By Victor Shalton
Virgin Atlantic Announces Return of Flights to Cape Town
Virgin Atlantic is resuming its seasonal service to Cape Town, seven years after axing the South African city from its network.
The U.K. carrier will operate daily Boeing 787-9 flights between London Heathrow and Cape Town from November 5 until March 24, 2023, complementing its existing daily service to Johannesburg.
Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson visited Cape Town to announce the resumption of Virgin Atlantic’s seasonal nonstop flights to the city as he drove the streets of Cape Town in an open-top bus waving the South African flag.
“Who wouldn’t want to come to Cape Town? It’s the most special place in the world,” Branson said. “The challenge for us now is to try and get it so we can come 12 months of the year.”
The airline will be competing with British Airways on the Heathrow-Cape Town route.
The route which adds more than 80,000 seats between Cape Town and London is a major boost to the South African tourism industry which represented 9% of the South African GDP, pre-pandemic, with the U.K. contributing immensely as the market for tourism in Cape Town.
This service will make it easier for travelers going for business and leisure between South Africa and the United Kingdom, by providing seamless connections via Heathrow to Europe and North America.
Juha Jarvinen, Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Atlantic commented: “We’re incredibly excited to return to the fabulous city of Cape Town with daily services from November. Although a little later than we’d have liked due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the move reflects the fact that travel is recovering and global demand for holidays to sunny, premium destinations is returning at pace.”
“We’re expecting a high proportion of leisure travelers on this route who will rightly be taking advantage of the winter sun, exploring the world-renowned wine regions, and soaking up the rich culture this incredible country has to offer,” Jarvinen added.
The service will also create additional cargo capacity for the route, transporting essential goods between South Africa and the U.K.
Virgin Atlantic’s head of Africa, the Middle East, and India, Liezl Gericke,noted that the decision to resume direct flights was due to the sustained growth in tourism in Cape Town and “a lot of work in terms of are-rationalizing our fleet.”
“We now have one of the youngest fleets in the sky. The average age of our aircraft is only five and a half years, so we’re flying very economical aircraft. Much more so than we did previously when we previously served the route. And Johannesburg is a good benchmark of how successful South Africa can be,” Gericke said.
According to Gericke, passenger numbers on Virgin’s London to Johannesburg route are back to pre-pandemic levels, and it’s the second-best performing route on Virgin Atlantic’s network.
Virgin Atlantic announced in September 2014 that it was withdrawing Cape Town from its network to focus more heavily on transatlantic routes.