Virgin Atlantic has postponed the launch of its new Heathrow-Sao Paulo route, citing the emergence and ongoing impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
Flights had been due to get under way on 29 March. However, Virgin has deferred the launch to its winter season, with the inaugural now fixed for 5 October.
“As with airlines around the world, Virgin Atlantic is feeling the impact of Covid-19 and seeing a fall in customer demand for travel,” said the carrier in a statement.
“We are taking appropriate measures and focusing efforts on ensuring the airline is in a robust position to weather the storm, minimising the impact of the virus on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays.
“The Covid-19 situation is dynamic and fast-moving, and we continue to monitor it very closely, with the health and safety of our customers and people remaining our absolute priority.
“All our actions are guided by the World Health Organization (WHO), Public Health England and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and by the latest advice provided by these experts.”
Virgin said it would continue to review its flying programme, adding additional changes would be made as the situation evolves.
It comes after the carrier previously suspended its Heathrow-Shanghai service until 19 April and reduced the frequency of its Hong Kong service.
It has also waived flight change fees for new bookings made between 4 March and 31 March for travel up to and including 30 September. New tickets can be reissued up until the day before departure.
The new rules apply to all international routes, including departures from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast, and all tickets booked on transatlantic codesharing routes operated by Delta, Air France and KLM.
Additionally, Virgin has outlined various financial and cost-saving measures “to ensure the airline is in a strong position for the coming months”.
These include a company-wide recruitment freeze; restrictions on all non-essential staff travel and training, barring safety and compliance training; deferring annual pay increases from March until August 2020; and offering ground-based employees the option to take one to two weeks’ unpaid leave before 31 July.
Chief executive Shei Weiss, meanwhile, will take a 20% pay cut for the four months April-July inclusive, while the carrier’s executive leadership team have agreed a 15% decrease.
“Virgin Atlantic has faced previous adversity and challenges over the years and through these sensible steps we will ensure that we are in a stronger position once the impact of Covid-19 stabilises,” the carrier added.