British airline Virgin Atlantic to establish route to Israel

Cut-rate airline also plans a special flight to Tel Aviv for the Eurovision Song Contest in May.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

British airline Virgin Atlantic (VA) has announced that it will establish a new route to Israel in September 2019. It also said that one of its planes will make a special inaugural flight to Tel Aviv in May, before full service begins, as a gesture to U.K. music lovers, in order to bring fans to the Eurovision Song Contest and also return them after the week-long festivities.

The cut-rate airline reportedly has been considering competing directly with British Airways and El Al on flights to and from Britain since at least 1998. It presently flies between the two countries under agreements with other airlines.

The decision was made, according to the report, following talks between airline representatives and Israel’s Airport Authority last month at a meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association of the world’s airlines.  VA representatives are coming to Israel next week to check out Ben-Gurion Airport’s facilities and finalize the details regarding the commencement of the route.

Virgin Atlantic is most associated with billionaire businessman Sir Richard Branson, who started the airline in 1984. He has since relinquished his controlling share of the airline, having sold 31% to Air France-KLM last year while retaining 20% of the company. The other 49% is owned by the U.S. giant Delta Airlines.

The last time the airline made news in Israel was in June, when it was announced that Shai Weiss, its Israeli chief financial and commercial officer, would be taking the helm as CEO in January 2019. At the time, Hadashot News reported that Weiss was the first Israeli national to head a major international airline.

In February, VA got into a slight kerfuffle with pro-Israel customers when it called a couscous, bulgur and vegetable dish on its menu “Palestinian couscous salad.” After customers aired complaints on social media about the allegedly offensive politicization of the food offering, the carrier changed the name to just “couscous salad.”