Celebrations erupted in British Airways’ global operations control room close to Heathrow Airport early on Sunday morning after a convoy of planes successfully made their way back across the Atlantic from Mexico just before the ‘Red List’ travel ban came into force at 4 am.
Staff in the control room, which oversees BA’s worldwide operations around the clock all year long, were looking on nervously as the trio of planes made their way to London from Cancun and Mexico City with little time to spare.
The last flight to arrive, BA2202 from Cancun, landed at around 2:40 am – just over an hour before the travel ban came into force. If there had been any delay, all the passengers would have been thrown into hotel quarantine for 10-days and non-British citizens and residents could have been deported.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced he would be throwing Mexico onto the Red List late on Tuesday night, giving thousands of Brits just four days to scramble home or face a quarantine bill of £1,750 per person.
Some holidaymakers who had just set off on their dream trips found out their vacations had been ruined mid-flight. Shapps told them they would have to find their own way home using the few commercial flights that were still scheduled.
Brits who were caught up in the fiasco say there was zero indication that Mexico might be put on the Red List. The decision took holidaymakers and the travel industry by surprise.
Thankfully, British Airways decided to lay on extra flights to get customers home just in the nick of time. The last three flights to arrive before the travel ban came into force joined up in a convoy over the North Atlantic.
After accounting for British Airways Holidays customers, the airline advertised heavily discounted rescue fares. Seats on the last two flights were being sold for just £95 before tax.
In the run-up to the Sunday morning, British Airways said it had been “working through the night to arrange as many additional seats out of Mexico as possible to help get Britons home”.
“We would like to now help as many Britons as possible to get home to the UK, so we have introduced an emergency ‘rescue fare’ dropped to the lowest possible price to cover our costs,” a spokesperson for the airline explained.
British Airways flight BA2202 was originally scheduled to land at 9 am on Sunday but the departure was brought forward to escape the Red List rules. A flight from Mexico City had to be diverted from Heathrow to Gatwick in order to comply with a nighttime landing ban at the West London airport.
In a statement, the Department of Transport justified moving Mexico to the Red List saying that the so-called Lambda COVID-19 variant which was first described in Peru presented a “high public health risk to the UK”.
The Lambda variant is currently designated a ‘variant of interest’ by the World Health Organization (WHO). There is still much to learn about the Lambda variant but experts fear it could prove resistant to existing COVID-19 vaccines.
Photo Credit: Fasttailwind / Shutterstock.com
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.