British flights to the United States resume as travel ban is lifted; UK consumer confidence at lowest since March – Business Live | Business
There was clear skies and a bright new dawn at London Heathrow for its biggest customers, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, who took off simultaneously in an extraordinary show of solidarity on Monday morning, flying west with planes fully loaded with passengers and incomes like the United States have finally reopened their borders to foreign visitors.
Our transport correspondent Gwyn Topham, who is on the BA flight, reports.
For both airlines, US markets make up the bulk of their business – nearly 40% for BA, with six flights scheduled today to New York JFK, while 10 of the 21 Virgin flights taking off today are for America.
A few Americans have cruised the transatlantic everywhere, and not since August, when the UK and the EU relaxed restrictions on inbound visitors and quarantined. But it has been more than 600 days since airlines have been able to sell in their largest market, crucial as they seek to recover from the pandemic.
Speaking before the flight, Virgin Managing Director Shai Weiss described it as “a tipping point.”
Many more flights were departing from Heathrow Terminal 5, about half the number two years ago, but there was only one destination in town. To emphasize the importance for all who missed it, BA check-in, cabins and even the airlift from the boarding gate to the plane festooned with American flags.
The planes took off just after 8:50 a.m. – using their most fuel-efficient models, the A350s, after both airlines pulled their famous 747 jumbos early as a cost-saving measure during the pandemic. Flight BA 001 took off on the north runway, with Virgin flight VS3 rising into the air exactly in parallel.
BA chief executive Sean Doyle told passengers of the tannoy:
“It’s a real moment of celebration. I know how important to you today is – some haven’t seen your loved ones for two years, others haven’t been able to do business.
He also told them that flight BA001 was powered by a mixture of 35% sustainable aviation fuel. [SAF] – the largest mix ever used on a commercial flight, while the remaining emissions would be offset, via wind and solar projects.
“In the years to come,” said Doyle, “we anticipate that all of our long-haul flights will be powered by SAFs.”
It was a reminder that aviation still has many challenges to overcome. For now, however, some optimism has returned.
Friends and family were among the first to book to fill planes this week, airlines said, with Virgin U.S. departures planes 98% full through Wednesday. Doyle said there had also been large bookings from businesses and small businesses, denying the idea that business travel was dead. Bankers in particular had booked to return, boosting premium cabin revenues.
But vacationers have also filled in the front ends of planes, according to Claire Bentley, chief executive of BA Holidays:
“People are getting better, are getting better.”
City vacations had generally not been sought after during the pandemic, for those who tried to escape despite testing requirements and travel restrictions, she said.
The largest city on the east coast of the United States has long been its best seller and is quickly coming back:
“New York is in a category of its own. “