The Sad History of Virgin Australia’s Long-Haul Network

Virgin Australia will soon emerge from voluntary administration, but it’ll be a smaller airline focused on domestic and international short-haul flying. Virgin is retiring its entire long-haul fleet and won’t resume flights to Los Angeles or Tokyo for at least several years. With Virgin now becoming an all-737 airline, it wouldn’t have the planes to restart long-haul flights even if it wanted to do so in the near future.

With no plans to resume flights to the United States for some time, Virgin Australia has just ended its trans-Pacific joint venture with Delta Air Lines.

The planned launch of flights from Brisbane to Tokyo, Virgin’s only other long-haul destination, has also been pushed back indefinitely. This new route was supposed to launch at the end of March 2020 – just after Australia’s borders closed.

It’s a sad end for Virgin Australia’s long-haul network. But, with the possible exception of Los Angeles, Virgin has never had much success with long-haul flying anyway.

Before the international borders closed due to COVID-19, Virgin had already decided to permanently axe all flights to Hong Kong. In less than three years, Virgin Australia had lost a total of $130 million flying to Hong Kong.

The decision to suspend international flights during the pandemic makes sense. Qantas has done the same thing. And dropping Hong Kong back in February 2020 was understandable in the context of the ongoing protests and coronavirus outbreak, which severely reduced demand.

But Virgin Australia has made many more changes to its long-haul network since it launched as V Australia Airlines in 2009. In the past, Virgin has also flown to Abu Dhabi, Phuket and Johannesburg – all routes that didn’t work out. Here’s a brief history of what happened…

V Australia launches in 2009

In 2009, when the airline was still known as Virgin Blue, it began operating long-haul services under the “V Australia Airlines” brand using Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

V Australia began operating in February 2009 with 3x weekly Sydney-Los Angeles flights, and soon added flights from Brisbane and Melbourne to Los Angeles. These flights still exist (although Melbourne-Los Angeles was axed in 2014 and returned in 2017) – but the airline’s later routes to Phuket and Johannesburg were short-lived.

V Australia was absorbed into Virgin Australia (along with Virgin’s “Pacific Blue” brand, which operated international short-haul services) in December 2011. This was part of John Borghetti’s “Game Change” program, which took Virgin Blue from a budget airline to the full-service Virgin Australia we see today.

Virgin Australia’s long-haul network in 2020

Before the coronavirus shutdown, Virgin Australia was operating just 3 long-haul routes:

  • Sydney-Los Angeles
  • Melbourne-Los Angeles
  • Brisbane-Los Angeles

Brisbane-Tokyo Airbus A330-200 flights were due to launch in late March 2020.

As of March 2020, Virgin Australia also operated 3 routes to Southeast Asia using Boeing 737-800s. (The airline classifies these flights internally as “international short-haul”, even though some flights over 6 hours):

  • Sydney-Denpasar
  • Brisbane-Denpasar
  • Port Hedland-Denpasar

Melbourne-Denpasar Boeing 737-800 flights on were due to launch in late March 2020.

A complete history of Virgin Australia long-haul routes

Here’s a complete history of all changes to Virgin Australia’s long-haul and Southeast Asian network:

  • Late March 2020: Sydney-Los Angeles, Brisbane-Los Angeles, Melbourne-Los Angeles suspended; planned launches of Brisbane-Tokyo & Melbourne-Denpasar cancelled
  • Early March 2020: Sydney-Hong Kong cancelled
  • Feb 2020 – Melbourne-Hong Kong cancelled
  • April 2019 – Seasonal Darwin-Denpasar route operates for six months and does not return
  • July 2018 – Sydney-Hong Kong launched
  • July 2017 – Melbourne-Hong Kong launched
  • June 2017 – Perth-Abu Dhabi flights were supposed to launch, but the route was axed before the first flight departed (Etihad also withdrew from the Perth-Abu Dhabi route in October 2018)
  • April 2017 – Melbourne-Los Angeles reinstated
  • February 2017 – Sydney-Abu Dhabi cancelled
  • January 2017 – Tigerair gets banned from operating to Indonesia and permanently axes all flights to Denpasar the following month
  • March 2016 – Perth-Denpasar, Adelaide-Denpasar and Melbourne-Denpasar cancelled with routes given to Tigerair
  • January 2016 – Perth-Phuket cancelled
  • April 2015 – Port Hedland-Denpasar launched
  • October 2014 – Melbourne-Los Angeles cancelled
  • December 2013 – Sydney-Denpasar and Melbourne-Denpasar launched
  • February 2011 – Sydney-Abu Dhabi launched (V Australia); Melbourne-Johannesburg, Melbourne-Phuket and Brisbane-Phuket cancelled
  • March 2010 – Melbourne-Johannesburg launched (V Australia)
  • December 2009 – Melbourne-Phuket launched (V Australia)
  • November 2009 – Brisbane-Phuket (V Australia) and Perth-Phuket (Pacific Blue) launched
  • September 2009 – Melbourne-Los Angeles launched (V Australia)
  • April 2009 – Brisbane-Los Angeles launched (V Australia)
  • February 2009 – Sydney-Los Angeles launched (under V Australia brand)
  • December 2008 – Adelaide-Denpasar, Brisbane-Denpasar and Perth-Denpasar launched (under Pacific Blue brand)
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J Valdez

The A330 also does weekend runs to Nadi.

samh004

That would be Short-Haul and the article is about Long-Haul routes. I similarly wondered what happened to New Zealand until I worked this out.

Mike

How about partnerships? Will my Velocity points ever be able to be used for a Long Haul flight again?

AgentGerko

Virgin’s problem was simply that every place they tried, they came up against a Oneworld duopoly and the cursed QF FF points. Hong Kong they faced QF and CX. LAX they faced QF and AA. Tokyo they faced QF and JL. Ansett had the same trials and they were at least part of Star Alliance. Virgin couldn’t even offer that. A renewed VA needs to restrict international to shorthaul mostly Pacific Is routes where 737s with a domestic-style Business cabin are acceptable to corporates.

Bob Goodworth

Sadly Bain’s vision has completely disregarded a group of people who have grown to love Virgin Australia long haul. The ennui of the crews was matchless, their care of their passengers was second to none, Where to now Mr Scurrah,

Scotty

I know ‘slot’ negotiations take a long time to get, but Virgin was too slow to go long haul (to Japan) or chose silly places initially (Hong Kong). Where do people want to go? Isn’t that the question they should ask? Japan has been popular for years! Hong Kong… #crickets (although this was likely only a benefit to VA’s numerous Chinese partner airlines). Sigh. Having flown VA and JetBlah BNE to DPS Bali, one product won hands down… no, not the OLD rubbish narrow body plane Virgin used (even Economy X was cramped), it was the brand spanking new Dreamliner… Read more »

John

I did one LAX return flight and their first class cabin was manned by a tall (VERY tall!) guy named James who was so good, so on the ball that I’ve never forgotten both sectors. He had troubles with one inebriated passenger on the way out which he dealt with so professionally, and an ill passenger on a return flight that he also dealt with well. Not just those passengers but the rest of us as well.

Mike

Its such a shame, I did BNE-LAX in J a few times (often using points) and it was a superb experience, up there with the middle eastern carriers. Way ahead of QF.

Stealthflyer

I hope VA2 returns to flying to LA. It was always a much better experience than Qantas. I’m particularly disappointed because I’d just saved up enough Velocity points for a return business class flight to NYC.

A continued relationship with Singapore Airlines is Virgin’s other main appeal. I hope that continues at least.

Peter

Not sad. They should of stayed as Vigin Blue. They never could compete with QF. Pie in the sky.
Hardly ever used the new Virgin. . In flght service abysmal . Last time in Y got bag of crisps on each flt TSV/MEL VIA SYD They should never have received the Haneda slot. I commented. It should have gone to JQ from CNS OR OOL.being a budget carrier as v expensive transfer NRT to downtown. .Know will be blasted but not what Branson promised. And he doesn’t care anyway.!!!!