After almost 20 months, the US has finally reopened to tourists.
The unprecedented travel ban, implemented in March 2020 in response to the pandemic, saw travellers from the UK, EU and various other countries worldwide allowed into the States for only a handful of “essential reasons”.
From 8 November, entry restrictions have been lifted for all fully vaccinated arrivals.
In celebration, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic staged an historic simultaneous take-off from London Heathrow’s two runways this morning.
Virgin’s VS3 was the first to land at New York’s JFK Airport, touching down at 10.51 AM local time, while British Airways’s BA001 landed a few minutes later at 11.00 AM.
“This really feels like proper travel is back – and back to something like normality,” said Mark Jones, The Independent’s correspondent who is reporting from the very first BA flight out to the US. “Except I’m FAR more excited than I’d normally be for a business trip.”
Follow all the latest updates below.
‘There’s the Chrysler Building'
We’ve made it into Manhattan on a coach.
As ever, slightly gobsmacked by how rickety the outskirts of the city are.
But then we’re through the Midtown Tunnel, there’s the first brownstone, there’s the Chrysler building and there’s that distinctly New York kind of preoccupied rushing about. It feels weirdly like home. But half the places I once knew have shut.
I check into the Conrad Hilton downtown, where the celebrations continue.
“The media is excited, the people care that [British travellers] are coming back,” says Kara Freedman, marketing manager of tourist board NYC & Co.
“I never appreciated the sound of foreign voices before!”
Watching BA and Virgin fly in tandem ‘really something’ - Kuoni MD
Derek Jones, Managing Director of tour operator Kuoni, has commented on today’s celebration flights to mark the reopening of the US to fully vaccinated travellers.
“Symbolic of a sector that has come together through the Covid crisis.”
Virgin video captures first flight back to the US
The Virgin Atlantic team has captured some highlights from its historic flight back to the US after the country lifted its 20-month travel ban on much of the world.
Flight VS3 took off from London Heathrow at 08.50 AM and landed at New York’s JFK airport at 10.51 AM local time.
Watch the video here:
BA to resume flights to 17 US cities initially
BA CEOs alternate between alpha-male mavericks and calm, managerial types.
Sean Doyle is the latter, promising his own brand of leadership - calm but firm, on the evidence of my chat with him mid-flight earlier today.
The Cork boy says he is looking forward to the buzz of New York for a couple of days.
He doesn’t say the route is less important to his prospects of success than his predecessors - no one sensible would.
But the fact is, in the 2010s the airline successfully expanded its USA network. All its eggs are no longer in the New York and Florida baskets.
They will resume flights to to 17 cities stateside from now and plan to climb back up to 30 in total by summer 2023.
“The airline has diversified into the east as well as the west,” Doyle tells me, “but as for the rest of the British economy, the US is crucial.”
Masked JFK staff cheer and wave flags as Brits arrive
A welcome party of JFK airport staff greeted both Virgin and BA’s first flights to touch down in New York City this morning.
Abra Dunsby-Sircana of TTG Media tweeted “What a welcome to the US”.
At the airport, US press teams such as USA Today’s were on the ground ready to greet the first British arrivals and mark the occasion.
Staff cheered and shouted “Welcome back,” with one joking, “What kept you?”
Our correspondent on the ground (and in the sky) Mark Jones, captured this footage:
The view from the landing
What happens when you’re on the wrong side of the aircraft when you land in New York...
A warm welcome at JFK airport for the first British tourists
It’s a clear, bright day here at JFK and man, it feels good to be here - regardless of whether Virgin got there a few minutes earlier.
Immigration and arrival are a breeze, apart from the touch-sensitive fingerprint machine - which wasn’t.
The immigration man took my fingers rather tenderly and pressed them onto the glass.
‘It’s not a race’ - or is it?
I hear the BA flight is running six minutes behind, writes Mark Jones from flight BA001.
‘It’s not a race,’ says a BA crew member.
It is so a race. I feel like the losing crew in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. Faster!
Then, finally, a glimpse of New York… the smudge on the horizon indicates “increased economic activity”.
BA and Virgin’s first US flights touch down in New York
After this morning’s momentous dual take-off from London Heathrow, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic’s first US-bound flights following the easing of travel restrictions for UK travellers have both touched down safely at New York’s JFK.
It is the first time in nearly 20 months that tourists from the UK have been able to enter the US.
“Wheels on the ground at 15:51 in New York after great flight on @VirginAtlantic - but did we beat British Airways across the pond?” tweeted Lisa Minot, travel editor at The Sun.
The answer is yes, according to tracking site FlightRadar24; the Virgin flight landed approximately nine minutes before BA’s service.
Virgin flight on track to touch down in NYC in 10 minutes
Virgin Atlantic’s flight VS3 flight from Heathrow-JFK is on track to touch down in New York in 10 minutes - the airline’s first passenger flight to land in the US since the ban on leisure travel was lifted today.
It will beat British Airways, whose BA001 flight took off simultaneously from London Heathrow this morning, but is scheduled to land 13 minutes later, at 10.57am, according to FlightRadar24.
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