Virgin Atlantic announced it will dump flights between London and Pakistan after launching services to Islamabad and Lahore less than three years ago. The airline said the decision to ‘suspend’ flights from Heathrow to Pakistan had been taken following a review of its entire network.
The embattled carrier first started flying to Islamabad and Lahore from Heathrow in December 2020 at the height of the pandemic when many of Virgin Atlantic’s traditional markets in the United States and the Caribbean were effectively shut or heavily restricted.
Virgin Atlantic pivoted to Pakistan at the same time that the country’s flag carrier, PIA, was banned from operating flights to the UK and Europe because of a high-profile pilot qualification scandal. At the time, it was feared that at least 40 per cent of Pakistani pilots held fake qualifications.
PIA was forced to suspend flights to the UK and Europe in early 2020, although the carrier initially attempted to get around the ban by chartering planes from the Portuguese wetlease operator Hi Fly. That approach, however, ended when Hi Fly tore up the contract over a non-payment disagreement.
The airline remains on the so-called ‘Banned list’ or ‘air safety list’ drawn up by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and European regulators but there is talk that the airline could be cleared to restart direct services from Pakistan and the UK and Europe later this year.
That could coincide with when Virgin Atlantic plans to suspend its own services. Flights to Lahore will end on May 1, and flights between London and Islamabad will stop on July 9.
“As we continue to ramp up our flying programme in 2023, we’ve taken the opportunity to review our entire network and decided to make a few changes,” commented a spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic on Monday.
“Following this review, it is with regret that we’ve taken the difficult decision to suspend our services between London Heathrow and Pakistan,” the statement continued.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly, and we’d like to apologise for any inconvenience caused. We would like to wholeheartedly thank everyone in Pakistan; our customers, teams, partners and the authorities for their support over the past two years.”
The airline argues that suspending services to Pakistan will ensure its resources are ‘utilised in the most optimal way to achieve operational resilience’, although the airline did not immediately address where those resources will directed towards.
The change does, however, come just as Virgin Atlantic prepares to join airline alliance Skyteam on March 2.
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.