MIAMI – British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic (VS) came together in a rare show of unity, taking to the skies in a synchronized departure on parallel runways at London Heathrow (LHR), in recognition of a long-awaited and critical event for the travel industry.

On Monday, November 8, the Airbus A350 BA flight BA001, which was previously allocated for Concorde, and VS flight VS3, which also operated the same equipment, departed LHR for New York JFK at 8.30 a.m local time.

London Heathrow does not allow dual departures. LHR allocates a runway for landing and a runway for takeoff and swaps operations daily at 15:00 for noise abatement requirements. Today’s first-ever tandem departure marks the vital importance of the transatlantic corridor.

The United States accounts for about 40% of BA’s business, with six flights scheduled to New York JFK on Monday, and ten of VS’s 21 flights departing for the United States.

Reopening the transatlantic travel corridor more than 600 days after the US travel ban was implemented significantly boosts the aviation industry, aid both countries’ economic recovery, and re-establish key business linkages, according to BA. The airline made US$1bn a year linking the two hubs before the onset of COVID-19.

The United States is the United Kingdom’s largest commercial partner, and aviation provides £23m to the UK economy every day. In 2019, 22 million passengers and 900,000 tonnes of freight traveled between the two countries.

The adjustment in US entrance requirements comes after the UK government announced the lifting of quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated US visitors to the UK in the summer.

After more than eighteen months of travel restrictions, customers on both sides of the Atlantic will now be allowed to see loved ones and experience new and old areas thanks to world-leading immunization programs in the UK and the US.

Comments from British Airways, Virgin Atlantic CEOs

Sean Doyle, BA Chairman, and CEO, had said earlier in an airline press release that “After more than 600 days of separation, today is our moment to celebrate the UK-US reopening. We’re setting aside rivalry and for the first time”

“Transatlantic connectivity is vital for the UK’s economic recovery, which is why we’ve been calling for the safe reopening of the UK-US travel corridor for such a long time. We must now look forward with optimism, get trade and tourism back on track and allow friends and families to connect once again.”

Doyle stated that flight BA001 was fueled by a 35 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) blend, the largest mix utilized on a commercial flight to date, with the remaining emissions offset by wind and solar power projects. “We anticipate that all of our long-haul flights will be powered by SAFs in the coming years,” Doyle added.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive, Shai Weiss, described the parallel take-off as “a tipping point.”

“Today is a time for celebration, not rivalry,” the VS chief said. “Together with British Airways, we are delighted to mark today’s important milestone, which finally allows consumers and businesses to book travel with confidence.” 

Weiss added, “The US has been our heartland for more than 37 years and we are simply not Virgin without the Atlantic.  We’ve been steadily ramping up flying to destinations including Boston, New York, Orlando, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and we can’t wait to fly our customers safely to their favourite US cities to reconnect with loved ones and colleagues.

The BA check-in at LHR Terminal 5, the cabins, and even the air bridge from the gate to the plane, were decorated with American flags to emphasize the significance for anyone who missed it. And so, as aviation still faces numerous obstacles, today’s reopening of the transatlantic corridor is, for the time being, a breath of hope for the industry.

Featured image: British Airways media center