Is Virgin Atlantic About To Launch Flights To Tel Aviv?

Filed Under: Virgin

This is an interesting one. I’ve seen various sources over the last week suggesting that Virgin Atlantic will be launching non stop flights from London to Tel Aviv this year (September is the rumoured month the service will begin).

I should note that some of these sources are more reputable than others.

The speculation is based on several factors:

  • Virgin Atlantic is ending flights to Dubai at the end of March 2019, so may have a free aircraft available for a new route, though that aircraft may be redeployed elsewhere on their network, such as increasing services to Boston
  • Tel Aviv is a somewhat similar (though shorter, as I’ll discuss below) length flight to Dubai, so could theoretically use the same Heathrow landing/take-off slot as the Dubai flight
  • Tel Aviv is hosting Eurovision 2019 in May, and Virgin Atlantic is planning a special one off flight to Tel Aviv to transport fans to the event
  • Virgin Atlantic has a new CEO, Shai Weiss, who is Israeli

None of these factors alone would guarantee the new route, though combined they do make a strong argument that the city will be their newest destination.

The fact that their new CEO is Israeli may mean he is campaigning hard for Tel Aviv as a new destination. However, I imagine the numbers would have to work out for them to launch this, especially given that Virgin Atlantic is still a relatively small airline with limited destinations (and fleet).

What interests me about this potential flight is the length.

It would be the shortest flight in Virgin Atlantic’s network, I believe (excluding any fifth freedom Caribbean routes) and should be just under five hours total length.

If it did use the same take off slot at Heathrow it would depart in the evenings (around 10pm) but then arrive into Tel Aviv around 4am local time, which would be a pretty horrendous arrival for both business and leisure travellers, not to mention you’d only get a few hours sleep maximum.

Virgin Atlantic is moving their Las Vegas service from Gatwick to Heathrow at the same time the Dubai service ends as they slowly build up Manchester as their second largest hub (and shrink Gatwick), though it’s very unlikely Las Vegas will use the same slot the Dubai flight did.

And remember, they do have that slot they leased to Cobalt

London to Tel Aviv, with Dubai shown for scale

Both British Airways and EL AL have multiple flights each day on the route, including flights with similar operating schedules, using their 787s.

I would however guess Virgin Atlantic would use an Airbus A330 on the route.

If Virgin Atlantic did however choose to have a morning departure from London, the aircraft could return the same day, meaning the entire route could be done during day time hours.

While much easier on travellers who would not need to sleep on the route, it would make the fully flat beds in Upper Class somewhat unnecessary, although I imagine the bar would be absolutely packed the entire flight both ways.

The route is slightly too long to offer a double daily frequency with a single frame, not to mention needing a second landing slot.

There’s also competition from low cost carriers on the route — both easyJet and Wizz fly to Tel Aviv from London Luton.

Bottom line

There hasn’t been any formal route announcement yet, so watch this space.

2019 will be a big year for Virgin Atlantic as they take delivery of their first A350 with their all new, highly anticipated new Upper Class seat, which I’ve worked through some clues of here.

I understand Virgin Atlantic struggled with Dubai, partly because they were only offering one frequency a day versus Emirates, which has 10 flights a day to London, nine of them being A380s.

The Tel Aviv route is almost too short for Virgin Atlantic’s business model — fully flat beds are great, but for a sub-five hour flight will hardly be used (then again, that’s also largely what the competition offers).

And there’s already a lot of competition on the route from both full service and low cost competitors.

Virgin Atlantic has been solidly building their US network over the past few years as they continue to work more closely with Delta — it will be interesting to see if they add Israel to their focus.

Do you think Virgin Atlantic will launch flights to Tel Aviv?

Comments
  1. Delta has plenty of options through AMS/CDG and don’t really need another through LHR where the opportunity cost to transit pax is much greater than the other 2 cities.

  2. This route would make A LOT of sense IMO.

    Btw, BA 163 leaves 8:55 arriving 3:45am, guess there’s a market for this.

  3. Good read James. I hadn’t heard, or read, that VS was slowly dehubing Gatwick. Can you expand or do a post on the subject as it’s pretty interesting and not very covered in the airline/travel blogospheres. Thanks Jimmy.

  4. No way VS is going to TLV. The demand isn’t there, using the times James has mentioned above they’d get no thru traffic, and both EL AL and BA serve the route well.

  5. Yeah I didn’t hear about the dehubing at LGW either. I do know that VS tends to have their leisure-type destinations depart from LGW (Las Vegas, Caribbean, etc.) so if VS thinks TLV is more a leisure than a business destination, I can see them having this route depart from LGW.
    Personally, I wish VS would fly to CPT again.

  6. @ Joey and Jimmy – dehubbing is probably too strong of a word.
    I understand they are building MAN as their second biggest hub at the expense of LGW.
    I’ll update to reflect.
    Cheers.

  7. “The fact that their new CEO is Israeli may mean he is campaigning hard for Tel Aviv as a new destination.”

    I really hope this isn’t a factor, because it’s kind of a dumb reason to base business decisions on.

    “fully flat beds are great, but for a sub-five hour flight will hardly be used”

    Says who? I’ve seen many people use them on flights this short, even if it’s just to take a nap or lounge around for a few hours. Heck, I am one of those people…

  8. I can’t comment on the commercial viability of the route. But James is wrong when he says: “If it did use the same take off slot at Heathrow it would depart in the evenings (around 10pm) but then arrive into Tel Aviv around 4am local time, which would be a pretty horrendous arrival for both business and leisure travellers, not to mention you’d only get a few hours sleep maximum.” Actually the timing is probably ideal (and perhaps why EL AL and BA schedule flights to TA at the same time.

    Here’s what he hasn’t factored in: the unique charcteristics certain Jewish and Israeli customers.
    First of all, there’s a fairly large group of UK Jewish business people who work and run businesses in the the UK, but who actually live with their partners and families in Israel. They live and work in London during the week, then travel home to Israel on Thursday night to be with their families for the sabbath, typically returning to London on Sunday or Monday morning.
    Secondly, there’s also a reasonably large group of religious passengers in the UK who travel to Israel. For religious reasons they won’t travel on sabbath or festivals; so for them, a flight at 10pm means they can travel to Israel once it is nightfall and the sabbath or festival has finished.
    So I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the flight timing as “pretty horrendous”. It might be pretty convenient.
    And one thing is for sure; tourism is experiencing another boom there. I read recently that whilst tourism worldwide grew 4% in the last year, tourist visits in to Israel grew by 13%.

  9. The Tel Aviv route is almost too short for Virgin Atlantic’s business model — fully flat beds are great, but for a sub-five hour flight will hardly be used.

    I strongly disagree, i fly frequently to the usa from tel aviv with connections in europe swiss has a flight which lands at like 330 am so does austrian and lufthansa, swiss has lie flats on an a330, all of these flights sell!!!
    a travler to london this may not make sense but for one connecting it does

    most east bound fights departing from tel aviv leave between 500-900 am FYI

  10. @ Anthony – that flight time may be ideal for the Sabbath but if it’s a daily flight, what about the other 6 days a week?

  11. It’s a bit absurd to suggest that the CEO would be heavily lobbying for Tel Aviv just because he’s Israeli… To get to that level surely requires good business acumen and not just “I’m Israeli so we should fly to Israel”.

  12. Well it’s official, at least as far as Ben Gurion Airport is concerned. VS appears on the planned borad from 25th September, departing at roughly the same time as BA’s morning flight to LHR.

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