More than half the British travelling public want more choice at the country’s busiest airport, Virgin Atlantic has claimed.
A Populous poll of more than 2,000 Brits, commissioned by Virgin, found 57% of respondents wanted to see more competition at Heathrow.
Nearly 60%, meanwhile, said they would choose to connect via Heathrow if it offered a greater range of airlines. More than a third though (36%) said they had connect to international destinations via European airports rather than the UK’s main hub airport.
Reasons cited included cost and a lack of connecting flights from their regional departure airport.
Virgin earlier this year acquired Flybe, which it will rebrand Virgin Connect next year – the carrier serving as regional feed for Virgin’s long-haul operations.
Virgin says expansion at Heathrow via a third runway will create capacity for a second flag carrier at the airport, a spot it has long had designs on.
Its polling found 59% of respondents would choose to connect via Heathrow is there was greater competition.
Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic chief executive, said it was “crystal clear” the British public wanted more choice at Heathrow airport, and reiterated his belief Virgin was “best positioned” to address the lack of competition. “Change is not a choice but a necessity,” said Weiss.
“We have outlined our ambitions to create effective competition when Heathrow expands by proposing 84 new routes, linking domestic and European flights to international destinations, benefiting passengers through more choice and lower fares.
“With a third runway due to open from 2026, the government has a unique opportunity to transform competition at the airport by re-assessing the way take-off and landing slots are allocated. This once-in-a-generation opportunity cannot be missed.”
Weiss is due to address politicians and industry representatives at the Airlines 2050 conference in London on Thursday (17 October).
Virgin set out its new route proposals for an expanded Heathrow last month.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “One of the main benefits of expanding Heathrow is creating the capacity that will unlock competition amongst airlines, increasing choice and lowering airfares for passengers. Virgin Atlantic’s announcement is the latest signal of why we need to press on with the project.
“But to secure these benefits for passengers, the government needs to reform the current slot allocation system. It must encourage competition and choice among all airlines in order to deliver for passengers, as well as promoting sustainable and responsible growth and domestic connectivity with any future regime.”
A spokesperson for BA owner IAG said: “IAG welcomes competition, but the facts speak for themselves. Virgin Atlantic’s lack of Heathrow routes is down to its own corporate strategy.
“In 2001, British Airways had 36.2% of Heathrow slots. That rose to 52.6% in 2016 as British Airways bought slots at the airport. In 2001, Virgin Atlantic had 2.3% of Heathrow slots – this rose to 3.3% in 2016.
“Virgin had the opportunity to increase its slot share at Heathrow to 19.7% by buying slots but it chose not to do so. The airline has failed to create more competition at the airport – it closed Little Red on domestic routes, pulled off long-haul routes and rents out the slots it owns to other airlines to fly.”
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