Virgin Atlantic Launching Flights to Israel in September
After weeks of speculation, Virgin Atlantic has confirmed that it will launch flights to Israel this fall. The UK-based airline confirmed in a press release Sunday morning that, beginning in September 2019, the airline will serve Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV), from the airline's main hub at London Heathrow (LHR). Virgin Atlantic has not yet released a schedule outlining departure and arrival times, though the airline has confirmed that it will offer 180,000 seats on flights from London to Tel Aviv annually. The full schedule will likely be made available prior to February 25, when tickets for Virgin Atlantic's Israel flights are slated to go on sale.
In a statement, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss stated that, "2019 marks the start of a new phase of growth for Virgin Atlantic as we work to achieve our ambition to become the most loved travel company." Weiss continued, saying that "Tel Aviv represents a fantastic opportunity for us — Israel’s economy is booming and as one of the world’s leading tech hubs we’re anticipating many business travelers and entrepreneurs flying between Tel Aviv and the UK."
Details of Virgin Atlantic's London Heathrow-Tel Aviv Service
As previously noted, Virgin Atlantic has not yet released a schedule featuring departure and arrival times. The airline did, however, confirm a date for the first flights between London Heathrow and Tel Aviv, beginning on September 25, 2019. The airline also confirmed that it will use an Airbus A330 for the flights. Virgin Atlantic offers two configurations aboard its fleet of Airbus A330s. Both A330s feature Upper Class, Premium Economy, and standard Economy Class.
Virgin Atlantic will be serving the London Heathrow-Tel Aviv route alongside British Airways and El Al. Multiple carriers, including most low-cost carriers, operate flights from London to Tel Aviv, some from smaller airports catering to leisure carriers.
Virgin Atlantic Sees Opportunities in Tel Aviv for Joint-Venture Partner Delta
Weiss went on to note in the statement that Virgin Atlantic sees "significant opportunity to increase competition in the US–Tel Aviv market, using the strength of [the airlines'] own trans-Atlantic Joint Venture with Delta to offer customers from Tel Aviv a wide range of US destinations connecting through London Heathrow including New York and San Francisco." Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines launched a joint venture in 2013. The joint venture allowed the two airlines to better align their schedules, offer additional flights to customers and offering elite frequent flyers reciprocal benefits. Virgin Atlantic's new service to Tel Aviv will include the airline's joint venture with Delta as noted by Virgin's statement regarding the new service.
While neither airline has alluded to such service modifications, the new London Heathrow/Tel Aviv service could eventually allow Delta to end the airline's flights to Tel Aviv. Delta operates a single daily non-stop from its New York-JFK hub. Though the airline has previously signaled that the service has been a success, Virgin Atlantic's new Tel Aviv service could allow Delta to exit the Israeli market and reallocate its equipment to other routes.
How to Book The First Virgin Atlantic Flights to Tel Aviv
Neither schedule details nor tickets have been made available to the public. Virgin Atlantic has set February 25 as the first day tickets will go on sale. Most flights from London to Israel depart in the morning hours, arriving in the evening; or depart at night, arriving in the morning the following day. Virgin Atlantic will likely follow the same schedule as its competitors.
Beginning February 25, tickets will, of course, be available on Virgin Atlantic's official website, however, tickets might also be available through Delta's website per the joint venture.
Using Points, Miles for Virgin Atlantic's New Tel Aviv Service
If you plan to use points or miles to book Virgin Atlantic's new flights to Tel Aviv, you will have a variety of options. US travelers will probably look to Delta to book these flights. When Virgin Atlantic's Tel Aviv flights are loaded into Delta's itineraries, flights should be bookable using SkyMiles. Those using SkyMiles for Virgin Atlantic's new Tel Aviv flights can expect to use anywhere from 42,000 SkyMiles (economy with stops) to 322,500 SkyMiles (Delta One/business class) one-way.
Another more practical option would be to transfer points via American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards to Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic's award redemptions require fewer points than Delta, though you will still have to pay hefty taxes and fees in some cases. Virgin Atlantic currently uses a set mileage redemption system. The rates at which miles can be redeemed for the airline's flights from London to Tel Aviv is not known, however, similar redemptions (London-UAE) start at just 10,000 miles one-way in economy class or 37,500 one-way in Upper Class. 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points equate to 1,000 Flying Club miles, while 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points equate to 1,000 Flying Club miles.
Virgin Atlantic Signals New Growth and Expansion in 2019
Virgin Atlantic's CEO alluded to further growth and expansion in 2019 in the airline's official statement. At the moment, Virgin Atlantic is limited, as the airline's fleet is quite small. However, this is set to change as the airline takes delivery of its first Airbus A350-1000 this year. The Airbus A350 will allow Virgin Atlantic to serve new destinations and phase out older aircraft, including the Boeing 747.