Ready for takeoff

Austin airport lands new nonstop flight to regal European destination

Austin airport lands new nonstop flight to regal European destination

Virgin Atlantic
Routes between Austin and London begin this May. Virgin Atlantic/Facebook

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has landed a second nonstop flight to London.

Virgin Atlantic announced January 10 that it will launch four-times-a-week service between Austin and London’s Heathrow Airport on May 25. Tickets for the new route go on sale January 12.

The Austin-to-London flight will leave at 6:05 pm and arrive at 9 am the following day. The London-to-Austin flight will stake off at 11:35 am and land at 4:05 pm. The flight will operate in both directions on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.

“We are incredibly excited to launch this new service between Austin and London Heathrow. With an impressive food, arts, and music scene, we know it’s a destination our British customers will love to explore,” Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer at Virgin Atlantic, says in a news release.

Jacqueline Yaft, CEO of Austin-Bergstrom, says in the news release that the new flight “helps meet our goals of continued recovery from the impacts of the pandemic and furthers our commitment to being the Gateway of Central Texas for both leisure and business travelers alike.” 

The Virgin Atlantic route will compete with Austin-to-Heathrow service already operated by British Airways. And it will join two other nonstop European routes from Austin: KLM flights to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Lufthansa flights to Frankfurt, Germany.

In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic, British Airways served 187,953 passengers in Austin, up 9.6 percent from the previous year. Following a 17-month hiatus, British Airways resumed the route in October at a three-days-a-week frequency. The airline plans to eventually return to daily service.

Prior to the pandemic, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air offered service between Austin and London’s Gatwick Airport, and unveiled plans for flights between Austin and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. The pandemic wiped out the Gatwick route, and the Paris route never took off. Norwegian wound up exiting the entire U.S. market after filing for bankruptcy.

In a sense, the new London route will pit Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which owns 49 percent of Virgin Atlantic, against Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which has a partnership with British Airways. Also, Virgin Atlantic is part of a trans-Atlantic joint venture with Delta and Air France-KLM. Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Group business conglomerate own a 51 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic.

Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research, tells The Points Guy travel blog that it’ll be tough for Virgin Atlantic and Delta to make the new route successful. Why? Because, he says, it’ll depend heavily on business travelers, who’ve dramatically curtailed trips amid the pandemic.

“It certainly makes sense for Delta and Virgin to offer this route in theory, since Austin is a focus city for Delta, and adding the Austin-London flight will help Delta be a stronger competitor to American, which also has a focus city in Austin,” Harteveldt says.