Virgin Atlantic axes its Heathrow to Hong Kong route and pulls offices from the city after nearly 30 years, and blames closure of Russian airspace for the decision
- Virgin Atlantic today announced it will scrap its Heathrow-Hong Kong services
- It suspended service amid Covid and flights were set to return from March 2023
- But a statement from the company said its office in Hong Kong would be closed
- Sir Richard Branson’s airline pointed to closure of Russian airspace and ‘significant operational complexities’ for the decision
British airline Virgin Atlantic today announced it will scrap its Heathrow-Hong Kong services and close its Hong Kong office.
Sir Richard Branson’s airline pointed to the closure of Russian airspace amid the war in Ukraine and ‘significant operational complexities’ as key drivers behind the decision.
The withdrawal officially ends Virgin’s 30-year presence in the city and reneges on earlier plans to resume flights from March 2023.
Virgin Atlantic had halted flights to Hong Kong since December last year and several airlines have not routed flights through Russia’s airspace after the invasion of Ukraine.
The decision comes a surprise given that the Chinese territory recently abandoned mandatory quarantine for all visitors amid a relaxation of long-held Covid restrictions which dramatically impacted profitability for airlines.
Around 46 Virgin Atlantic jobs will be impacted, including office staff and cabin crew, due to the decision, according to Bloomberg.
British airline Virgin Atlantic today announced it will scrap its Heathrow-Hong Kong services and close its Hong Kong office
Virgin Atlantic had halted flights to Hong Kong (pictured) since December last year and several airlines have not routed flights through Russia’s airspace after the invasion of Ukraine
‘We’re very sorry for the disappointment caused to our loyal customers on this route and anyone booked to travel from March 2023 will be offered a refund, voucher or the option to rebook on an alternative Virgin Atlantic route,’ a company statement read (Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson is pictured)
‘After careful consideration we’ve taken the difficult decision to suspend our London Heathrow — Hong Kong services and close our Hong Kong office, after almost 30 years of proudly serving this Asian hub city,’ billionaire Branson’s airline said in a statement.
‘Significant operational complexities due to the ongoing Russian airspace closure have contributed to the commercial decision not to resume flights in March 2023 as planned.
‘We’re very sorry for the disappointment caused to our loyal customers on this route and anyone booked to travel from March 2023 will be offered a refund, voucher or the option to rebook on an alternative Virgin Atlantic route.’
Virgin Atlantic was one of many airlines to suspend flights to Hong Kong throughout the Covid pandemic, and quarantine requirements for overseas visitors were left in place until as recently as last week.
Virgin Australia had already abandoned flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Hong Kong as a result.
The war in Ukraine meanwhile means airlines operating services to Hong Kong are forced to fly around Russian airspace, leading to an increase in flying time of one to two hours which in turn inflates costs.
Around 46 Virgin Atlantic jobs will be impacted, including office staff and cabin crew, due to the decision, according to Bloomberg (Branson pictured with Virgin Atlantic cabin crew)
Virgin Atlantic courted criticism last month when it introduced an updated uniform policy which did away with gendered clothing requirements.
Staff including plane crew and pilots will be able to choose which uniform they wear: the company’s ‘red’ option, previously most commonly worn by female flight attendants, or the ‘burgundy’ option, previously worn by male flight attendants.
This includes allowing men to wear skirts and women to wear trousers, as well as increasing the uniform options available to non-binary staff members. Virgin Atlantic is also introducing pronoun badges in a bid to allow staff to ‘wear uniforms that express their true identity’.
The company said the change makes it ‘the most inclusive airline in the skies’ and its employees are among those who have praised the changes on social media.
But social media users asked why the airline is not focusing on more important issues, as others questioned why the company doesn’t give its staff a pay rise instead or lower ticket prices.
‘Speaking to pilot friends at Virgin, I think they’d be a whole lot happier with a payrise and less grueling rosters,’ one user chipped in.
‘I would bet that the majority of Virgin Atlantic staff would rather a pay rise than this, especially with record inflation. Customers care about safety, flights on time, low prices, certainly not what uniform the attendant has on or what it says on their name badge,’ another said.
Others meanwhile praised the decision and lauded Virgin Atlantic for introducing a ‘great initiative’ for inclusivity.
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