Virgin Atlantic has now been flying to Tel Aviv for over a month, bringing new flare to a market overdue for innovative competition, and prices to match. But nothing Virgin feels fully official until Sir Richard Branson puts his touch on things, or rather – his negotiating skills.

After kissing the ground upon landing, and holding a press conference which felt like a Rolling Stones tour, Sir Richard headed to the real centre of business negotiations in Tel Aviv – Jaffa Market. In one of the more amusing publicity stunts of recent times, Branson offered flights to London for a price, but like many thing in Tel Aviv, there were side deals to be bartered.

People like low fares, and with Virgin Atlantic adding thousands of seats to the London-Tel Aviv route market, those have already become a thing. While many airlines fly narrow body, short haul planes from Europe to Tel Aviv, Virgin Atlantic is flying the Airbus A330-300, with Upper Class and its famed bar, premium economy and economy.

From London, the plane goes up directly against the Boeing 777-200 from British Airways, which will soon move to an Airbus A350-1000, as well as a Boeing 787 Dreamliner from El Al in the premium, full service market. Unlike low cost competition on the route, food, drinks and entertainment are still free on Virgin Atlantic, and wifi starts at £2.99 for a messaging pass.

Virgin’s recent Tel Aviv flight sale featured round trip economy from £299, Premium for £449 and Upper Class for £999, forcing other airlines to match. But Israelis in Tel Aviv, famous for their savvy negotiating skills managed to pull off better bargains, haggling with Sir Richard in Jaffa Flea Market. Yep, unsuspecting locals found a splash of bright red colour in the form of Virgin Atlantic cabin crew, and the founder himself, with a small stall in the market, typically known for selling… junk.

Locals queued up and according to reports, one man walked away with $45 round trip flights, after an initial offer from Branson of $450. Not bad, not bad at all. On the other end of the spectrum, those of little faith didn’t believe the sales stunt was real, and were left with toy planes as souvenirs, instead of actual ticket. Whoops. And finally, every one likes an upgrade, and one couple managed to negotiate Upper Class upgrades for the price of economy, so cheers to that.

Tel Aviv is one of the fastest growing travel destinations in the world, with vibes that feel like Southern California in the Middle East, thanks in part to fantastic beaches and weather too. New competition means better products, lower fares and more choice for consumers, so there’s a lot to like from this new Virgin Atlantic route launch. The Virgin launch to Tel Aviv joins Mumbai and Sao Paulo this year, with the airline angling to gain more slots under a proposed expansion for Heathrow.

As always, Sir Richard Branson is quite a globe trotter. After haggling his way through Tel Aviv, the Virgin founder was in New York today to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange ahead of an initial public offering (IPO) for Virgin Galactic. It’s presently unknown when you’ll be able to connect from Tel Aviv to the Mojave Desert to hitch a ride into space…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. The only adult competition is between Virgin and BA. El Al is a small insignificant player in the real market. It has very few aircraft and when anything goes out of kilter or when one of its few 787s needs a regular maintenance check, El Al simply substitutes anything it has available. I booked El Al premium seats on a flight from Tel Aviv to London at the end of November [using Qantas points] only to have the new 787 substituted with an elderly El Al 777 with no premium compartment or service. On my return journey from Manchester to Tel Aviv, after taking my money, yes a cash ticket this time, El Al changed the Manchester departure from 2 pm to 9 pm, thus making a well-timed flight, departing at 2 pm arriving at 9 pm, into a disastrous overnighter arriving at 4 am. Those are not adult ways to run an airline, and that is before discussing their arrogant staff! Additionally, El Al has no connections from London, unlike both BA and Virgin. As I said only two real competitors on the London – Tel Aviv route.

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