Virgin Atlantic is considering introducing flights from Melbourne to Hong Kong, then continuing through to London, as the Richard Branson-backed airline experiences an uptick in travel from Australia to the UK on the back of the Qantas-Emirates alliance.
However, a second daily service from Sydney could also be on the cards, says Virgin Atlantic's General Manager Australia, Luke Fisher.
"Melbourne is definitely a good option" Fisher told The Australian. "Or whether we consolidate with our Sydney focus and move to a second operation, it is really a 50-50 consideration."
Fisher reports that while Virgin Atlantic travellers out of Sydney were once evenly distributed between those who hopped off at Hong Kong and those who continued to London "now there is more London than Hong Kong. And I think that is a direct result of the changes that Qantas and Emirates have made."
Hong Kong vs Dubai
"There are still people that prefer Hong Kong as a stopover or transit point" Fisher continued, drawing a contrast against Qantas' shift from Singapore to Dubai as the pivot point for its European flights.
"We have seen a transition that more people, when they are going to the UK, would prefer to go this way, whether they are stopping over in Hong Kong or going direct."
A survey conducted by Qantas in March this year saw Hong Kong rated just behind Dubai and Singapore as the most popular transit point or stopover city for flights between Australia and Europe.
After polling travellers on their preferred stopover city, Qantas found that 64% put Singapore at the top of the list, followed by Dubai at 61% (a surprisingly high position, considering that at the time of the poll no Qantas flights were travelling via Dubai) and Hong Kong at 60%.
More options for Melbourne-London
Melbourne's Kangaroo Routes to London already include Qantas and Emirates (via Dubai), Singapore Airlines (via Singapore), Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong), Etihad (Abu Dhabi), Qatar Airways (Doha), Malaysia Airlines (Kuala Lumpur), China Southern (Guangzhou) and Thai Airways (Bangkok).
Garuda Indonesia will join the kangaroo club in November when the airline launches its new Boeing 777-300ER onto the Jakarta-London route.
"We are a niche carrier" Fisher admitted, "we don't make any secrets about that. We are about being an alternative on the Sydney to London route. Having said that, we continue to drive a profit from our operations on this particular route."
Virgin soft-pedals on SkyTeam
However, Virgin Atlantic has sought to pour cold water on continued speculation that it was set to join the SkyTeam alliance.
Despite the airline's Chief Commercial Officer stating in February this year that it will “probably make sense” to join SkyTeam, CEO Craig Kreeger told USA Today that "for now, Virgin Atlantic remains very happy with the partners we have."
However, Kreeger allowed that "at some point in time in the future, we'll evaluate whether SkyTeam makes sense for us."
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