AeroWesty
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Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

Sun Feb 27, 2005 11:46 am

People often ask historical questions about their favorite airline in the a.net forums. While sorting through some travel things I've saved, I ran across a pamphlet I'd picked up at the Virgin Atlantic desk in the Virgin Store on Oxford St. in November 1985 that served as their timetable. I ended up not flying Virgin since they could only get me to EWR, and my ultimate destination was LAX, so I arranged for a flight on KLM from Heathrow. I'd only needed a one-way ticket, as I'd flown over standby on TWA to Amsterdam, and just needed a ticket home after an extended stay abroad.

The Flight Times were effective 10 Oct 1985 to 26 Jan 1986, and fares valid through 26 Mar 1986. (Virgin Atlantic had been flying about 18 months at this point, having commenced flights on 22 Jun 1984.)

Flight Times:

Flight VS001 departed Gatwick @ 16:15, arriving Newark @ 18:55
Flight VS002 departed Newark @ 22:15, arriving Gatwick next day @ 09:55
Newark arrivals were at Terminal C. Newark check-in was in Terminal A.


Flight Days:

  • To 15 Dec 1985 flights operated daily except Tuesday and Wednesday

  • 15 Dec 1985 to 12 Jan 1986 flights operated daily except December 25

  • 13 Jan to 26 Jan 1986 flights operated daily except Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday


  • Fares were one-way, with no advance purchase necessary:

  • Economy - £149/$199 (£179/$249 Christmas/New Year's holiday period)

  • Late Saver - £129/$169 (£139/$199 holiday period)

  • Standby - £99

  • Upper Class - £499


  • Late Saver fares were bookable in the UK after the departure of the previous flight, or 48 hours in advance departing from the US.

    Return fares were double plus £3/$3 US departure tax.

    Baggage allowance was 2 pieces with a combined weight not to exceed 30 kgs. In Upper Class you were allowed 3 pieces with a combined weight not to exceed 40 kgs.


    Other bits:

  • Their 747 was named "Maiden Voyager".

  • Their motto: "We cut fares, not corners."

  • The inflight magazine was named "Hot Air".

  • The Upper Class cabin had 14 seats on the upper deck with a seat pitch of 40" and offered footrests. Designed as a penthouse suite, Upper Class also offered a private bar and lounge, a high resolution video monitor, and exclusive washroom facilities.

  • At Newark, Upper Class passengers were offered complimentary helicopter service to either Manhattan or to JFK or LGA airports for onward connections. Limousine service was also available to/from Newark within a 40-mile radius.

  • At Gatwick, Upper Class passengers could choose from either the same limousine service or a first class ticket aboard the Gatwick Express, or a £20 voucher towards car parking at Gatwick.

  • Virgin's frequent flyer plan was simple. For every Upper Class flight made, a voucher was given for a free Economy flight. If you'd rather not fly Economy, you could apply the voucher towards the cost of an Upper Class fare and pay the difference. (This effectively brought the one-way fare for Upper Class to £350 after your first flight.)


  • Now go forth and impress your friends and neighbors with all your Virgin Atlantic knowledge, and win plenty of trivia contests.

    Cheers.
    International Homo of Mystery
     
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    Richard28
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Sun Feb 27, 2005 11:55 am

    thanks for the post - how time has changed things!

    interesting to see 40" pitch in upper class - premium economy now attracts a 38" pitch, and upper class has 2 metre + long beds!

    mind you the prices have changed too -oh to be able to get upper class for £499 return - including helicopter transfer!

    damn you inflation !!
     
    AeroWesty
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Sun Feb 27, 2005 12:00 pm

    Quoting Richard28 (reply 1):
    oh to be able to get upper class for £499 return


    You're welcome! The prices above were one-way, double for return.  Smile
    International Homo of Mystery
     
    cs03
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Sun Feb 27, 2005 12:07 pm

    I took VS from LGW to EWR in July 1986 for o/w in Y for USD$249. (quite a bargain at the time! Great service, and on time!
     
    airgeek12
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Sun Feb 27, 2005 12:28 pm

    Wow.. thanks alot! Talk about a blast from the past! lol. Love the Upper Class frequent flyer program!! haha. Upper class at 499?!?!? Is that some kind of sick joke?!

    Quoting Richard28 (reply 1):
    damn you inflation !!


    My thoughts exactly! :p

    geek
     
    AeroWesty
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-

    Sun Feb 27, 2005 1:22 pm

    Since a couple of folks have mentioned the effects of inflation, I thought I'd take a quick look at how much it would cost to fly essentially the same routes leaving tomorrow. The lowest one-way fares quoted on the Virgin Atlantic website are:

    From LHR to EWR on VS001, 27 Feb 2005:

  • £443.30 Economy (£149 in 1986)

  • £2,456.30 Upper Class (£499 in 1986)


  • From EWR to LHR on VS002, 27 Feb 2005:

  • $705.60 Economy ($199 in 1986)

  • $4,397.60 Upper Class ($666.45 in 1986--converted from £ to $ at the timetable's rate then in effect, about 1.3 to 1)


  • Upper Class fares have gone up 5-6x, and to be fair, it is a much better product (but as noted below, far less valuable in the way of frequent flyer benefits). Basic Economy one-way fares have gone up almost exactly 3x from the UK, and 3.5x from the US (although, to be fair again, book ahead return fares are at about the same price as the lowest available return fare on Virgin nearly 20 years ago). But no Upper Class chopper rides to Manhattan, poo.

    To compare the frequent flyer benefits from 1986 to 2005, 6,916 Flying Club miles earned with an Upper Class one-way fare would require you to fly 3 round trips (41,496 miles) before you'd be eligible to have enough miles for a free return ticket in Economy between New York and London (40,000 mile award). So almost triple the flying for the same basic benefit. That's quite the leap!

    [Edited 2005-02-27 05:28:45]
    International Homo of Mystery
     
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    Richard28
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Sun Feb 27, 2005 1:46 pm

    Taking the UK inflation figure of 100.0 in January 1987, and 188.9 in January 2005, and taking the original 1986 fares, they would now be, in "todays money", as follows:

    Quoting AeroWesty (reply 0):
    Fares were one-way, with no advance purchase necessary:

    Economy - £149/$199 (£179/$249 Christmas/New Year's holiday period)

    Late Saver - £129/$169 (£139/$199 holiday period)

    Standby - £99

    Upper Class - £499



    Economy - £149 : now = £281.46 single (£562.92 return)
    Upper Class - £499 : now -= £942.61 single (£1885.22 return)

    we can now purchase economy fares for as little as £195 return in sales, and upper class to the east coast can easily be purchaed in the £1800 bracket when purchasing an advance Z class fare (no helipcopter though on that fare class!)

    so, after consideration, it would seem that inflation has been very fare (excuse the pun) to us jet set!

    Rich

    [Edited 2005-02-27 05:48:37]
     
    AeroWesty
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-

    Sun Feb 27, 2005 2:49 pm

    Quoting Richard28 (reply 6):
    so, after consideration, it would seem that inflation has been very fare (excuse the pun) to us jet set!


    Good catch and interesting analysis. So basically, to retain the same fare in today's dollars as Virgin was offering in 1986, would simply require advance purchase, good timing, and no more of those pesky chopper rides or extravagant free ticket plans.  Smile
    International Homo of Mystery
     
    LRGT
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-

    Sun Feb 27, 2005 3:04 pm

    Quoting AeroWesty (reply 5):
    From LHR to EWR on VS001, 27 Feb 2005:

    # £443.30 Economy (£149 in 1986)

    # £2,456.30 Upper Class (£499 in 1986)


    Your comparision is spurious since fare structures have changed dramatically. Now, last-minute trips are the ones that are expensive!

    For the leisure traveler, today to fly VS is NOT more it is half the price *HALF* the price, $200US r/t versus $398US r/t THEN.

    In the good old days fares were fair; but now it is much more complicated, less expensive for some and more expensive for others.
    Don't bring up the NW DC9's unless you have to!
     
    AeroWesty
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Sun Feb 27, 2005 3:18 pm

    Quoting Lrgt (reply 8):
    today to fly VS is NOT more it is half the price *HALF* the price


    Oh you'll get no argument from me on that at all, lol. That's why I qualified my comments with that advance purchase fares were available today that were the same in pounds/dollars as the basic fares Virgin was offering in 1986 (back up there in reply #5.)  Smile

    One of the things I found most interesting out of all this was the Late Saver fares, as once that day's flight took off from Gatwick, the empty seats on the next day's flight began to become discounted. I wouldn't mind seeing that concept return, truth be told.
    International Homo of Mystery
     
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    PM
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Mon Feb 28, 2005 12:12 am

    One thing that HAS improved since then is their colour scheme!! Big grin

    Hey - that was my first smiley!
     
    Spike
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Mon Feb 28, 2005 2:26 am

    I thought VS inflight magazine was still called 'Hot Air'?
    Its funny how some parts of the airline have not changed from core values. Everything with Virgin must still be seen to be as funky as their day one launch. Almost as if they are doing this to beat BA and government stuffiness. 'We cut fares, not corners' has certainly been stuck to. The inflight music channels are still second to none. And they really love that fake blond in red look of a girl when it comes to staff.
    Virgin reminds you that flying can still be a bit of fun but not quite the golden days. My first Virgin flight was in their Vickers Viscount to Brussels - four engines 4 long haul indeed!  Smile
     
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    KLM11
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Mon Feb 28, 2005 6:11 am

    How many other airlines, besides VS offered, or still offer the complementary helicopter transfer? Pretty Cool!  Smile

    --KLM11
    BENAIRE - The Refined Airline
     
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    Richard28
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Mon Feb 28, 2005 6:57 am

    Quoting KLM11 (reply 12):
    How many other airlines, besides VS offered, or still offer the complementary helicopter transfer?


    Malaysian airlines used to offer a helicopter service from central London into LHR IIRC.

    Dont know if they still do it though.
     
    VS11
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Mon Feb 28, 2005 12:06 pm

    Thank you so much for the exciting information. In addition to inflation, other factors affecting price would be exchange rates, oil price, general demand for air travel and, of course, revenue management systems. Fare structure was mentioned. Thanks, again.

    VS11
     
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    Crosswind
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Tue Mar 01, 2005 2:26 am

    Some vintage photos and Virgin Atlantic marketing material for anyone interested at The Airchive; dates all the way back to 1984. Lots of other airlines covered, very interesting site.

    Main entrance to the site here;

    Regards
    CROSSWIND
     
    ltbewr
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    RE: Virgin Atlantic In The Early Days (circa 1985-86)

    Tue Mar 01, 2005 2:51 am

    I was fortunate to have traveled on the 'Maiden Voyager' G-VIRG, 747-100 service in fall of 1984, EWR-LGW-EWR not long after they started. (that a/c was retired and broken up a couple years ago, pix of it's end aaare in the photo posts). It was a fun experience, with lots of goodies (eye shades, note pads, pens, ect., I think I still have the pad somewhere in my apartment). I believe I paid someting like $300 R/T for my fare. I loved their attitude and style, espceially vs. BA.
    I also took them in 1987 from LHR on a standby basis on a return flight to EWR at their Megastore on Oxford Street, for something like L99/$149 USD + taxes. My last flight on them was in late November/early December 1996 with a late saver ticket I purchased at the mega store in NYC in Times Square, for something like $350 R/T including taxes/fees. That was my first experience with PTV's and loved their uncensored movies, music, etc..
    My 17 y.o niece took Virgin EWR-LHR-EWR last August, this was her first international flight, the longest flight she was ever on, to visit with friends who used to live in the USA and had returned home to the UK, near Manchester. So 2 generations of my family have had the Virgin experience.
    What must be noted about the early days of Virgin Atlantic and why the initially operated between LGW and EWR was due to the failure of Laker. The US and UK governments agreed to a set number of flights to be operated with discounted fares. British Caladonia operated flights (I believe on DC-10's) for over a year, then some charter operation tried for a while, then Virgin as their 1st destination got the special discount airline slots. They, along with PeopleExpress for their UK and later their Brussles services were the first to use part of Terminal C at EWR. A part of the terminal building initally built in the early 1970s was finished up temporarly, and use by them.

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