US Reopening: BA & Virgin Celebrate With Dual Heathrow Departure

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are typically rivals. However, today the two airlines put their differences aside as they celebrated the reopening of the United States to European travelers.

British Airways, Airbus A350, Virgin Atlantic
This morning a rarely seen double departure took place at London Heathrow Airport. Photo used with permission: James Oates via Twitter

Today is a huge day for the transatlantic aviation industry. For over a year and a half, airlines have been unable to fly many passengers from Europe to the United States. This all changes today as the US re-welcomes fully vaccinated travelers from Europe and the UK. The stunning double departure was captured by Twitter’s James Oates (@speedbird_uk).

A double Heathrow departure

This morning, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operated a special double departure from London Heathrow Airport. At around 08:30, a British Airways Airbus A350 departed London Heathrow as BA1, the airline’s most prestigious flight number. For one day only, the Airbus A350 uses the flight number to fly to New York’s JFK airport.

Simultaneously, a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350 also took to the skies from London Heathrow. VS 3 took off from the southern runway, bound for New York’s JFK Airport. The two airlines are both racing on the world’s former most profitable route to celebrate its reopening.

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Rivals become friends

If you look through history, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are firm rivals. You just need to look at Virgin Atlantic’s “No Way BA/AA” campaign to see this. In 2008, Virgin Atlantic added “No Way BA/AA” to one of its aircraft in protest against a transatlantic alliance between British Airways and American Airlines.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Airbus A350
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic haven’t always been the best of friends. Photo: Getty Images

However, this isn’t the only time that the two have locked horns. Even two years ago, Britain’s number two long-haul airline was competing against BA. In 2019, Virgin Atlantic launched a campaign to become a long-and-short-haul carrier like its rival. The airline revealed plans for an extensive short-haul network, pending an expansion of London Heathrow Airport.

Friends for a day

Despite their historical differences, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have put aside their issues for today. Rather than competing, they’re operating simultaneous flights from London Heathrow Airport to New York’s JFK Airport. While the flights departed Heathrow together, their official schedules as per Cirium’s data are,

  • BA 1 – London Heathrow (LHR) 08:30 – New York (JFK) 11:15 – 07h45m
  • VS 3 – London Heathrow (LHR) 09:00 – New York (JFK) 12:15 – 08h15m
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Airbus A350, New York
The flights have chosen slightly different routes, with Virgin Atlantic seemingly edging ahead. Photo: FlightRadar24.com

Not BA’s first planned simultaneous departure

Today’s double departure of two Airbus A350-1000s isn’t the first double departure from London Heathrow that British Airways have planned. On October 8th, 2020, the British Flag carrier operated its final Boeing 747 flight from London Heathrow, ending a 50-year long era with the retirement of the Queen of the Skies.

British Airways, Boeing 747, Final Departure
A planned double departure last year was canceled by poor weather. Photo: British Airways

The airline had planned that its last two Boeing 747s would depart from London Heathrow simultaneously. However, poor weather conditions meant that this couldn’t be achieved safely. Instead, the aircraft departed from the airport’s north runway one after the other.

What do you make of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic’s celebrations? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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