Old foes British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will put decades of animosity behind them tomorrow morning as they come together to celebrate the long-overdue lifting of President Biden’s travel ban with an incredibly rare dual takeoff and landing.
Two Airbus A350’s – one from British Airways and the other from Virgin Atlantic will line up on Heathrow’s two parallel runways at exactly 8:20 am on Monday morning before taking off at the same time. The two aircraft will then race one another across the Atlantic to New York.
In a bid to avoid any more rivalry, however, the two airlines have agreed to land at the exact same time with a coordinated parallel landing at New York JFK. Virgin Atlantic will be flying its VS3 service for the event, while British Airways is bringing back its iconic BA1 callsign for one day only to mark the reopening.
President Biden finally agreed to lift the Trump-era travel ban in September but restrictions won’t actually be lifted until November 8. The administration allowed the ban to be lifted on the condition that only fully-vaccinated foreigners who have also tested negative for COVID-19 be allowed to enter the United States.
Despite the entry requirements, flights from the UK and Europe to the United States are expected to be full for most of the week and travellers are being warned to brace for long delays on arrival as officials get to grips with the surge in demand.
BA’s flagship route has long been between London and New York City and the airline dominated the route before the pandemic. Between April 2017 and April 2018, British Airways became the first airline in the world to operate a billion-dollar route with its flights between London and NYC.
In the Concorde era, to mark the route’s importance, British Airways used to assign its flagship BA1 callsign to the 10:30 am Concorde departure from Heathrow to JFK. The callsign was retired in 2003 along with Concorde.
The callsign remained unused for several years until British Airways launched an all Business Class flight from London City airport to JFK on a small Airbus A318 aircraft in 2009. With just 32 fully flat seats, the service was popular with high revenue business travellers but the pandemic forced BA into a rethink and last summer the airline announced it would be permanently ending the service.
There’s still no permanent plan for the BA1 callsign but on November 8, the airline will be operating an extra flight between London Heathrow and New York JFK on its flagship long-haul aircraft, the Airbus A350-1000.
The special flights from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will depart at 8:30 am and arrive in New York at around 11:15 am. The event will be televised on British television on Monday morning.
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.