Branson reaches for the sky as he bounces back from rail snub

Virgin boss to end British Airways' monopoly with new short-haul service

Virgin's new departure from London to Manchester will be a plane, not a train. A week after Sir Richard Branson railed against losing the franchise on the West Coast mainline to FirstGroup, his long-haul airline has launched another venture into short-haul flying.

From Easter Sunday next year, Virgin Atlantic will offer three services a day, each way, between Heathrow and Manchester. Return fares start at £95 – £2 less than the lowest fare on British Airways, which has a monopoly on the air route. Virgin Atlantic's chief executive, Steve Ridgway, said: "Our new service will provide strong competition to overly-dominant BA, keep fares low and give consumers a genuine choice of airline to fly to Heathrow and beyond."

The move is a response to BA's takeover of BMI, and the subsequent decision to concentrate domestic flying at Heathrow Terminal 5. Currently, BMI services operate to and from Terminal 1 – walking distance from Virgin's base at Terminal 3. But from the start of the winter schedules in October, any passenger wanting to connect between a UK domestic service and a Virgin long-haul flight must take a bus or train transfer. Two-thirds of the one million or so passengers between Manchester and Heathrow are connecting with other flights, so a vast amount of business is at stake.

With its giant rival, BA, able to offer same-terminal connections as short as one hour, Virgin is at a significant disadvantage – particularly for time-sensitive premium passengers heading for destinations such as Hong Kong, Johannesburg or Los Angeles, which are served by both carriers,

To launch the new Manchester service, Virgin will take back some existing slots currently leased to Cyprus Airways. Virgin has no suitable short-haul aircraft, so will instead charter planes – complete with pilots and cabin crew – from another airline. This arrangement is common in aviation, and enabled easyJet to get off the ground in 1995.

The Manchester flight has been described by Virgin as "just the start" for a much larger short-haul operation. The airline is applying for all 12 daily pairs of arrival and departure slots at Heathrow that BA is obliged to relinquish following its takeover of BMI. Seven of these so-called "Remedy Slots" are ring-fenced for services to Aberdeen and Edinburgh, the other top performers from Heathrow in passenger numbers. Aer Lingus and Flybe are thought to be rival contenders for the slots. Full-service airlines struggle to make money on short-haul European routes: when BMI was taken over, it was losing an average of £38 for each passenger. Virgin Atlantic tried, then axed, European connections to Maastricht and Athens. But Paul Charles, Virgin's former director of communications, said: "If they can do it in a lower-cost way, it is possible for them to make a profit because they are running fewer services."

Next summer, British Airways plans 10 flights a day, each way, between Heathrow and Manchester. Its curt response to the Virgin move was: "We are confident that our excellent customer service and great value fares will continue to set the standard in UK short-haul aviation."

The Virgin announcement is unconnected to the loss of the rail franchise – though if it triggers a price war on the key London-Manchester route, travellers may be tempted from trains to planes. The lowest Virgin fare saves £200 on a full-fare train ticket between the two cities.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam