Virgin Atlantic Little Red

Virgin Atlantic Little Red (also referred to as Virgin Little Red and Little Red) was a British airline subsidiary owned by Virgin Atlantic.

Virgin Atlantic Little Red
Virgin Atlantic Little Red.png
IATA ICAO Callsign
Commenced operations2013
Ceased operations26 September 2015
HubsLondon Heathrow Airport
Frequent-flyer programFlying Club
Fleet size4
Parent companyVirgin Atlantic

It was created in 2012 as a way to provide competition for aviation giant[1] 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 operationsEdit

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.[2] 12 of these slots were set aside for domestic usage,[3] 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.[4] 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.[3] 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.[5][6]

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.[7] The airline brand made its first flight on 31 March 2013, flying from Manchester to Heathrow.[8]

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.[9] In its first six months of operation, Little Red transported 250,000 passengers.[10] 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, rather than as long-haul connections, which led to flights often departing with only a third of seats sold.[11] This was attributed to the fact that Little Red had to operate out of Terminal 1 and later Terminal 2 as Terminal 3 (where Virgin Atlantic flew out of) had no gates for domestic flights.[12] 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.[13] 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."[14]

Losses and shutdownEdit

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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[5] 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.[15]

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.[17] 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.[18] However this was dependent on another airline not being willing to take the place of Little Red in running domestic flights from Heathrow.[19] Virgin leased out the three slots it retained.[20] In 2017, the remaining Little Red slots were taken over by Flybe.[21]


During its operation, Virgin Atlantic Little Red operated to four destinations in the United Kingdom.

City Airport Begin End Ref.
Aberdeen Aberdeen Airport 9 April 2013 26 September 2015 [22][23]
Edinburgh Edinburgh Airport 5 April 2013 26 September 2015 [22][23]
London Heathrow AirportHub 31 March 2013 26 September 2015 [22][23]
Manchester Manchester Airport 31 March 2013 28 March 2015 [22][23]


Virgin Atlantic Little Red Airbus A320-200 operated by Aer Lingus

During its operation, Virgin Atlantic Little Red's fleet consisted of four Airbus A320s wet leased from Aer Lingus under a three-year contract.[24] The aircraft had 29 rows of seating with a 3–3 configuration for a total of 174 seats.[25] 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.[26]

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.[27] 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.[28]


  1. ^ Simon Calder (6 July 2012). "Lord Marshall: Executive who turned British Airways from a sleeping giant into a world leader". The Independent. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  2. ^ "Virgin eyes BMI slots for launch of UK flights". Telegraph. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Virgin to compete with BA's Scotland to Heathrow links". BBC News. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  4. ^ Thomas Molloy (13 April 2015). "Aer Lingus got €13m sales boost from deal with Virgin". Irish Independent. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Virgin CEO: Little Red's long-haul links 'should help it fly'". Telegraph. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  6. ^ Unknown. "McGinley sees a Little Red". McGinley Aviation. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  7. ^ "Virgin Names New Domestic Airline 'Little Red'". Travel Business Review. 1 March 2013. Archived from the original on 20 February 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
  8. ^ "Virgin Atlantic's Little Red begins with Manchester flight". BBC News. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  9. ^ "Virgin Atlantic unveils UK airline services". BBC News. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  10. ^ "Virgin Atlantic's Little Red Registers 250,000 Passengers in Six Months". Travel Business Review. 9 October 2013. Archived from the original on 20 February 2016. Retrieved 1 January 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
  11. ^ "Virgin Atlantic forced to fly Little Red domestic flights only a third full". Telegraph. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  12. ^ Calder, Simon (7 October 2014). "Richard Branson's Little Red airline to fold". The Independent. Retrieved 12 March 2021.
  13. ^ "Virgin's Little Red flies 60pc empty". Telegraph. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  14. ^ Cunliffe, Peter (7 October 2014). "Virgin Atlantic's Little Red airline fails to make an impact". Daily Express. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  15. ^ a b Simon Calder (10 October 2013). "Virgin domestic flights a 'disaster' as passengers stick with no-frills rivals". The Independent. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  16. ^ "Virgin Atlantic cancels Little Red domestic flight service". BBC News. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  17. ^ "Virgin Atlantic terminates Little Red operations outright". ch-aviation. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  18. ^ Simon Calder (2 October 2015). "Flights to Uganda, Anglo-Scottish routes, and the end of Little Red". The Independent. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  19. ^ "Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic ends Little Red domestic service". Telegraph. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  20. ^ "Virgin Atlantic to lease out Little Red Heathrow slots". Travel Weekly. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  21. ^ "Flybe's Scottish flights take off from Heathrow". Retrieved 29 August 2019.
  22. ^ a b c d "Virgin Atlantic Officially Launches Domestic UK "Little Red" Service and Codeshare Operation". Airline Route. 1 March 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  23. ^ a b c d "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.
  24. ^ "ANALYSIS: Virgin's Little Red dilemma". Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  25. ^ Smith, Graham (23 August 2013). "Virgin Atlantic Little Red A320-200 economy". Business Traveller. Panacea Publishing. Retrieved 5 January 2016.
  26. ^ Brownsell, Alex. "Virgin Atlantic to take on BA with Little Red short-haul brand". Marketing Magazine. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  27. ^ "Aer Lingus pondering post-Little Red aircraft deployments". Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  28. ^ "Aer Lingus today unveils its new "Green Spirit" Airbus A320 rugby logo jet". World Airline News. 10 May 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2018.

External linksEdit