ISLAMABAD          -  United Kingdom’s Virgin Atlantic yesterday announced plans to launch flights from London and Manchester to Pakistan. This December the carrier will commence routes from Heathrow and Manchester to Islamabad and from Manchester to Lahore. Currently, British Airways flies between London Heathrow and Islamabad, and Pakistan International Airlines offers flights to London, Birmingham and Manchester. The country’s flag carrier is currently banned from EU and UK airspace, although PIA is understood to be chartering an A330 aircraft through Portuguese firm Hi Fly in order to continue services to the UK.

Virgin’s chief commercial officer Juha Jarvinen said that with travel restrictions still in place for many destinations around the world, “we’re continually evaluating our network, looking at customer demand and where there are opportunities to launch new services”. The carrier said that the services would offer “seamless, speedy connections and a consistent long-haul onboard experience for customers travelling from destinations throughout North America, including New York JFK, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston and San Francisco via London Heathrow onwards to Pakistan”.

Pakistan has the seventh largest diaspora in the world and the new services aim to respond to the large, fast-growing demand to visit friends and relatives from customers in the UK and the US, as well as capturing demand for business travel to the region as global economies gradually recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adventurous travellers will enjoy the UNESCO sights of Lahore, as well as exploring the foothills of the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayas mountain ranges outside Islamabad. The services will offer seamless, speedy connections and a consistent long-haul onboard experience for customers travelling from destinations throughout North America, including New York JFK, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston and San Francisco via London Heathrow onwards to Pakistan. Connections from European destinations will also be available through codeshare and interline partners, said a news release. As well as flying customers, Virgin Atlantic will offer a fast, efficient cargo service presenting new opportunities for companies looking to export and import goods such as fresh produce and textiles between prime markets in the UK and US, and Pakistan.

Alison Blackburne, acting Head of the British High Commission in Pakistan, said: “Virgin Atlantic starting flights to Pakistan is great news for the hundreds of thousands of people who regularly travel between our two nations, as well as a boost to UK-Pakistan trade links. We look forward to welcoming Virgin Atlantic to this fantastic country.”

Virgin Atlantic restarted passenger flying on July 20, after a three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently operating flights to New York JFK, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Barbados and Miami with further routes being added throughout September and October. 

To ensure the health and safety of customers and crew, Virgin Atlantic is implementing additional measures to offer peace of mind in the airport and when taking to the skies. These include enhanced and thorough cleaning practices at check in, boarding gates and onboard including the use of electrostatic spraying of high-grade disinfectant in all cabins and lavatories before every flight, ensuring no surface is left untouched.  Safe distancing will also be adhered to wherever possible, and mask wearing will be required throughout the journey. All customers will be provided with a personal Health Pack for their health and safety, which will contain three medical grade face masks to be worn onboard, surface wipes and hand gel. 

The airline is offering a temporary simplified hot food service in all cabins and from October, will be reintroducing special meals catering for individual dietary requirements including Halal, vegetarian, vegan and gluten free. Meals have been redesigned to limit interaction, enclosed and controlled from preparation in a Covid-safe, monitored environment to the moment it is served. Economy and Premium Economy customers will now enjoy a “Fly safe, eat well” meal box, which incorporates a choice of three hot meals, cheese and biscuits and a dessert pot washed down with a selection of beverages.

 Upper Class customers will receive a choice of three hot meals, desserts, including cheese and biscuits and a ciabatta roll, all delivered to their seat on a tray. 

All customers will receive a second meal service which, on day flights from the UK, includes the delicious Mile High Tea in collaboration with celebrity pâtissier Eric Lanlard.