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The first two flights to the US – British Airways BA001 and Virgin Atlantic VS3 – were due to take off from Heathrow simultaneously for New York at 8.20am today.
It comes as new data reveals one in five people planning to go on holiday abroad next year hope to travel to the US.
Fully vaccinated foreigners from anywhere in the world will be able to visit America and avoid quarantine.
But the vast majority of unprotected tourists are not expected to be allowed in as President Joe Biden has described the US air travel policy as one “that relies primarily on vaccination”.
This means those who haven’t had both jabs will be reliant on a very limited list of exemptions. Passengers must take a Covid test no more than three days before travel.A cheap and rapid antigen test is acceptable.
Sean Doyle, British Airways chief executive, said: “After more than 600 days of separation, today is our moment to celebrate the UK-US reopening.We’re setting aside rivalry and for the first time ever, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic aircraft will be seen taking-off together to mark the vital importance of the transatlantic corridor.
“Transatlantic connectivity is vital for the UK’s economic recovery, which is why we’ve been calling for the safe reopening of the UK-US travel corridor for such a long time.
“We must now look forward with optimism, get trade and tourism back on track and allow friends and families to connect once again.”
The US is the UK’s largest trading partner, and aviation contributes £23million per day to the British economy. Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic chief executive, said: “Today is a time for celebration, not rivalry.
“Together with British Airways we are delighted to mark today’s important milestone, which finally allows consumers and businesses to book travel with confidence. The
US has been our heartland for more than 37 years and we are simply notVirgin without the Atlantic.”
Visitors from the UK, Ireland and the Schengen common travel area of Europe have been banned from travelling to the US since March 2020.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “I’m delighted to see flights return in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Travel-trade body Abta says 18 per cent of people who plan to holiday abroad hope to travel to the US over the next year.
Yesterday it emerged that airlines are preparing to lay on hundreds of thousands more seats to Greece next summer than they did in 2019.
Vassilis Kikilias, the Greek tourism minister, said the country was expecting 35 per cent more tourists from the UK than in 2021. He forecast the season would start earlier than usual in March.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, has said he expects the recovery to hit full swing by next summer, when he will be operating more than 500 new routes across Europe.
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