Virgin Atlantic said on Wednesday that it would not resume flights between London and Hong Kong after the Chinese territory significantly eased pandemic-era border restrictions late last month.
In an internal memo, Virgin Atlantic’s chief commercial officer Juha Jarvinen told staffers that the decision to abandon the once popular Asian city was made after carefully considering the impact of the closure of Russian airspace and the threat of quarantine restrictions being reimposed at short notice.
Jarvinen also cited a decision by its partner Virgin Australia to permanently cease long-haul operations as feeding into Virgin Atlantic’s own decision-making. Virgin Australia once acted as a codeshare partner for Virgin Atlantic, transporting passengers onwards from Hong Kong to Australia.
The airline also says it is facing stiff competition from rivals including British Airways and Cathay Pacific.
“Whilst this route is very popular with our people and customers, it has been on a trend of declining profitability for some time, even before the pandemic,” Jarvinen said in the memo.
“Looking ahead, we foresee numerous hurdles that would prevent us returning to profitable operations, most notably: significantly longer flight times due to Russian airspace closures, uncertainty around the recovery of corporate and leisure travel between the UK and Hong Kong, further uncertainty over Covid restrictions and quarantines, a tough competitive environment without a local airline partner, and the loss of important connections to Australia since Virgin Australia stopped their flights to Hong Kong”.
The decision not to resume flights and to close its office in Hong Kong will affect around 40 local employees, including a small contingent of its overseas cabin crew.
Even at the height of the pandemic, Virgin Atlantic continued to operate freight only services between the UK and Hong Kong, transporting tonnes of medical-grade personal protective equipment to be used on the frontline in the fight against COVID-19.
The airline also tried to offer passenger services, but Hong Kong’s strict pandemic rules saw the airline eventually pull out of the territory after the risk of pilots and cabin crew being imprisoned for weeks on end in quarantine facilities became too high.
Virgin Atlantic suspended services to Hong Kong in December 2021 after it managed to rescue a quarantined crew member with the help of senior diplomats in time for Christmas. It has not returned to the territory since.
Other airlines are cautiously making plans to return to Hong Kong after the territory lifted quarantine arrangements for most inbound travellers. British Airways is planning to resume service in December, while United Airlines is eyeing a January 2023 return to the city.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.