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Virgin Atlantic Will Operate a “Skeleton Fleet” of Just Six Aircraft, Asks Staff to Take Eight Weeks Unpaid Leave

Virgin Atlantic Will Operate a “Skeleton Fleet” of Just Six Aircraft, Asks Staff to Take Eight Weeks Unpaid Leave

Will Virgin Atlantic Cabin Crew Go On Strike Over New Lower Pay Deal?

The chief executive of Virgin Atlantic has written to employees telling them the airline has to take “decisive steps” to safeguard its very existence as the COVID-19 pandemic batters the aviation industry. Along with plans to ground nearly 90 per cent of its fleet, the airline will also ask staffers to take eight weeks of unpaid leave or face forced redundancies.

“… we have seen a sharp and continual decrease in demand,” Shai Weiss told staff in the letter which made for grim reading. “The situation is deteriorating at pace and we have now seen several days with negative bookings, driven by a huge volume of cancellations – as customers choose to stay at home.”

Virgin Atlantic Cabin Crew Balloted in Industrial Action Following Rejection of Pay Deal
Photo Credit: Virgin Atlantic

“Load factors in the coming months are reducing well below 50%, rendering virtually all our flying financially unviable,” Weiss continued.

By Wednesday, Virgin Atlantic will have grounded around 34 aircraft and by March 26, the airline plans to operate a “skeleton fleet” of just six planes. These will be used on a number of core routes which include London to New York JFK and Los Angeles.

All other services to the United States will be suspended amidst the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus travel ban. Virgin also plans to permanently axe its Heathrow to Newark route because of the downturn.

Some service to the Caribbean will also continue to operate, although schedules may change at short notice based on customer demand.

Slashing flights so drastically will mean staffers have to take unpaid leave or risk forced redundancies. Everyone will be asked to take eight weeks of unpaid leave, a move that the airline says has been agreed with union representatives. Staffers have until Thursday to agree the plan or face layoffs.

In addition, Virgin has proposed a raft of other cost reduction measures including:

  • A one-time voluntary redundancy offer
  • Sabbaticals of between 6 and 12 months
  • Extending pay cuts for the entire leadership team
  • Reducing pension contributions for a year.

Late last week, it emerged that Weiss planned to write to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson with an appeal for up to £7.5 billion to prop up the UK aviation industry. Weiss has now confirmed that appeal, saying that the British government must show its “decisive and unwavering support” for the aviation sector.

However, Virgin’s appeal for financial support has drawn scorn from industry rival IAG, the owner of British Airways and Iberia. Airlines across Europe, including the likes of Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and Norwegian are all in urgent talks with their respective governments to weather the COVID-19 storm through tax-payer funded financial assistance.

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