Virgin Atlantic expects US-UK planes to be 60-70% full in coming weeks

Announcement follows US removal of entry restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers

Virgin Atlantic was forced to raise cash during the pandemic to survive, including a $1.6 billion rescue deal. AFP
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The head of Virgin Atlantic said he expected flights on transatlantic routes to be 60 per cent to 70 per cent full in the weeks running up to Christmas.

Shai Weiss told the Airlines UK conference that the company still did not have great visibility on bookings more than three to six months away, but he expected UK to US routes to drive the recovery as large parts of Asia remain highly restricted.

“We will be trading all the way up to Christmas, probably with a 60 per cent to 70 per cent load factor, which is a material improvement,” he said.

The US in November removed entry restrictions on a number of countries, opening its borders after more than 18 months to all travellers fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Virgin Atlantic, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is 51 per cent owned by Virgin Group with the balance held by Delta Air Lines.

The airline was forced to raise cash during the pandemic to survive, including a $1.6 billion rescue deal. It also let almost half of its staff go to cut costs.

Airlines have cautiously begun to add flights between the US and Europe, but Asia is not likely to open up to outsiders until next year at the earliest.

The long-distance flights in which Virgin Atlantic specialises have become far less popular than shorter routes as the recovery from the travel slump triggered by the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Sky News reported on Saturday that Mr Branson and Delta were in talks about a further capital raise of about £400 million after talk of an initial public offering faded in uncertain market conditions.

Mr Weiss declined to comment on the issue on Monday.

Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:10 AM