British long-haul airlines will put the worst of the pandemic – along with old rivalries – behind them on Monday morning, when British Airways and Virgin Atlantic simultaneously take off from Heathrow for the first transatlantic flights carrying leisure travelers to the United States since Covid -19 borders closed in March 2020.
Virgin and BA bosses say it was a ‘pivotal moment’ for the battered industry, with both airlines posting huge losses and laying off thousands of workers in 20 months restricted travel.
Flight BA BA001 – a number previously reserved for Concorde – and Virgin flight VS3 will take off from London Heathrow on parallel runways to New York City’s JFK Airport at 8:30 a.m., more than 600 days after the introduction of the travel ban in the USA.
The transatlantic corridor has accounted for the majority of Virgin and BA’s profits in recent years, and airlines have said the reopening of US borders to foreign travelers, announced in late September by the Biden administration, would be a significant boost to industry. Before the pandemic, 22 million people per year traveled between the two countries, along with 900,000 tonnes of freight.
Vaccinated US visitors have been able to make it to Britain since the summer when the UK lifted quarantine restrictions, increasing passenger numbers, but airlines are now increasing schedules and there are full planes this week for the first time.
With both airlines deeply damaged by the pandemic – BA owner IAG expects losses of 7.3 billion euros in 2020 and 2021, and Virgin is on the verge of collapse – the pair will make a rare display of unity after decades of bitter rivalry.
Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps said it was a “historic event” and “marked an important moment for the aviation industry”.
BA CEO Sean Doyle said it was a time to celebrate: “We are putting the rivalry aside and for the first time ever, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic planes will take off together to mark the vital importance of the corridor. transatlantic. .
“Transatlantic connectivity is vital to the UK’s economic recovery, which is why we have been calling for the safe reopening of the UK-US travel corridor for so long. We must now look to the future with optimism, get trade and tourism back on track, and allow friends and families to connect again. “
Shai Weiss, Managing Director of Virgin Atlantic, said: “Today is a time of celebration, not of rivalry. The United States has been our heart for over 37 years, and we are just not virgins without the Atlantic. “
The two will fly A350 planes after removing their less fuel-efficient jumbos, the Boeing 747s, when the pandemic hit, and Virgin will have a much smaller fleet. Weiss said the airline’s battle for survival was “always with us, and cost discipline remains.” But with the opening of the American market, we are at 60% of our capacity, and we are more confident than for a long time on the prospects.