Virgin Atlantic plans to resume flights to four destinations from London Heathrow in late July, four months after it stopped scheduled passenger flying.
The airline founded by Sir Richard Branson will fly to Orlando and Hong Kong on 20 July, with Los Angeles, New York JFK, and Shanghai starting the following day.
Virgin Atlantic says more flights will be announced soon for the month of August. Since late March the carrier has been flying some repatriation operations on behalf of the Foreign Office, plus all-cargo services.
Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer for Virgin Atlantic, warned that the government’s new quarantine rules – which come into effect on 8 June with no clear end date – could affect its plans.
He said: “We are monitoring external conditions extremely closely, in particular the travel restrictions many countries have in place including the 14-day quarantine policy for travellers entering the UK.”
The departures will be from Heathrow Terminal 2, rather than Virgin Atlantic’s traditional home of Terminal 3 – which the airport has closed to stem losses.
The Orlando flights were originally scheduled from Gatwick, but Virgin has closed its base at the Sussex airport and is consolidating all operations at Heathrow.
The passenger experience is likely to be rigorous. Corneel Koster, chief customer officer, said: “We are carrying out health questionnaires before check in.”
Passengers whose answers indicate they may be at risk of carrying Covid-19 will not be allowed to travel.
On board, the airline is giving a “personal health pack” to everyone, counting medical grade face masks, surface wipes and hand gel.
Passengers will be encouraged to check in 24 hours before or use the self-serve check in and bag drop to minimise contact.
“Boarding will be limited to 10 customers at a time, starting from the back of the aircraft to minimise contact between customers,” the airline says.
“On boarding, all customers will be asked to scan their own boarding pass and hold up their passport for inspection to minimise contact.”
Inflight magazines and on-board sales will be withdrawn. Meals will be served “in simplified packaging to make sure we can keep interactions between crew and customers to a minimum”.
All passengers and crew will be asked to wear their masks for the duration of the flight.
Separately, Emirates says it will re-launch flights between Manchester and Dubai from 15 June. The giant UAE airline is already flying from Heathrow.
The range of connections at Dubai will expand to include Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Taipei, Hong Kong, Perth and Brisbane
Wizz Air, which is expanding rapidly during the coronavirus crisis, has launched flights from Luton to Gran Canaria – even though British visitors cannot yet visit Spain for holidays.