After 600 days of restrictions, parallel take-offs for BA & Virgin as US reopens

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Is today a crucial step in coming out of the pandemic? After more than 600 days of tight restrictions, the United States opens its borders to fully vaccinated passengers from a range of countries on November 8, 2021, with excitement high on both sides of the Atlantic. 

It’s a huge relief for airlines and their passengers. Luis Gallego, the head of British Airways parent IAG, has called it a “pivotal moment”.  

To mark the occasion, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, two British airlines for whom transatlantic travel is a key source of revenues, are putting aside their often very public differences and celebrating together with simultaneous departures from London.

Airbus A350-1000 aircraft from each airline  took off from London Heathrow (LHR) at 0850 local time, heading for New York JFK. British Airways departed from 27R, while Virgin (VAH)’s (VAH) departed from 27L. 

“Woohoo, US here we come! We can’t wait to see lots of excited passengers at Heathrow and Manchester today,” Virgin Atlantic commented on social media. 

It remains to be seen which of the two aircraft will make it to the other side of the pond first.



For passengers, it’s a chance to reunite after months of separation. 

Rebecca Honeyman, co-founder and managing partner of SourceCode Communications, is a Brit living in New York. 

“Pre-pandemic me and my husband both used to travel between the US and UK at least five or six times every year.  We also had a fairly regular series of friends and family coming to visit – living in New York makes you very popular,” she tells AeroTime. 

But with travel restrictions in place, relatives and friends have been unable to come across. 

“We’ve been desperately waiting for the ban to be rescinded so that they can come to see the new home we bought and the two kittens we adopted during the pandemic,” Honeyman explains. “It sounds like hyperbole to say that the ban being lifted will be life changing for us but I’m sure we’re not alone in feeling this way – we can’t wait to have family and friends here to visit.”

Josie Cox, a freelance journalist, moved to New York from London in 2020 with her family, a day before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Since then she’s been unable to travel to Europe. 

“Before the pandemic we definitely took the ability to travel internationally for granted,” Cox tells AeroTime, predicting it will be “surreal” to see family and friends again in December. 

Cox continues: “During the height of the pandemic, and particularly before vaccines became widely available, America and Europe felt like they were worlds apart. At least after November 8 they’ll feel a little bit closer again.


All the pent-up demand for travel means the United States is expecting long lines at the border. 

According to Reuters, United Airlines is expecting 50% more international inbound passengers on November 8, 2021, while Delta Airlines (DAL) chief executive Ed Bastian has said travelers should expect long lines.

To get into the United States, passengers will have to show proof of vaccination, as well as provide documentation of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding. 

UPDATED with departure information at 0948 UTC

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