Virgin Australia axes Sydney-Hong Kong flights

Virgin says Hong Kong's civil unrest and China's coronavirus have made the Sydney-Hong Kong route unviable.

By David Flynn, February 6 2020
Virgin Australia axes Sydney-Hong Kong flights

Virgin Australia will drop its daily Sydney-Hong Kong flights from 2 March 2020, exiting not only Hong Kong but the 'greater China' play initiated and championed by former CEO John Borghetti.

The airline has also confirmed that its Melbourne-Hong Kong service, due to be 'suspended' from February 11, will not return, as the airline "withdraws (its) services between Australia and Hong Kong".

Virgin Australia CCO John MacLeod, in an internal staff memo sighted by Executive Traveller, said "This decision comes off the back of a comprehensive review of the route. We've observed a continuing decline in demand, following the recent civil unrest and growing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in the greater region."

"These recent factors demonstrate that Hong Kong is no longer a commercially viable route for us to continue operating."

"This is a tough commercial decision, however we have some exciting new opportunities to look forward to, such as our inaugural flights to Tokyo taking off next month," MacLeod added.

Virgin Australia has confirmed the airline will shutter the Sydney-Hong Kong flights, and says passengers booked to fly between Sydney and Hong Kong will be contacted by the airline or their travel agent "to provide alternative arrangements."

Also read: How to change or cancel travel to China and Hong Kong due to the coronavirus

From Hong Kong hero to zero

Virgin began flying between Melbourne and Hong Kong in July 2017, with Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson making an anonymous but noisy entrance to Melbourne Airport's international terminal hidden the head of a 32-metre 'dragon' accompanied by lion dancers and drummers.

Richard Branson's never been the shy, retiring type...
Richard Branson's never been the shy, retiring type...

Sydney-Hong Kong followed in July 2018, with the airline talking up plans for a foothold in mainland China itself, backed by 

Chinese conglomerate HNA, the largest private operator of airlines in China, stumped up $159 million for a 13% stake in Virgin Australia, while HNA's Hong Kong Airlines and HK Express – the later since subsumed into Cathay Pacific through a $930 million buyout – were enlisted as a 'strategic partner' for connections into China and as a mainland market feed for Virgin.

From the outset Virgin was elbowing its way into crowded markets dominated by Qantas and Cathay Pacific, with the latter offering not only multiple flights each day but a raft of onwards connections to Europe and the Americas, along with other parts of Asia.

Former CEO John Borghetti saw Hong Kong Kong as the start of a determined and deliberate push into China, and in mid-2017 affirmed that "by the end of 2018 we will be in mainland China," with aim of eventually opening two routes to mainland China to take advantage of carriers owned by or affiliated to HNA.

Pulling out of Hong Kong is part of Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah's plan to 'right-size' then airline.
Pulling out of Hong Kong is part of Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah's plan to 'right-size' then airline.

New CEO Paul Scurrah remains confident of Asia's place on the airline's route map, but sees the pivot to Japan as being more sustainable, especially as it is underpinned by a new partnership with ANA offering codeshare flights and reciprocal points earning and lounge access.

Hong Kong joins the cut list sparked by Scrurrah's drive to 'right-size' the struggling carrier by "turning a great airline into a great business."

"Flying to the right destinations, with the right customer demand, and the right sized fleet will improve our financial performance," he noted at Virgin's 2019 AGM.

With no other international expansions on the horizon, the Airbus  A330 dedicated to the Sydney-Hong Kong route is expected to be returned to the transcontinental trek between Australia's eastern capitals and Perth – a move which will be welcomed by many business travellers, considering the far superior business class seats and experience of the A330 compared to the smaller single-aisle Boeing 737.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Platinum

26 Jun 2011

Total posts 72

Disappointing, but understandable.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 363

..... and inevitable.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Dec 2016

Total posts 61

A great shame. This was so much better than Qantas. Makes the recent Virgin Atlantic code-share link a somewhat waste of effort too.

Yes, we can go via LAX, but not a preferred choice.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Dec 2016

Total posts 61

I meant, via LA onto London is a less desirable choice.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2012

Total posts 225

There's been talk of Virgin Atlantic looking into a return to Tokyo (Haneda), which could then be included under their agreement with VA.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2012

Total posts 225

Very unlucky for VA. They'd got their load factors up to 80%+ with plenty of cargo in the belly at one point, then the protests and now coronavirus have hit.

Can o lay imagine the losses QF and VA have been copping on the HK routes this past 6 months. I noticed on my last trip over hotels that usually go for $200AUD+ a night going for the $35-$50!

Hopefully they'll be back one day, will have to see how the HK market holds up with time.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2011

Total posts 142

They got to those load factors during two months in the past 16mths. BITRE states show the rest of hovered in the mid 60% at best (prior to protests, and less after). While I am sympathetic the current situation happening in HKG isn't conducive to VA flying to HKG, they had an incredibly weak partner in HX and didn't properly grow their base during the few years they have been flying to HKG

05 Jul 2016

Total posts 21

Which hotels are THIS cheap?

06 Jun 2017

Total posts 39

Damn, I fly to Shanghai a lot for work and always prefer transferring via HK on VA and then onwards with HX (admittedly I'm not a huge fan of HX). Guess it's back via SIN for me from now on. I love Changi but not a fan of the second 5.5 hour flight.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Dec 2016

Total posts 61

@jeppetto367

I expect ANA do a Tokyo - Shanghai flight?

Although, I think their VA codeshare only applies to Japan domestic flights.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2017

Total posts 52

i was going to cancel my scheduled HK flight in late March this morning, thought they may change the schedule, well taht was quick!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

07 Dec 2015

Total posts 44

Such a shame on many fronts but understandable. One of the challenges when you have such a small international network with limited scale - one destination catches a cold and you've got a cut it off before everything else gets the flu

I really hope Japan works out for them - it seems to be more a robust choice with a strong partner. I hope details on the entire ANA deal are good for VA Frequent Flyers and simple. VA's complicated offerings for FF with its partners does my head in.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

17 Nov 2014

Total posts 97

It is a shame that we will not able to fly the Business to Hong Kong for a short term.

Hopefully this route will be launch again in a few year's time.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

04 Sep 2018

Total posts 10

Hmm I travelled MEL - HKG - LHR - USA - LAX - MEL 3 times in the past few years with my next trip on March 24.. Will be interesting to see how we get to London now.. Maybe MEL - LAX - LHR...

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

31 Oct 2016

Total posts 73

Who did you normally fly the LHR-USA-LAX route with?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

04 Sep 2018

Total posts 10

It was a round the world fare that virgin australia and virgin atlantic were offering.. VA Aus to HKG, VS to LHR, VS to LAX, VA to Aus

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

04 Sep 2018

Total posts 10

So just called virgin and we are being moved to.. Wait for it... Qantas

18 Jan 2017

Total posts 27

Not overly surprised, though I would have expected SQ.

That said, Qantas would be suffering too and would welcome the extra revenue. No doubt this would have been a cheaper option for Virgin. So it's a win-win really.

Win for Virgin cheapest option

Win for Qantas gives them extra revenue

22 Jan 2018

Total posts 81

What bets we'll be reading similar news in 2021 reg their japan flights?!

QF LTG

29 Feb 2016

Total posts 18

Said elsewhere, but its an inevitable shame.. Had really been hoping that I cud read that VS also pulled its HK flights and wud be remaking a VA connection thru Haneda.

How else does a VA fan get a chance on the 777 in biz ? - duration of the VA alternative to Europe, via LAX, is just too long - 32 hrs Mel/LHR with +7 hrs on the ground in LA. Too long for an airport stay, who wants to go thru US Immig these days, and oh look at that, a sample fare for Sept is nearly $11k return ?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2011

Total posts 142

You were never gonna get 777 VA J to HKG anyway. VA 777s only go to LAX. They don't have enough to go anywhere else let alone daily to LAX from SYD/MEL/BNE

QF LTG

29 Feb 2016

Total posts 18

OFC, but at least 'the biz' beds..

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Feb 2017

Total posts 11

I I am booked to London via transfer through Hong Kong business class in late June. Would it be safe staying in the International airport in the business lounge for eight hours?

It will be 100% safe, but also 100% boring LOL. But how are you going to get from AU to HKG now that Virgin Australia has pulled the plug? I would also point out that Virgin Atlantic has closed its own HKG Clubroom lounge and now uses the Plaza Premium First lounge, it's a very good lounge and much better than normal Plaza Premium lounges. But I couldn't imagine spending eight hours in there or any lounge for that matter. I understand why you might not want to into Hong Kong due to protests and coronavirus.

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 476

Honestly, the sooner Virgin drops international services the better, its a failure and only benefits airline news headlines. They don't have the money or scale to pull it off. Just stick to code sharing and be done with your misery.

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 322

Except PS has already said that LAX makes money

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Feb 2017

Total posts 11

I was thinking of going CX but the underlying issue seems to be how safe is it for those of us even transiting through HKG. If you are using points I would be thinking that there are therefore less reward seats available.

05 Aug 2017

Total posts 15

This is one of the reasons why I never chose to be loyal to VA. No global partnerships programs (like *A, OW) very poor international network, insufficient and confusing partners / codeshare arrangements and uncertain and non-sustainable routes. These are the reasons why I'm loyal to QF. It's not a good thing but VA needs to step it up for me to consider switching sides. Shame


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