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Virgin Atlantic Terminates Historic Hong Kong Route, Shuts Local Offices

The airline cites concerns over a decline in traffic and the continued closure of Russian airspace

by Enrique Perrella

October 5, 2022

Virgin Atlantic B747 / Photo: Abdul N Quraishi - Abs/Shutterstock

Virgin Atlantic is set to terminate its historic route to Hong Kong after three decades of service, becoming the second major carrier to pull out of the city after American Airlines.

The British carrier, which launched its first flight to Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport in 1994, cites concerns over a decline in traffic and the continued closure of Russian airspace, which increases the flying time between both cities by more than two hours, making the operation unviable.

The airline suspended flights to Hong Kong in December 2021 and had hoped to resume in March 2023, but today the airline announced “the difficult decision to suspend the London Heathrow–Hong Kong services and close the Hong Kong office, after almost 30 years of proudly serving this Asian hub city.”

Virgin Atlantic’s termination of its Hong Kong operation came as a shock to many, particularly after the country finally lifted its mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers on September 26. The move seemed to signal a revival of traffic through what once was one of the world’s busiest air terminals.

The removal of travel restrictions triggered some positive news, with Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific adding more than 200 pairs of flights to long-haul destinations and British Airways announcing the resumption of daily flights beginning in December. Qantas, Swiss Air, and United Airlines will also resume flights to Hong Kong during the last quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023.

“As part of our long-term strategy of being sustainably profitable, we’re committed to only flying profitable routes,” said a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson, adding the Hong Kong route was underperforming even before the pandemic began.

Hong Kong has been one of the world’s strictest countries since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, also hindering the air traffic numbers and the overall financial health of its flag carrier. As a result, more than 30 percent of Cathay Pacific’s long-haul fleet remains grounded today.

With Virgin Atlantic’s exit from the London-Hong Kong market, Cathay Pacific and British Airways remain the sole providers on the route. Both airlines rely heavily on connecting traffic through their hub-and-spoke structure in Hong Kong and London, respectively. In contrast, Virgin Atlantic lacked that connecting power, making the route’s performance more susceptible to changes.

The closure of the airline’s Hong Kong office jeopardizes the jobs of 46 employees, all of whom are being consulted for potential options. “We will do everything we can to support them during this difficult time,” the spokesperson said.

Both Virgin Atlantic’s Australian sister carrier, Virgin Australia, and American Airlines have confirmed they do not plan to return to Hong Kong for the foreseeable future.