Virgin Atlantic is confident of a return to Gatwick when demand for air travel recovers to pre-pandemic levels.
The airline, which has just secured a £1.2 billion financial package to see it through the crisis, announced it was quitting Gatwick and making more than 3,000 redundancies in May as it took dramatic action to stem losses caused by the grounding of flights.
But during TTG’s Restart Travel: Build Back Better online seminar last week, Virgin Atlantic’s chief commercial officer Juha Jarvinen told TTG editor Sophie Griffiths it could eventually return to Gatwick.
“It depends how the next two to three years turn out,” he said. “The key focus for us is to build on Heathrow. When you have aircraft in the same location, it’s much more efficient.
“Gatwick is important going forward considering the lack of any new runway. We do see a return to [the airport], it’s a question of when.”
Virgin Atlantic, which is targeting a return to profitability in 2022, is only forecasting a return to 2019 passenger demand by 2023 with leisure traffic expected to pick up more quickly than business travel.
Jarvinen also stressed how “crucial” agents were to Virgin Atlantic. “We believe the trade is crucial for us – both in the business segment and leisure side,” he added.
“People are more hesitant and want to get advice. You can truly offer that extra advice customers are seeking. It’s a unique opportunity for the whole travel trade to re-emerge as a crucial part of the value chain.”
Meanwhile, Jarvinen apologised for the airline’s delays in processing refunds for cancelled flights, which he attributed to the “sheer volume” of refund requests, currently coming in at 1,000 per day.
“I apologise that it’s taken a longer time than any of us wanted to process refunds,” he added. “The maximum process time is 120 days, which we know is a long time. We’re sticking to that.”
Jarvinen said refunds were being dealt with in the “right sequence” and were being treated equally, regardless of how they were booked.