Virgin Atlantic to Launch Shorthaul UK Service in Spring 2013

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When British Airway’s parent group IAG acquired rival bmi (British Midland Airways) there was a lot of concern over anti-competition since British Airways essentially gobbled up one of the only competing UK airlines. Its most formidable UK competitor, Virgin Atlantic is mostly an international airline so a lot of questions arose relating to the future of intra-UK travel.

Well, today Virgin Atlantic announced in an ebullient all-caps email subject:

VIRGIN ATLANTIC WINS ALL SHORT HAUL FLYING

Which goes on to state:
“We have fought hard for the right to fly short haul and take a strong challenge to British Airways within these shores. For 28 years both airlines have battled for customers all over the world and it has meant that British consumers have ultimately had some of the world’s best flying and lowest fares. 

This is the beginning of an exciting new era in Virgin Atlantic history and we now feel a responsibility to everyone that has supported us in this challenge. You can look forward to a great short haul service with us but most importantly reap the benefits from the re-injection of vital competition we can provide on these routes.

Over the next two weeks, we will work to finalise our plans for utilisation of the available remedy slots and to confirm a flying timetable. We will primarily focus on flying between Scotland and Heathrow, running multiple daily flights from Edinburgh and Aberdeen to London Heathrow. 

Flights will commence around 31 March 2013 and complement the new Heathrow to Manchester route that we are also introducing next year. We will be working with a wet lease partner to provide narrow body Airbus A320 aircraft to operate these short haul flights.” 

Good News?
At face value this seems like a huge win for consumers- more competition generally means lower fares, but we will have to wait and see how exactly it plays out. From a mileage perspective, its always great to have more options- Virgin Atlantic is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, though they levy huge fuel surcharges, often rending their redemptions (especially in economy) to expensive to be worthwhile.

However, intra UK redemptions will still likely be cheaper to do via British Airways Avios, which offers short haul flights (like London- Aberdeen)  4,500 Avios each way with low fees. I have to imagine that Virgin Atlantic will create competitive earning and redemption opportunities in order to build loyalty within the market.
 Alliance Aspect

However, Virgin Atlantic has long teased about joining an alliance and I feel like that will be key to their growth as they battle giant British Airways and their Oneworld partners. If so, Virgin Atlantic redemptions might become affordable when redeeming through partner mileage programs- like if they joined Star Alliance, redeeming via United or US Airways. In fact, I would place my bet on Virgin Atlantic announcing that they will join Star Alliance within the next month, though I wouldn’t be hugely surprised to see them join SkyTeam since they’ve got a tightknit trans-Atlantic joint venture that could provide great access to North American add-ons for Virgin customers and international destinations (like India and Africa). However, airline decisions often defy reason so we will just have to wait and see, but I foresee an announcement in the near future.

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