American & Virgin Celebrate 30 Years Of Serving London Heathrow

Today marks exactly 30 years since two major transatlantic carriers first began flying from London Heathrow. On July 1st, 1991, Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic operated its first flight from London’s busiest airport. On the same day, American Airlines also made a move from London Gatwick to Heathrow.

American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow Airport
30 years ago, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines first used London Heathrow for the first time. Photo: Heathrow Airport

Since 1978, airlines were limited in which airports they could serve in the London area by the London Air Traffic Distribution Rules (LATDRs). This restricted access to London Heathrow for some carriers such as Virgin Atlantic. When these rules were removed in 1991, London Heathrow Airport became a realistic option for many more airlines.

30 years of American Airlines

American Airlines has been flying to and from London since 1982. From its launch until 2008, the airline operated its flights to London Gatwick Airport. However, On July 1st, 1991, the airline also began flying to London’s main Heathrow Airport. A Boeing 767 aircraft flew to the home of its current partner, British Airways, for the first time from New York’s JFK Airport.

Today, the London airport hosts many services from the US carrier, with up to ten daily flights on offer this summer. Boeing 777 aircraft will fly to Heathrow from Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle. Meanwhile, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner services will operate from Chicago.

American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow Airport
These days the Boeing 777 is American Airlines’ primary Heathrow aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

The airline’s full schedule sees up to 23 daily services to 11 destinations across the US. Last year, the airline decided to get a little cozier with its joint business partner, British Airways, moving in with it at Terminal 5.

Heathrow is also an important airport for American Airlines when it comes to cargo services. Since the start of the current circumstances, the airline has operated more than 1,460 flights only carrying cargo. The airline takes around 250,000 kilograms of freight through the hub each day, ranging from fish and medical supplies to produce and mail.

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30 years of Virgin Atlantic

Today also marks 30 years of Virgin Atlantic flights at London Heathrow Airport following the abolition of the LATDRs. The day saw Virgin founder Richard Branson head to the airport for the celebrations. Dressed as a pirate, Brandson covered the British Airways model on display outside the airport in Virgin branding.

Richard Branson Concorde Heathrow 1991 Getty
Richard Branson commandeered a British Airways Concorde model to celebrate the occasion. Photo: Getty Images

The airline’s eighth Boeing 747, G-VLAX, was the first aircraft to fly from London Heathrow in the airline’s colors. It had been delivered to Virgin Atlantic just a month prior with the name California Girl according to data from

Virgin Altantic, Boeing 747, Dining Experience
Richard Branson with the first Virgin Atlantic flight. Photo: Getty Images

Before this, the aircraft flew with Qantas from October 1974, where it racked up 57,391 hours across 18,067 flight cycles, averaging 03h11m per cycle. Virgin Atlantic racked up a further 46,256 hours on the plane across just 6,320 flight cycles, giving an average flight time of 07h19m. The airline remained with Virgin until July 2001.

American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Heathrow Airport
Of course, there was also a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo: Getty Images

In the coming years, Heathrow will become increasingly crucial for the British long-haul carrier. Around a year ago, Virgin revealed that it would be pulling out London Gatwick, an airport that it called home since day one. While it may return one day, for the time being, Heathrow will play the role of the airline’s primary airport.

Have you flown with American Airlines or Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow Airport? Let us know in the comments below!