In 1984, Richard Branson launched Virgin Atlantic Airways as a high quality, value for money airline.
In late June of the same year, Virgin Atlantic operated its inaugural scheduled service between Gatwick and Newark, thanks to a leased Boeing 747-200 (G-VIRG), formerly operated by Aerolineas Argentinas.
By 1990, a few aircraft were added to the fleet and destinations like Miami, Tokyo, New York or Boston joined the Virgin Atlantic network.
In 1992, Richard Branson sold Virgin Music to Thorn EMI and invested the proceeds into Virgin Atlantic, which launched its first super economy service, later to become its award winning Premium Economy Class.
After almost a decade of expansion, Virgin Group sold 49% to Singapore Airlines, for £600.25 million (March, 2000).
Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to use the Airbus A340-600 in June, 2002.
During 2003, the airline carried 3.8 million passengers, while 2006 saw this figure rising to 4.6 million.
In November, 2006, Virgin introduced its Premium Economy Class.
In 2008, Virgin Atlantic operated World’s First Biofuel Flight from Heathrow to Amsterdam.
In June 2009, Virgin Atlantic recreated the very first flight to New York to celebrate it’s 25th birthday and announced that it has ordered ten of the Airbus A330-300 aircraft.
In 2010, Virgin Atlantic unveiled its new brand identity and livery, and the first global advertising campaign.
In 2011, Virgin Atlantic introduced the first A330 into service, operating between Manchester and Orlando.
In 2012, Virgin Atlantic launched the redesigned Upper Class cabin, including new Upper Class Suite and bar, and new on board service in Upper Class, including the introduction of the cheese trolley and cake stand.
In 2013, Virgin Atlantic launched the sub brand Little Red, its new UK domestic service, offering full service multiple daily flights between London to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Manchester. The service operates in an all-economy configuration, and complimentary drinks and snacks, including a hot breakfast on flights departing before 9AM, are provided.
In September 2015, due to low passenger numbers, Little Red, Virgin Atlantic’s subsidiary for domestic services, ceased operations just two-and-a-half years after performing its first flight.
In August 2016, Virgin Atlantic introduced live TV in-flight entertainment, allowing passengers to tune in to live TV via the seat-back screen or their own devices using the onboard Wi-Fi, at no extra cost. The live TV service, which was launched with three available channels ( Sport 24, BBC World News, and CNN International), is being rolled out to the 787 Dreamliners, with all 13 aircraft equipped by the end of the year. Virgin Atlantic has a history of innovating in-flight entertainment. In 1991, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to introduce individual seat-back screens in all classes, and by Summer 2017 offered Wi-Fi connectivity across all its aircraft.
In July 2017, Virgin Atlantic first announced its intention to form an expanded joint venture with Air France-KLM and Delta Airlines. Subject to final clearance from regulators, the transatlantic joint venture is set for completion by the end of 2019 and will offer 108 non-stop routes and more than 300 daily trans-Atlantic flights and 340 destinations.
In March 2018, Virgin Atlantic launched new Economy services, with three fare options: Economy Light, Economy Classic, and Economy Delight. Economy Delight, the best Economy product of any UK airline, offers extra legroom seats with 34″ seat pitch, as well as advanced seat assignment, priority check-in, and boarding. Economy Classic now offers free seat assignment, and the new Economy Light offers the lowest fare with hand luggage only.
In August 2019, Virgin Atlantic took delivery of its first Airbus A350 1000 aircraft. The 12 Airbus A350 1000 aircraft that will join its fleet will offer passengers a whole new travel experience in all three cabins. From September, the aircraft started operating the route London – New York JFK.
In May 2020, as an impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant loss in travel demand, Virgin Atlantic announced the layoff of more than 3500 employees, a fleet size reduction to 35 aircraft by the summer of 2022, the early retirement of the Boeing B747-400s, and that it will not resume operations from Gatwick following the pandemic.
In September 2020, Virgin Atlantic’s rescue plan was approved by the High Court in London, allowing the airline to continue rebuilding its operations after the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The £1.2 billion ($1.59 billion) rescue deal aims to secure Virgin Atlantic’s survival for the following 18 months of travel turmoil, with a return to profit in 2022.
In July 2021, Virgin Atlantic resumed operations from Terminal 3 at Heathrow Airport after being closed for over a year due to the pandemic. Award-winning Clubhouse also reopened but in line with COVID-19 hospitality guidelines. Also, Virgin Atlantic increased capacity to the Caribbean by nearly 300% following the addition of Antigua, Barbados, and Grenada to the Government’s “Green” list.
No deadly incident involving Virgin Atlantic aircraft has been recorded so far.