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Virgin Atlantic CEO Believes Open Sky Agreements Will Survive Brexit

Virgin Atlantic CEO Believes Open Sky Agreements Will Survive Brexit
Jeff Edwards

The head of Virgin Atlantic expressed confidence that the UK will enter new agreements to maintain unrestricted air travel, even as the nation prepares to depart the EU.

This week, Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger sounded an optimistic note about the UK airline’s prospects following a final Brexit agreement. Although Great Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU) could soon mean that the carrier is no longer a party to current open skies agreements, including an all important treaty with the U.S., Kreeger said that he believes that new pacts with similar terms will be reached long before then.

“I’ve heard from both governments,” Kreeger told Reuters about the current status of the “open skies” negotiations between the U.S. and U.K governments. “I remain completely confident that we’re on track, to work, through whatever it takes to have, to be able to fly, in an Open Skies-like way.”

Kreeger’s confidence that Brexit negotiations will work themselves out in the end is not a sentiment that is necessarily shared by his counterparts at other carriers which depend on open sky agreements with the U.K. Ryan Air CEO Michael O’Leary is decidedly less optimistic about the direction of those negotiations.

“There is a possibility, unlikely, but nevertheless a possibility that there may be no flights between the U.K. and Europe in March 2019 if the UK walks off this cliff that they seem determined to walk off,” O’ Leary said in public comments last year. “Everything is going to change, and probably for the worse.”

Despite expressing hope that Brexit will not drastically impact commercial air travel, U.K.-based airlines, EasyJet and Thomas Cook have quietly started to add language to their terms of carriage agreements, warning passengers that any post-Brexit flights that are booked might not take place in the event that new open skies agreements are not worked out. The carriers are specifically stating that should this eventuality occur, passengers will be entitled to refunds, but should not expect any additional compensation.

Even Kreeger’s boss, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has a less optimistic view of the post-Brexit business environment. Branson complained that Brexit almost immediately cost his company a full third of its value. The British mogul has vocally pushed for a new referendum calling on the U.K. to remain in the EU.

“We are heading towards a disaster,” Branson lamented days after the decision to leave the EU was announced. “I don’t believe the public realized what a mess their vote would cost.”

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic has taken advantage of the economic uncertainty caused by the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union. The airline’s “The Bright Side of Brexit” advertising campaign points out that the Brexit depressed economy may be good news for bargain-hunting foreign tourists – at least in the short term.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

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