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Exclusive: Virgin Atlantic Pushes Back Crew Training as Transatlantic Reopening Hopes Dashed

Exclusive: Virgin Atlantic Pushes Back Crew Training as Transatlantic Reopening Hopes Dashed

Virgin Atlantic has delayed the return of hundreds of cabin crew by at least a month after hopes of the U.S. travel ban being lifted in September were left in tatters. The airline, whose business is heavily reliant on transatlantic traffic, had been focused on training cabin crew through September for a massive ramp-up in flights by the end of next month.

At the height of the pandemic last year, Virgin Atlantic slashed its cabin crew workforce as the airline teetered on the edge of collapse but had hoped to bring back laid-off flight attendants from early September. This was based on the expected reopening of the United States to British and European travellers.

The travel industry had apparently been briefed by governments on both sides of the Atlantic that the 212(f) travel ban would be lifted next month. That date has now been delayed due to the delta variant which has created a new surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States.

Travel restrictions are unlikely to be eased until the current wave has reached its peak and cases and hospitalisations are at least starting to subside. There remains, however, a great deal of uncertainty of when the Biden administration could rescind the ban.

While airlines had been confident in a September reopening, White House and Whitehall insiders now claim they are actively working on an October date for restrictions to be eased. Some media sources, however, believe the ban won’t now be lifted until nearer Thanksgiving in late November.

Fearing that lifting the ban could prove politically toxic, the White House is working on a policy change that will only allow fully vaccinated foreign travellers who have spent the past 14-days in the United Kingdom, Ireland or Europe’s Schengen zone into the United States.

But there could be further trouble brewing on the horizon because the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, crucial to the UK’s and Europe’s vaccination campaigns, hasn’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“It’s crucial the US authorities step forward to formally approve the AstraZeneca vaccine as a matter of urgency to enable cross-border mobility,” commented the World Trade & Tourism Council (WTTC) vice president Virginia Messina on Wednesday.

“Unless they give it the green light then the US will effectively remain closed to the vast majority of UK visitors and the many millions around the world who are double-jabbed with the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Messina warned.

In a further sign that airlines are no longer planning for a September restart, Aer Lingus said on Wednesday that it would no longer launch its first transatlantic flights from Manchester to Orlando and New York as planned. Instead, these services won’t now start until December 2021.

Leisure carrier TUI also wiped almost its entire U.S. inventory until the end of October and other major carriers are continuing to adjust transatlantic schedules on a rolling basis.

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