinations.

    Oh, and I really hate the Upper Class seat.

  6. On another note, it’s quite sad now how few European airlines now fly to Australia – by ‘few’ I mean just BA I think. Quite different from a few years ago when (the other way around) Qantas serviced quite a few European cities.

    I wonder how long BA will service Sydney (via Singapore) for?

  7. Do you think the premium seats are filled mainly with “leisure travelers” (eg. Retired people visiting family in the UK) or business travelers?

  8. The Perth route is the fastest way to fly on QF between Melbourne and London, and is at par in length with SQ via SIN or EK via DXB. While local (Perth) demand doesn’t hurt, I bet the majority of the revenue is filled by business people flying between Melbourne and London, avoiding the dreadful middle-of-the-night stop in SIN: you get full sleep via PER, but via SIN you get a dreadful middle-of-the-sleep cycle connection from midnight to 1 am body clock time, which is unavoidable as it’s anchored by LHR early morning curfew.

  9. Apparently a large number of people are connecting onto this flight from MEL/SYD. Not sure why anyone would do that. I would take 1-stop QR, SQ, EY, etc over QF via PER in a heartbeat. Maybe it is just the novelty of the route, which will wear off?

  10. @ Sam

    I had a 3-city business trip to Oz earlier this year: Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, in that order. So I flew into Perth and connected straight to Sydney; flew Melbourne-Perth in the 787 because it’s far and away the nicest metal on which to travel between those two cities; then the non-stop home.

    I wasn’t alone, as packed lounges in Perth and packed planes on each segment showed. While avgeeks are obsessed with the incremental benefits of one J seat over another, pretty much every normal flyer just wants the damn business over with as fast as possible. For most, direct flights on average planes usually win out over one-stop flights on slightly better planes.

    But failure to understand this explains why most avgeeks are mystified that BA is a hugely profitable airline, with its aging Club World product. It’s because it flies direct to the places that its customers want to go.

    It was obvious before it launched that James was wrong about whether this route would work. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Qantas adding a 2md frequency.

  11. Virgin is all over promise and under delivery. Lots of publicity and bluster so even if I was interested in this routing I wouldn’t hold my breath for them to do anything. Their LHR slots are spoken for in their tie up with Delta and LHR slots are not easy to come by.

  12. Cities that it makes sense to fly to using this flight (no one stop from London) (these are all connections Qantas/Virgin Australia fly from Perth):

    Perth
    Darwin
    Alice Springs
    Hobart
    Broome
    Exmouth
    Geraldton
    Kalgoorlie
    Karratha
    Newman
    Paraburdoo
    Port Hedland

    If you add up demand from all those places (Perth being number one, of course), plus the folks like “The nice Paul”, it sounds like this route has significant feed.

  13. Nice Paul: And James still doesn’t get it, as this sentence clearly shows: “I am surprised there is this much demand from Perth for such a long flight when you have the likes of the Qatar and Emirates A380s to choose from as well, though obviously they are not direct to Europe.”

    This is so bad it’s funny. “Though they are not direct” is the whole point! It’s like saying, “I’ve perfected the electric car, though my battery isn’t very good.”

    Wow.

  14. Plenty of people already do really long flights in Economy (e.g. JFK-HKG) so I don’t see why this Australian route is a ton different, both seem awful but remain in demand.

  15. @tom

    Probably because many of the bloggers on this site are so in awe of the ME airlines that they could not possible comprehend that someone travelling between Europe and Australia would chose another option than Emirates or Qatar (not much love for Etihad on this site of late), even if it is direct..

    It’s very simple – for most people (as has been said above), they just want the journey over as quickly and as easily as possible, even it means flying an airline which doesn’t have Q Suites or an onboard shower.

  16. I suspect some Australian’s would rather do their connection in Australia rather than a foreign location.

    I know I prefer to make my international connections in the USA and then non-stop to the foreign destination. More options if delays, etc.

  17. QF 789 J42 W22 Y166 , VS 789 J31 W35 Y198. I recall QF configuring its premium-heavy 789 specifically for ultra long haul routes while VS 789 is more in line with a ‘general’ conifg. With more pax would it be economically and technically viable? Not just the weight of seats/pax, but also the tradeoff of less cargo. Just curious from this perspective

  18. @ James

    I know you don’t understand why anyone would want to take this in Y class; however most people are not as fortunate as yourself to fly in J all the time. I would def take this flight, if I did live in Aus. I seek adventure and love to take novelty flights, I am just most of the time in Y.

  19. I also think Australians as a matter of course are just used to long flights. They pretty much haven’t much of a choice.

  20. Regarding the A340 that Lucky starts the thread with– it wasn’t a gas guzzler when it began its life– it was in fact the energy-efficient alternative to the 747s and even Trijets. It was only once the big twins – the 777s and 787s- took over that they became gas hounds.

    The A340-600 (and -500) is the one major plane model I have yet to fly. I’m going to try and snag a flight on Virgin or Lufthansa before they head into the sunset.

  21. PER CAT 3 system has recently come online also – reducing the risk of a long haul (or domestic) flight requiring to divert.

    This is a big factor for airlines when calculating required fuel reserves at destination – which impact payloads (therefore profitability)

  22. “As for their standard 3-3-3 economy, I cannot understand why anyone would put themselves through that for 16+ hours, even if they were originating from Perth (noting many passengers taking this flight are connecting from other cities in Australia, so it’s still one stop to Europe).”

    The reality is, coach is coach. Y on the ME3 isn’t any better than what Qantas offers, regardless of how some in the blogosphere try to hype it. Especially if you have the misfortune of getting stuck on one of EK’s 10-abreast 777s. Yes, I’m the type that will sometimes intentionally break a journey up to try different products or sneak in a stopover somewhere, but that’s also not typical of the average person taking these flights. It’s not a materially better experience to do two 8-hour legs in deep coach vs. one 16 hour leg – and when you’re just trying to get from Point A to Point B, the option that gets you where you’re going sooner makes total sense.

  23. “I know I prefer to make my international connections in the USA and then non-stop to the foreign destination. More options if delays, etc.”

    Randy,

    Maybe if you are US-resident. But for foreigners changing planes in the US for a destination outside of the US (like Europe to Canada or Latin America) it is a disaster because you have to go through US immigration and customs even though you aren’t flying to the US

    I know of no other country that makes you go through immigration for a connection to outside of that country. It’s nuts.

  24. Ah, I remember the good ol’ days when you could go out to SYD airport and see all the European airlines that serviced Australia – Lufthansa, KLM, Olympic, BA, Alitalia… And all used, 747’s too!

  25. I don’t see it working at all. A large part of Qantas’s success is due to their captive market- they have a huge frequent flyer base and corporate contracts. Let’s not forget that Qantas cut one of their two A380 frequencies to London to accommodate this route hence there has been a net capacity reduction in the number of Qantas seats to London.

    Given that Virgin Australia cannot match Qantas’s connectivity and has a rather dijointed alliance network I don’t see this route working at all. Virgin should focus on developing their US network instead.

    I don’t see this route working for KLM as well as there simply isn’t enough demand between Amsterdam and Australia and two stop connections to European destinations would be challenging to sell given the multitude of one stop options available.

    Air France may fair better but again Qantas is planning to launch the route and offers better connectivity from Perth. Let’s not forget that a majority of passengers to Paris would be Australian origin meaning Qantas would always have an upper hand.

    The only way I can see Australia work for European carriers would be for them to offer non stops to Sydney or Melbourne in the future as they would then have an advantage in offering conpetitive connections to a wider range of European destinations. I don’t see this happening even if such aircrafts become available as Europe based carriers would only be able to justify using these ULR aircrafts on Australia services and it simply wouldn’t be viable for them to operate a sub-fleet for such a niched market.

    Qantas’s business model on the other hand hinges on operating such ULH missions due to geographical factors and hence such aircrafts would be a game changer for them.

  26. Never gonna happen. More hot air from SRB.

    1 – despite being known as the ‘LHR-PER flight’ the QF service is actually LHR-MEL (via PER). Hence it’s able to fly relatively full.

    2 – DL control the purse strings at VS. They would never allow such a route to be launched after so many other eastern routes have been cut.

    3 – The europe – australia market is a blood bath with the ME3/asian airlines dominating. Yields are low.

    4 – Only earlier this year the CEO of VS announced a return to Australia – via a codeshare with it’s sister airline Virgin Australia serving LAX/HKG-SYD/MEL. A far more sensible idea.

  27. More hot air from the bearded one. IMHO for the following reasons –

    1 – although often touted as the ‘LHR-PER flight’ the QF service is actually LHR-MEL via PER with the majority of passengers flying through to MEL. PER would struggle to maintain as a terminating flight.

    2 – taking into account the above, VS would have no competitive advantage operating nonstop to PER if passengers then had to change planes to fly onwards to the OZ east coast. It’s easier to do in asia or the mid east than do an international – domestic transit in OZ.

    3 – DL is in charge of the purse strings at VS. No way they would take a gamble on such a route.

    4 – yields on europe – australia are notoriously low. Hence why the only european airline operating such a service is BA with one frequency to one city a day.

    5 – only earlier this year the CEO announced a return to australia – via a much more sensible idea of a codeshare with it’s sister airline Virgin Australia operating the LAX/HKG-SYD/MEL sectors.

  28. James what you don’t realize is there is a significant British population in Perth – if fact there are more Brit’s in Perth than any other city in Australia and that number is now growing exponentially vs other Australian cities. And with 2m people there is a population to help partly support this.

  29. Am I right in thinking that Virgin have several summer only routings? If so, then a (European) winter only flight to Perth might make sense to balance the schedule.

  30. I’ll preface this by saying I’m a newbie to this whole thing. But unless I’m flying to London, I’ll still have to connect again in Europe to get to final destination. So thats Home-Perth-London-Destination. Or I could fly Home-Dubai, Doha, Singapore – Final. This Perth thing doesn’t make too much sense to me.

  31. Great flight did it in Y and PE. Y is tight but no worse than 10 across on EK 777 or others. The number of passengers who commented on how great the flight was, was amazing, we landed early at LHR comments; OMG we would still be in Dubai or Doha, only way to do the trip.
    On the way back I did PE really good flight, record time just over 16.5 hours, just wish they would sort the footrest out on the 789 in PE it is bizarre. But all up great way to get the UK beats, hands down, sitting around ME and Asian airports. Perth is a small airport and immigration and customs a breeze.

  32. James I second what others have said about Perth having a very large UK population as a Perthian myself I know several UK friends and families so the demand is definitely there and also like wise there are lots of Australians living in London like yourself and my parents both lived in London for a bout two years a while back. In terms of people putting them self through 16/17 hours of “3-3-3” economy Qantas 787 economy is in a better configuration than emirates 3-4-3 777 and their economy seats are new and have foot rest etc. so there as good as any. Second families with young kids love this flight (these types of flights) as they don’t have drag their hungry tired kids through an unknown foreign airport and they don’t take up that much room in economy seats they can just watch tv and sleep

    So I hope Virgin Atlantic does indeed launch this flight!

  33. Aman – Virgin absolutely can rival Qantas’ connectivity. Where do you think the bulk of connecting passengers are coming from? The will served capital cities that both airlines serve well, or the tiny WA towns that Qantas serve and Virgin doesn’t?

  34. william Carroll – Your big mistake is not realising that Qantas hasn’t designed this flight specifically to get William Carroll to non-London European destinations.

    This is best for LON-PER, and very good for LON-MEL. Then the rest of Australia can get one stop connections to London via Perth, and Europe can get one stop connections via London. It’s fairly obvious this was never planned to be the best option for people to fly Brisbane to Perth to London to Athens.

  35. I’m sure I read the majority of the traffic actually terminates in PER. They often go onward to other WA destinations.

    I think the economics work as they can pick up passengers in PER to MEL domestically keeping the plane full on that leg.

  36. VS put that same outdated business class on their new 787s?

    I get the arguments everyone’s making about the route making sense. Wouldn’t be my choice, but that’s cool that it exists for people who want it.

  37. Or as an east coaster you could just stick with virgin and depart SYD or MEL 1 stop into LHR via HKG , especially as VA are giving away tickets on the HKG route at present due to low passenger numbers and huge competition from Qantas

  38. It his too early to ascertain the performance of the QF PER-LHR route.

    People forget that:

    – This fight is a contraction of the former A380 MEL-DXB-LHR service
    – The capacity for the MEL-LHR route was thereby halved (approx 500 to 250)

    Passengers who were already booked on the original MEL-DXB-LHR would have been rebooked onto the MEL-PER-LHR service.

    Th real data (i.e. those specifically choosing this route) will only reveal itself once rebooked cohort has expired in a few months.

    The claims of success from QF PR now parroted as gospel by so many uncritical agents in the media need to be challenged once the dataset has levelled out!

  39. @ James:
    What killed Virgin’s Sydney route was the cost of operating two legs, tying up aircraft for a very long time without getting a yield premium. The A340s are fuel efficient, however remember these were developed before current ETOPS regulations made 2-engine flights over water viable.

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