Less than a fortnight before Virgin Atlantic is due to commence its first domestic services a price war has begun between the carrier and its rival British Airways.
Little Red – the operating name for Virgin Atlantic’s domestic offshoot – is due to start flying between Manchester and Heathrow on 31 March; this will be followed by flights from Edinburgh and Aberdeen on 05 and 09 April respectively. The new routes follow Virgin Atlantic’s successful acquisition of slots at the capacity-stricken London Hub, made vacant by an EU ruling which forced BA to give up some slots after acquiring BMI last year. Little Red flights from Edinburgh and Aberdeen will be the only competition to British Airways services to Heathrow from Scotland.
Amid criticism that there had been little or no advertising north of the boarder (leading some to suggest that the new brand was too London focused), it has been reported that Little Red have offered ‘zero fares’ to certain passengers, meaning that they would only have to pay charges and taxes.
Responding to this, BA offered £1 fares on the two routes where the airlines will be going head-to-head. Virgin admitted to The Scotsman newspaper that they had sold some zero fares, but they were no longer on offer. British Airways said they had some tickets on sale at a £1-£5 fare. Other charges and taxes total about £45 per flight.
On certain competitive long-haul routes BA does not charge passengers for the fare to get to Heathrow, a trend which it is now likely to expand in view of the new competition.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Atlantic said that sales for Little Red were “very healthy”; whilst Richard Tams, head of UK sales and marketing for BA said that they would compete “very vigorously” with the new competition and that the airline is “pretty confident” with what it is offering.
The competition is likely to be strongest on the Edinburgh route, which is currently British Airways’ largest domestic operation served by 12 flights a day. Little Red will fly six times a day from Edinburgh, whilst Manchester and Aberdeen will both be served by three flights daily. All Little Red flights will fly into Terminal 1 at Heathrow, before passengers connecting with long-haul Virgin Atlantic flights will be transferred by bus to Terminal 3.