Branson to heat up competition on Scottish flights

Sir Richard Branson disembarks from the inaugural Virgin Atlantic Little Red flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh. Picture: Julie Bull
Sir Richard Branson disembarks from the inaugural Virgin Atlantic Little Red flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh. Picture: Julie Bull
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SIR Richard Branson yesterday promised to give British Airways some “proper competition” as he launched the Anglo-Scottish routes for Virgin Atlantic Little Red.

Branson’s first domestic services will offer flights connecting Edinburgh and Aberdeen to Heathrow and consumers are anticipating a fierce price war as the two heavyweights go head to head. Virgin is already providing “zero” fares, so the passenger only pays taxes.

Little Red will provide 26 flights a day, including Manchester-Heathrow, via slots acquired from Bmi after it was acquired by BA’s parent International Airlines Group. The Edinburgh-Heathrow route is the busiest in the UK.

But analysts have already questioned the long-term viability of the new service as its number of daily flights is half that of BA, and for passengers to connect to other flights they must switch terminal at Heathrow. Craig Kreeger, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said this would be overcome by operating a speedy bus service.

Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic, arrived at Edinburgh Airport sporting a Harris Tweed kilt and later during a press conference said he would use Twitter to decide whether the male cabin crew should wear kilts.

“It has been 30 years since we first tried to offer domestic routes, but we could never get the slots to do it,” he told the media. “It is only because of Bmi’s demise that a few crumbs came off the table and we will put those crumbs to good use. We will be able to offer some proper competition to BA on this route.”

Virgin expects the new service to bring 250,000 visitors to Scotland and generate 375 jobs, 130 of them in Scotland. A further 20 jobs are being created through the expansion of the Virgin Holidays business north of the Border.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, who greeted the Virgin boss at Edinburgh Airport, said: “Good access to Heathrow, the UK’s only hub airport, is essential for Scotland’s economic development. The Scottish Government is also keen to see more direct international flights from Scotland and we continue to press for air passenger duty to be devolved as quickly as possible.”

Kreeger, speaking publicly for the first time in his role, said: “The Heathrow-Edinburgh route is key to Little Red’s strategy to provide strong and effective competition.”

Despite reservations in the industry about its ability to compete on connecting flights, he said the Little Red service was “all about connectivity to the rest of the world”. Virgin flies to over 30 destinations and Scottish passengers will fly into and out of Terminal 1, which will connect to Terminal 3 for international flights. Kreeger is confident Virgin’s “seamless terminal connections” will appeal to passengers.

But aside from concerns over connections, analysts also note that Virgin has a lower hand luggage allowance and cannot offer business lounge facilities at Terminal 1.

Branson said it was “bizarre” that the competition authorities did not offer Virgin any flights between Glasgow and Heathrow.