For the first time in almost 20 months, trans-Atlantic travel kickstarted again on Monday, 8 November after the pandemic imposed major border closures between nations.
The White House made a decision in late September to open up international borders to fully vaccinated foreign travellers at the beginning of November.
The long-lasting pause on trans-Atlantic travel was a major hit to airlines across nations – both being critical to each other’s profits.
The US held a tight rein on UK citizens as the nation suffered mass COVID-19 cases for months, despite Britain easing restrictions on Americans in early August.
The new easing of restrictions applies to 33 countries, including the EU and the UK, plus China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
“Today is a time for celebration, not rivalry”, said Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive as the airline operated a dual departure with British Airways from London Heathrow Airport.
British Airways flight BA001 and Virgin Atlantic flight VS3 departed from London for an 8:30am landing in New York’s JFK Airport on Monday.
British Airways’ chairman and CEO Sean Doyle, who travelled on the BA001 said: “It was fantastic to be able to mark this by synchronising the take-off of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights for the first time ever.”
The US is the UK’s “largest trading partner”, seeing 22 million people travelling between countries in 2019.
Weiss said the US is the “heartland” for Virgin, and is ramping up flights to Boston, New York, Orlando, Los Angeles and San Francisco in the coming months.
British Airways operated 26 flights to the US yesterday.
The new rules require non-citizens to show proof vaccination prior to boarding a US-bound plane and a negative COVID-19 test within three days before travel.
Quarantine will not be required upon arrival anymore, but airlines will be responsible for collecting certain information about customers for seamless contact tracing.
“This is the start of a new era for travel and for many people around the world who have not been able to see loved ones for almost two years,” said Ed Bastian, Delta Air Lines’ CEO.
In the six-week lead up to the reopening, Delta saw a 450 per cent increase in international “point-of-sale” bookings compared to previous months.
Flight DL106 from Sao Paulo to Atlanta was Delta’s first international flight to land in the US on Monday at 9:35am.
Many flights were expected to operate at 100 per cent capacity on Monday, Delta said, with higher passenger volumes in the coming weeks.
“More than 150 international American Airlines flights, including nearly 20 transatlantic flights, will arrive in the US Monday,” American Airlines said in a statement prior to the reopening.
“Throughout the month, American will operate more than 200 daily flights on nearly 200 routes to international destinations with those numbers climbing to nearly 300 daily international flights at the beginning of 2022.”
Demand on flights from London Heathrow and Brazil is nearly 70 per cent higher this week compared to previous weeks, American said.
Despite trans-Atlantic still remaining lower than pre-pandemic levels, according to travel data company OAG, flights from the US to the UK are up 7 per cent from the previous week.
OAG said in December the top trans-Atlantic carrier will be United Airlines, followed closely by British Airways and Delta in third.