After 30 years in operation, British airline Virgin Atlantic has indefinitely suspended its Heathrow-Hong Kong services, closing its Hong Kong office.
The airline says the move comes because of the closure of Russian airspace in connection with the Ukraine conflict. Billionaire owner Richard Branson offered this in the announcement:
“Significant operational complexities due to the ongoing Russian airspace closure have contributed to the commercial decision not to resume flights in March 2023 as planned.”
Reuters reported yesterday that Virgin Atlantic had halted flights to Hong Kong since December last year, and several airlines have not routed flights through Russia’s airspace after the invasion of Ukraine.
Interestingly, Virgin’s cancellation of flights two months before Russia initiated a military operation in neighboring Ukraine, would seem to indicate the airline had problems before the closure of Russian airspace. Virgin told customers back then that they’d get vouchers and refunds and that fights would resume in March of 2022. Russia attacked Ukraine in late February of this year.
Finally, Virgin Atlantic filing for “Chapter 15” bankruptcy protection and restructuring in 2020 seems to bear on this week’s decision, as well. Last year, Richard Branson was mulling selling shares in the airline in a move to shore up the company’s sagging balance sheet after £659 million in losses due to the Covid pandemic. Back then, Virgin laid off over 40% of its workforce and liquidated a big chunk of its fleet. So, it seems like blaming Russia could be a strategy to seek a government financial remedy.