Virgin Atlantic Little Red
|Ceased operations||26 September 2015|
|Hubs||London Heathrow Airport|
|Frequent-flyer program||Flying Club|
|Parent company||Virgin Atlantic|
It was created in 2012 as a way to provide competition for aviation giant British Airways (BA) on UK domestic mainland flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Manchester from London Heathrow Airport. During its operation, the airline operated four Airbus A320s wet leased from Irish airline Aer Lingus and served a network of four domestic destinations. The airline ceased operations in 2015 following low passenger numbers.
Foundation and start of operations
In 2012, British Airways took over British Midland International (BMI) which gave them a monopoly on UK mainland flights from Heathrow. In order for the deal to be completed, the European Union Competition Commissioner decreed that BA would have to give up 14 of BMI's landing slots at Heathrow to comply with EU competition regulations. 12 of these slots were set aside for domestic usage, which were bought by Virgin Atlantic after they outbid Aer Lingus for the required British domestic operating licence. Virgin announced that they would set up Virgin Atlantic Little Red as a subsidiary to use these slots to cover domestic UK mainland routes as Aer Lingus already provided competition for BA on flights to Northern Ireland from Heathrow. Little Red was later revealed to be operated on a wet-lease by Aer Lingus whereby the planes would be operated by Aer Lingus but would bear Virgin Atlantic livery. The pilots would be employed by Aer Lingus, with cabin crew supplied by McGinley Aviation. The cabin crew would wear Virgin Little Red uniforms and had training from Virgin, despite the fact that airline had not previously operated narrow-body aircraft.
Virgin announced that initially the airline would operate four daily flights between London Heathrow Airport and Manchester Airport, six daily flights between Heathrow and Edinburgh Airport, and three daily flights between Heathrow and Aberdeen Airport. The airline brand made its first flight on 31 March 2013, flying from Manchester to Heathrow.
The new service was launched in 2013 with owner Sir Richard Branson stating his intent to compete with BA with "Virgin's rock and roll spirit" and to allow Virgin Atlantic's long haul passengers to connect to the rest of the UK using Virgin. In its first six months of operation, Little Red transported 250,000 passengers. Despite Branson's aim and a rise in passenger numbers during the first few months of Little Red's existence, the majority of Little Red's passengers were eventually using it for domestic flights only which led to flights often departing with only a third of seats sold. The Civil Aviation Authority published figures that revealed that Little Red had the worst load figures of any airline in aviation at the time with 37.6% of passenger seats occupied. International Airlines Group CEO, Willie Walsh had criticised Little Red calling it a "mistake" and stated "You cannot make money flying aircraft that are less than half full."
Losses and shutdown
Virgin had claimed that they were prepared to take losses on Little Red, estimated to be up to £3 million a week, in order to wait for an expansion in brand awareness. Virgin then stated that losses on Little Red would be covered by Virgin Atlantic's transatlantic routes. Despite this, as a result of the low passenger numbers in October 2014, it was announced that Little Red would cease to operate from September 2015. This was attributed to BA's dominance of the UK domestic market and Heathrow's restrictions of the usage of the small number of slots available. The slot limitation issue had been mentioned at Little Red's foundation in that the slots to Scottish airports could only be used to fly to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. It was also claimed in the media that passengers preferred to use low-cost carriers such as EasyJet to fly to and from other London airports aside of Heathrow for domestic travel owing to pricing.
Little Red's flights to Manchester ended in March 2015 with the final flights to Edinburgh and Aberdeen departing on 26 September 2015. The planes were returned for Aer Lingus' sole use in the Republic of Ireland following the final passenger fights of Little Red. After the closure of Little Red, all but three of the Heathrow slots were returned to BA and absorbed back into their operation, thus granting them a monopoly on UK mainland domestic flights at Heathrow for the first time since British Midland Airways (as BMI were named at the time) moved into Heathrow in 1982. However this was dependent on another airline not being willing to take the place of Little Red in running domestic flights from Heathrow. Virgin leased out the three slots it retained. In 2017, the remaining Little Red slots were taken over by Flybe.
During its operation, Virgin Atlantic Little Red operated to four destinations in the United Kingdom.
|Aberdeen||Aberdeen Airport||9 April 2013||26 September 2015|||
|Edinburgh||Edinburgh Airport||5 April 2013||26 September 2015|||
|London||Heathrow AirportHub||31 March 2013||26 September 2015|||
|Manchester||Manchester Airport||31 March 2013||28 March 2015|||
During its operation, Virgin Atlantic Little Red's fleet consisted of four Airbus A320s wet leased from Aer Lingus under a three-year contract. The aircraft had 29 rows of seating with a 3–3 configuration, for a total of 174 seats. The fleet was painted with Virgin Atlantic livery with future plans to eventually repaint them with Little Red livery. However, due to the closure of operations, this rebrand of the planes never occurred and they retained their original livery.
There was consideration that Aer Lingus would take over the Little Red routes under their own brand with the Little Red fleet repainted. However they declined to do this stating that they wanted more flexibility with the returned aircraft to support their current fleet and operation. Aer Lingus repainted EI-DEO, one of the aircraft operated under the Little Red brand, in its "Green Spirit" branding in May 2015, as part of its partnership with the Irish Rugby Football Union.
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- "Virgin Atlantic announces plans to stop its short-haul service, Little Red, in 2015" (Press release). Virgin Atlantic. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
Little Red’s final flights between Manchester and London Heathrow will be on the 28th March 2015 and its final Aberdeen and Edinburgh flights will be on 26th September 2015.
- "ANALYSIS: Virgin's Little Red dilemma". Flightglobal.com. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
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- "Aer Lingus pondering post-Little Red aircraft deployments". Flightglobal.com. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
- "Aer Lingus today unveils its new "Green Spirit" Airbus A320 rugby logo jet". World Airline News. 10 May 2015. Retrieved 2018-01-08.