State-owned Caribbean Airlines will soon be making a reconnection to London through an expanded partnership with Virgin Atlantic, Guardian Media has learnt.
This move comes four years after CAL ended its three weekly flights to London because the route was deemed not profitable.
The London service was launched in 2012 but performed below expectations.
And, as a result of the cancellation of the route, CAL also retired the Boeing 767s from its fleet and returned them to the International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC).
This time around CAL seems to be taking a safer approach to the route by partnering with Virgin Atlantic instead of trying to service it alone.
CAL’s existing fleet currently comprises 12 BOEING 737-800 aircraft and five ATR 72-600.
These aircraft are short and medium-haul, while the route to London is long-haul.
In the proposed plan Barbados will be the transit point for the flight to London from the Caribbean.
From next Saturday subject to regulatory approval by the T&T Civil Aviation Authority, CAL announced that it will launch a service between Barbados and Dominica.
The addition of Dominica to the network is part of the airline’s current strategic plan into the Eastern Caribbean.
The flight schedule is timed to facilitate easy connections to and from regional and international destinations including London.
CAL chief executive officer Garvin Medera stated: “Our Eastern Caribbean expansion continues with the addition of Dominica to our network. We have set up a temporary base in Barbados, providing much needed airlift to Dominica, St Vincent, Grenada and St Lucia, with more destinations to be added in the coming weeks. The flight schedule is also designed to offer seamless connections to international destinations including London, via our expanded interline agreement with Virgin Atlantic.”
Flights will also be facilitated from Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana and Grenada.
T&T is out of the equation so far as the country’s borders remain closed.
This move is expected to lead to Virgin getting more filled seats out of Barbados which they are already service.
“Whether travelling for business or pleasure, the launch of this initiative will open access for flying into Heathrow Airport and beyond, as you can now seamlessly connect via Barbados,” the expanded interline agreement between CAL and Virgin states.
CAL first signed an interline agreement with Virgin in 2007 .
Interline e-ticketing agreements enable Caribbean Airlines’ customers to use a single e-ticket for itineraries that include travel on two or more carriers and allow the airlines to electronically sell tickets on each other.
Travel agents are able to issue interline e-tickets on Caribbean Airlines with Virgin Atlantic flights as part of passengers’ itineraries and vice versa.
“Interline e-ticketing expands Caribbean Airlines’ existing e-ticketing capabilities and distribution,” then CAL CEO Peter Davies stated.
“After being the first Caribbean airline to offer e-tickets and Web check-in, we take pride in being the trendsetter in offering this convenience to our customers. Our passengers benefit from expedited check-in and boarding processes and simplified ticket purchase,” he stated.
In October, Virgin Atlantic will be resuming flights to Montego Bay, Antigua, Grenada and Tobago (via Antigua).
That’s along with a resumption of flight service from Manchester to Barbados in October.
“As countries around the world begin to relax travel restrictions, we look forward to welcoming our customers back onboard and flying them safely to many destinations across our network,” said Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer at Virgin Atlantic.
The carrier says it is implementing new measures both at the airport and onboard “to ensure the health and safety of our customers and our people.”
Virgin Atlantic faced financial ruin but won backing from its creditors for a £1.2 billion rescue plan that would secure its future for at least 18 months and saved 6,500 jobs.
The airline had already cut more than 3,500 jobs out of the 10,000 employees it had at the beginning of the year.
The airline said shareholders, banks, aircraft owners and suppliers owed money had approved the plan.
Virgin Atlantic said the agreement puts it in a position to “rebuild its balance sheet” and “welcome passengers back”.
It had warned it would run out of cash by September without the deal.
The £1.2bn rescue deal involves £400m in new cash, half of which will come from its main shareholder, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.
Just as it was expected to celebrate blue skies ahead, CAL is now scheduled to take a financial nosedive.
When COVID-19 first hit T&T shores six months ago, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that the country’s borders would be closed to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Those travel restrictions could not come at a worse time for CAL.
“This decision will have far-reaching consequences for our national airline which incidentally has been doing quite well. For 2018 CAL turned around its business and was reporting tens of millions of dollars of profit for 2018,” Rowley said.
CAL reported a profit of $42 million for 2018.
In April 2018, CAL’s Medera stated the plan was to return the national airline to profitability in two years.
Medera said by the end of financial year 2019 he hoped to get CAL to at least break even.
The company surpassed even Medera’s expectations.
“On Saturday I was scheduled to speak at a function where CAL was going to report its performance for 2019, which was quite significant, I think the figure they were about to report was $124 million in profit,” Rowley said.
“But now in the matter of weeks the business of CAL and the future of CAL is now a matter for the corporate sole and we will do what we have to do at the company and at the level of the government to ensure that when this is over that we still have an airline and we still have our staff who could continue to supply us with connections to the outside world,” he said.