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A PIVOTAL MOMENT: British Airways and Virgin set aside rivalry in historic take off

Celebrating the lifting of the travel ban from Britain to the US, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic put old rivalries behind them and staged an historic simultaneous take-off from London Heathrow’s two runways Monday morning. They were the first transatlantic flights carrying leisure travellers to the US since Covid-19 closed borders in March 2020.

Virgin’s VS3 landed at New York’s JFK Airport, touching down at 10.51 AM local time, while British Airways’s BA001 (a flight number previously only used for Concorde) landed minutes later at 11.00 AM.

Executives at Virgin and BA said it was a “pivotal moment” for the beleaguered industry, with both airlines having registered huge losses and shedding thousands of staff during 20 months of restricted travel.

The transatlantic corridor has in recent years accounted for the majority of Virgin and BA profits, and the airlines said the reopening of the US borders to foreign travellers would be a significant boost for the industry. Before the pandemic, 22 million people a year travelled between the two countries, along with 900,000 tonnes of cargo.

Vaccinated US visitors have been able to travel to Britain since last summer, when the UK lifted quarantine restrictions, but with the US border now open, the airlines are now increasing schedules and planes are full this week after a very long time.

With both airlines deeply damaged by the pandemic – BA’s owner, IAG, is expecting losses of €7.3 ($10.5) billion over 2020 and 2021, and Virgin has reportedly been on the brink of collapse – the pair put on a rare show of unity after decades of bitter rivalry.

British transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said it was a “historic event” and “marks a significant moment for the aviation sector”.

Sean Doyle, BA’s chief executive, said it was a moment to celebrate, “We’re setting aside rivalry and for the first time ever, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic aircraft will be seen taking off together to mark the vital importance of the transatlantic corridor.

Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive, said, “Today is a time for celebration, not rivalry. The US has been our heartland for more than 37 years and we are simply not Virgin without the Atlantic.”

Both carriers will fly A350 planes after retiring their least fuel-efficient jumbos, the Boeing 747s, as the pandemic hit, and Virgin will have a significantly smaller fleet. Weiss said the airline’s battle for survival was “still with us, and cost discipline remains. But with the opening of the US market, we’re at 60% of our capacity, and we feel more confident than in a long time about the prospects.”

First published at Travel Industry Today

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