Virgin Atlantic to resume daily direct flight from London to Cape Town

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic will resume its seasonal service to Cape Town, with daily flights connecting to London, on October 27.

Virgin Atlantic operates flights from Johannesburg to London throughout the year, and from Cape Town to London from October to March, when British holidaymakers plan to visit Cape Town’s warm beaches.

The airline has also improved its service schedule with the introduction of larger Airbus A340-600 equipment for Thursday, Saturday and Sunday flights from Cape Town. With the new service, Virgin Atlantic will offer almost 5,000 more seats on the Cape Town-Heathrow route than last year, and over 8,000 seats more than originally planned.

Simon Newton-Smith, the Virgin Atlantic general manager for South Africa, said that Virgin Atlantic is delighted to return to Cape Town with daily flights from the very start of the season. ‘We are returning with a larger ‘peak day’ aircraft than originally planned. The extra seats will provide a welcome boost to the Western Cape economy with the incremental income from international visitors expected to reach nearly R50m,’ he said.

Last October when Virgin Atlantic resumed its direct flights from Cape Town to London, Newton-Smith said, ‘Cape Town is one of the key tourist destinations in South Africa, with its beautiful beaches and surrounding wine estates. We want to make it easier for international travellers to visit the city. By introducing the direct flight for summer, we believe this will drive additional tourism to both London and Cape Town by offering convenience along with the unique Virgin experience our passengers love. The direct route also cuts down costs, whichever way you’re flying.’

Thulani Nzima, South African tourism chief executive officer, said that an additional airlift into South Africa is always great news. He added, ‘Tourist arrivals growth to South Africa has been consistently strong and European markets are recovering well after the global recession. Virgin Atlantic’s increased capacity directly from London into Cape Town is a boost for Cape Town Tourism and is an indication of consumer confidence in our destination.’

 

Richard Branson in full praise of complaint letter

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is full of praise for a complaint letter by a frustrated LIAT traveller, and flashed it across to his social media followers.

‘How to write a complaint letter-read this hilarious note from a frustrated airline passenger,’ tweeted Branson. ‘Having once received what many regard as the world’s best complaint letter, I was tickled to see another brilliant note to a different airline,’ Branson said on his blog post.

In 2009, Oli Beale, a British advertising executive, censured Branson over the quality of his airline’s in-flight cuisine, calling it a ‘culinary journey of hell’.

In an open letter to the airline, Arthur Hicks, the frustrated LIAT passenger, described his plight saying that he was flown to six different airports in a single day, switching planes. When he finally arrived at his destination, it was only to find that he had missed the last ferry service out, and all local bars and restaurants were closed. In addition, he claimed his bag was lost en route.

Here is the letter in full:

‘Dear LIAT,

May I say how considerate it is of you to enable your passengers such an in-depth and thorough tour of the Caribbean.

Most other airlines I have travelled on would simply wish to take me from point A to B in rather a hurry. I was intrigued that we were allowed to stop at not a lowly one or two but a magnificent six airports yesterday. And who wants to fly on the same airplane the entire time? We got to change and refuel every step of the way!

I particularly enjoyed sampling the security scanners at each and every airport. I find it preposterous that people imagine them all to be the same. And as for being patted down by a variety of islanders, well, I feel as if I’ve been hugged by most of the Caribbean already.

I also found it unique that this was all done on ‘island time,’ because I do like to have time to absorb the atmosphere of the various departure lounges. As for our arrival, well, who wants to have to take a ferry at the end of all that flying anyway? I’m glad the boat was long gone by the time we arrived into Tortola last night – and that all those noisy bars and restaurants were closed.

So thank you, LIAT. I now truly understand why you are ‘The Caribbean Airline.’

P.S. Keep the bag. I never liked it anyway.’

While jokingly stating a colleague’s remark that LIAT stands for ‘Languishing In Airport Terminals!’, Branson said the letter is a serious reminder that companies need to listen to their customers.

‘Making customer service key to your company will keep your employees motivated and your customers happy. This in turn ensures enduring loyalty, business success and a better experience for everyone,’ he says on his blog.

Branson to be airhostess for the day

Sir Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Group including the Virgin Atlantic airline, is to work as an airhostess on a rival carrier’s flight.

The humiliating comedown from business tycoon to serving passengers on an Air Asia X flight is the result of a lost bet. Branson and his counterpart at Air Asia X, Tony Fernandes, are also both owners of Formula One racing teams. At the beginning of the 2010 Formula One season, Sir Richard agreed to a bet with Fernandes with regards to the respective finishing position of their two teams, with the loser committed to working a shift on the other man’s airline as a fully uniformed airhostess. Despite neither team managing to score a single point in the racing season, Fernandes’ team, Lotus, was placed above Branson’s Virgin team due to its better finishing positions throughout the season.

It has taken 2 years since the bet was won to find a window in Branson’s busy schedule for him to pay his dues, but it has now been agreed that he will don the Air Asia X red stewardess’s uniform, complete with skirt, high heels and makeup on May 12 this year, on flight D7 237 from Perth, Australia, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Sir Richard will be expected to carry out all of the duties of an airhostess during the flight, even the most menial. However, he will do so in the knowledge that his sacrifice is at least benefiting charity. Fernandes has agreed that AUD100 from each ticket sold on the flight, and 10 percent of all in-flight and duty-free merchandise sold, will be donated to the Starlight Children’s Foundation in Australia.

Sir Richard was quoted in the Daily Mail, saying, ‘I’ve done some outrageous things in my time but this will be up there with the best of them. Tony won our bet fair and square and I’m a man of my word – so I will dress up and make a splash in the name of Starlight, a fantastic charity. I’ve just got to practice walking in high heels first.’

Tickets for the flight will cost from AUD399 one way, and will be on sale from April 8 at www.airasia.com.

Virgin Loses West Coast Rail Bid

Virgin Trains, a subsidiary of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group of companies, has lost in its bid to continue running the West Coast line rail services.

Virgin, which has been operating services on the line since 1997, has lost the franchise to First Group, a public transport company that is registered in Aberdeen, Scotland, following a government announcement today. First Group will now be operating the franchise from December this year until 2026.

The new incumbent has pledged to add capacity to the route, which constitutes the main arterial line between London Euston and Edinburgh, and incorporates the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow.

Sir Richard Branson has been predictably damning of the governments decision, saying that it was ‘very disappointing,’ while raising questions with regards to the amount of money that had won the bid for First Group.

It is believed that First Group bid between GBP6.5bn and GBP7bn, compared with Virgin’s GBP5.5bn to GBP6bn, and that the deal was sealed by its promise to improve services. But Branson commented that to bid more than Virgin had to secure the franchise would be ‘insanity’, and added, ‘We submitted a strong and deliverable bid based on improving customers’ experience, increased investment and sustained innovation. To have bid more would have involved dramatic cuts to customer quality and considerable fare rises, which we were unwilling to entertain.

We also did not want to risk letting everybody down with almost certain bankruptcy at some time during the franchise as happened to GNER and National Express who overbid on the East Coast mainline.’

Meanwhile, rail minister, Theresa Villiers, commented that the new franchise would, ‘deliver big improvements for passengers, with more seats and plans for more services.’

 

Virgin Atlantic to End Kenya Flights

Virgin Atlantic, a UK-based airline company, is to end all of its services between London and Kenya from September this year.

The London to Kenya service, which has been in operation for the last five years, is being axed due to rising fuel costs and falling passenger numbers, according to Virgin Atlantic’s president, Sir Richard Branson. However, it has been confirmed that customers who have already booked flights with the airline after the September 23 deadline outbound, and the final return from Nairobi the following day, will be given a full refund or moved to an alternative carrier.

Alternative airline options for passengers to Nairobi include British Airways, KLM, Emirates and Air France.

Commenting on his company’s decision to axe the Kenya flights, Sir Richard Branson said that he was saddened by the decision and added, ‘A combination of record fuel prices, higher and higher taxes imposed by the Government and a poorly timed slot not providing connections from London, have made it uneconomical to fly from Nairobi. Governments must be more realistic about the aviation taxes they impose and we urgently need to increase capacity at Heathrow.’

In addition to fuel costs, which have increased by 50 percent in the last five years, and an increase in Air Passenger Duty of 100 percent, civil unrest in the country and high-profile kidnapping cases have further hit Kenya’s tourism, with a subsequent reduction in air traffic.

Virgin Atlantic will be replacing the axed flights with new flights to Mumbai in India and an additional flight to New York from the autumn.