BA and Virgin stage dual take off for first US flights after travel ban lifts

As the US reopens to fully vaccinated international tourists, airline rivals British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will mark the occasion with a historic twin take-off from Heathrow Airport, bound for New York.

As of 12.01am this morning, all double jabbed Brits will be allowed into the US for the first time since 16 March 2020 – as long as they are armed with a negative Covid test result (a PCR or an antigen) and provide their airline with contact tracing details.

It will be the first time non-essential British travellers will be allowed back into the country in nearly 20 months, since the US closed its borders to international visitors due to the pandemic.

The BA and Virgin flights – numbered BA001, a number usually reserved for Concorde flights, and VS3 – will depart in the first ever dual take off of its kind from Heathrow at 8.30am.

The rare event will see the two aircraft make a “synchronised departure on parallel runways at Heathrow”, says a joint statement from the airlines.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have been fierce competitors in the transatlantic market ever since Virgin arrived on the scene in 1984.

A power struggle played out through the 1990s, including the so-called “dirty tricks” campaign early in the decade, and Richard Branson speaking out against a BA bailout in 2009.

However, with both airlines being hit hard by the Covid-19 travel shutdown, both have campaigned for the safe return of transatlantic travel – a huge market for the UK’s tourism industry and essential to reuniting family and friends on either side of the pond.

The lifting of the US travel ban today follows the UK government’s decision earlier in summer to allow fully vaccinated Americans to swerve quarantine on their visits to this country.

“Today is a time for celebration, not rivalry. Together with British Airways we are delighted to mark today’s important milestone, which finally allows consumers and businesses to book travel with confidence,” says Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss.

“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.”

Sean Doyle, chief executive of British Airways, says: “After more than 600 days of separation, today is our moment to celebrate the UK-US reopening.

“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.”

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