LONDON – On 6 October, Virgin Atlantic (VIR) announced its decision to withdraw from the Manchester to Pakistan route temporarily, describing the move as a “business decision”. The airline added that it was continuously reviewing its route network, and like any other airline, taking into account aircraft availability in light of the recent increase in demand.
Virgin Atlantic statement
Liezl Gericke, the airline’s head of Middle East, Africa and India said with regret, “All airlines are facing operational challenges and Virgin Atlantic was not alone in this. We are working with this market to see where the greatest opportunity is. Manchester has done extremely well for us. It’s a business decision.”
Ms Gericke added during a press conference at Serena Hotel that Virgin Atlantic would seriously evaluate opportunities to resume this much anticipated Manchester – Islamabad route in the near future. This has probably upset many Pakistani diasporas living in the UK, especially in the greater Manchester region.
Despite the decision from Virgin Atlantic airlines, the British carrier was beefing up more flights between the two capitals of Pakistan and the United Kingdom – the London to Lahore routes. Gericke added: “For us, it is evident how this market has proven to be successful,”
The airline began its operations in the Pakistani capital on December 13 2020, during the midst of the global pandemic after the flight had been approved by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA).
“The airline launched operations in the most traumatic time when all passenger aircraft were grounded,” Gericke said, noting that were was a huge South Asian – Pakistani diaspora and community residing in the UK. She further added, “During Covid-19, Pakistan presented itself as an opportunity market that could serve us well through the pandemic.”
Gericke also mentioned how Virgin Atlantic had a good working relationship with the PCAA and was working closely with the government to improve it.
Gone for good?
It is yet to be seen whether the airline will pull the plug completely from the Pakistani capital. Given the amount of Pakistani diaspora in the UK, the airline might feel the pressure to resurrect the route completely.
Given that the airline already flies from London to both Islamabad and Lahore, it looks like the airline will not resurrect this route any time soon.
The flight VS0362 (MAN-ISB) is certainly a lucrative route, as this is the only route that connects Manchester to Islamabad. Yet lucrative, but it is not making business good for the airline at least.
Most passengers flying this route are VFL (Visiting Family and Friends) traffic, which is not known to be high yield, like high-end premium tourism or business traffic, where yield and margins are much wider for airlines to fly too.
Islamabad is the political capital of Pakistan and does not hold economic and financial ‘attractiveness’ for business travellers originating from Manchester, but rather from London.