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Capitalising on SAA’s cutbacks, Virgin says South Africa is ‘flush with opportunity’
by Sarah Cornwell
WITH an increased schedule from South Africa and an increase
in premium cabin capacity, Virgin Atlantic is to grow connecting business over London. The trade is key to making that
strategy work, through corporate business and new economy
ticket categories geared for the leisure market. In terms of its
size, Virgin puts more of its resources into South Africa than
any other major international airline.
A second daily service between Johannesburg and London
Heathrow will be added from October, operated by an additional Boeing 787-9 aircraft. It will mean 188,000 more seats on the
route each year.
Liezl Gericke, Head of Middle East & Africa for Virgin Atlantic, said there was already not enough capacity in Upper Class
to meet demand.
“The reality is, South Africa is a market that is doing very,
very well for the business. Just considering what is happening
in our country at this moment in time, we feel extremely excited about what is to come. Business confidence is looking very
strong… The [increase] is hugely meaningful. This is the only
route in the world that we have a double service.”
There are also three new ticket types in economy: Economy
Light, Economy Classic and Economy Delight.
The new flights will offer 36 Economy Delight seats on each
service, with priority check-in and boarding, free seat selection
and 34-inch extra legroom seats.
Virgin has leased its second slot from South African Airways,
which reduced frequencies in a bid to stem losses earlier in the
“We have actually capitalised… When SAA announced its [re12 Travel Industry Review | April/May 2018
duction], it gave us a chance to revisit the route,” Ms. Gericke
Arriving at 05h40 local time, the additional service will be the
first Heathrow flight to land each morning “making it perfect
for business travellers or those with onward connections to the
rest of South Africa and greater Africa”. Flights to London have
been timed to enable customers to easily connect onto flights
with Virgin Atlantic and Delta to over 200 US destinations.
New York is rated the most popular connecting destination
out of Heathrow, with a flight every two hours, and there are
other good connections to the US East Coast. Virgin also sees
opportunity to grow connecting business to Edinburgh and
ACSA’s Chief Operating Officer, Fundi Sithebe, commented:
“OR Tambo International Airport... stands to benefit from
these additional seats at such a critical moment where airlines
are looking at capacity rationalisation as global oil prices are
“Moreover, with over a third of North American travellers
connecting through European gateways to/from Southern Africa, the additional flight will enhance Virgin Atlantic’s transatlantic connectivity and attractiveness with its partners.”
By the end of this year, Virgin will operate a fleet of 13 Boeing
787-9 aircraft, including the two to South Africa and four new
A330-200s have been acquired for expansion.
“The only new route is technically Johannesburg, but we are
repositioning aircraft on other routes… ramping up service to
other cities”. However, new international routes are “always,
always in planning”.