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):
- 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)