Virgin Atlantic launching flights to Pakistan — here’s what that means for the U.S.

Aug 27, 2020

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Virgin Atlantic has today announced it will be launching three new, nonstop routes to Pakistan in December. The airline will commence flights from London Heathrow (LHR) to Islamabad (ISB) and Lahore (LHE), as well as from Manchester (MAN) to Islamabad, subject to regulatory approvals.

The airline also hopes to connect travelers between Pakistan and the United States, via its Heathrow and Manchester hubs.

The surprise announcement of the new routes comes at a time when airlines worldwide reduce services and slash routes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virgin Atlantic has been hit particularly hard as many destinations in its existing route network — such as the United States and South Africa — are currently not allowing entry to British travelers.

Related: Virgin Atlantic to temporarily suspend passenger operations

Pre-pandemic, Pakistan flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines had maintained a substantial route network between the United Kingdom and Pakistan. PIA has since been banned from flying to Europe (including the U.K.) for the remainder of 2020 following a review of the airline’s safety practices by the European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA). A PIA Airbus A320 crashed in May 2020 in Pakistan with 97 passengers and crew killed. An investigation revealed the captain and first officer failed to follow standard safety procedures, or recognize alarms. The EASA also understands a “high number” of PIA pilots licenses are invalid.

TPG flew PIA’s premium product last year and had a disappointing experience from start to finish.

The ban on PIA represents an opening for Virgin Atlantic to commence flying between the two countries for the first time.

“Pakistan is an extremely exciting opportunity for us – it boasts one of the largest foreign-born populations in both the UK and the US and, as people start to travel to visit loved ones, we’re anticipating the demand  to visit friends and relatives will increase post COVID-19″ Juha Jarvinen, Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Atlantic explained. “Both Lahore and Islamabad are popular year-round destinations and we look forward to welcoming travelers onboard as demand for leisure and business travel gradually increases to the region.”

Related: 5 things I wish I’d known before traveling to Pakistan

These new flights are due to go on sale in September. Schedules, frequencies and aircraft type are yet to be announced.

Featured image by Muhammad Owais Khan/Getty Images

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