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Virgin Atlantic Resumes Flying
Virgin Atlantic resumed passenger flights on July 20, ending a three-month hiatus caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The first flight was London’s Heathrow Airport to Hong Kong.
The first service, operated by a Boeing 787-9 aptly named Leading Lady, had special measures implemented to ensure that passengers can fly safely. These included mandatory face masks and a Health Pack for each passenger, which included three masks, surface wipes and hand gel.
Since this flight, Virgin has resumed services to two additional destinations. These include New York, operated by an Airbus A350 named Queen of Hearts, and Los Angeles, which was served by the Dreamliner called Queen Bee.
Other destinations are due to resume over the remainder of this year, with another Virgin Atlantic press release reporting seven returning in August, including Barbados, Shanghai and Tel Aviv. All flights are to be operated from Heathrow, with select Manchester services not due to restart until October 6, as reported by the Daily Mail. Seasonal services from Belfast and Glasgow will not resume until 2021.
Virgin Atlantic stated in a press release that it is following the guidance and regulations of the World Health Organization (WHO), Public Health England (PHE), Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and are continually reviewing health and safety measures in response to COVID-19.
Changes At the Airport
Instead of operating from their usual home at Terminal 3, the airline has been using Terminal 2 at Heathrow.
Following an online pre-flight health questionnaire, customers are subject to proactive health screening with a verbal health assessment interview and temperature checks. Customers whose answers indicate a potential case of coronavirus are denied boarding.
Virgin is encouraging every passenger to check-in online and is continuing to regularly clean all surfaces with high-grade products effective against coronavirus. Social distancing measures are also in place at check-in and gate areas.
Customers board the aircraft from back to front in small groups to limit contact as much as possible. Similarly, the reverse process will take place when passengers are deplaning. On boarding, passengers are requested to scan their own boarding pass and hold up their passport for inspection to minimize contact.
Changes to Onboard Service
To enable safe distancing on the aircraft, some seats are unavailable for customers. Pillows mark those seats that were off-limits. However, this is only happening “where possible,” presumably meaning full or near-capacity flights will have passengers flying next to one another.
In addition, Virgin Atlantic said in the above press release that there will be dedicated areas in the cabin on every flight for customers or crew who need to go into isolation if they are presenting symptoms onboard.
Another modification to the onboard experience is the removal of inflight magazines, including Vera and the retail therapy service. Passengers are, however, still allowed to pre-order duty-free products to be delivered inflight.
Furthermore, a limited food service is being offered. In Economy and Premium, a hot food box that includes a choice of two hot meals, cheese and biscuits and a dessert pot is available to customers. This meal is served with a choice of soft drinks, bottled water or a limited offering of alcohol. Meanwhile, customers in Upper Class will receive a choice of three hot meals, desserts, a bread roll & a cheese and biscuit plate to enjoy, but this is all served on one tray rather than in a staggered service.
After this main meal, all customers will receive a second meal service, such as Mile High Tea on day flights from the U.K. or a breakfast service on overnight flights.
The Upper Class bar, or The Loft on Airbus A350 aircraft, will be closed at this time.
Virgin Atlantic has not yet given a date for when its usual onboard offering will resume, which comes as no surprise given the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic.
Virgin Atlantic’s bespoke service is what has set them apart from other airlines since its very beginning. However, it is coming second to customer safety for now.
Corneel Koster, the Chief Customer Officer at Virgin Atlantic, said, “We will always ensure that health and safety remain our number one priority, whilst keeping our signature Virgin spirit and I am proud of all our teams who have been working tirelessly to implement new measures and evolve our customer experience. We are looking forward to welcoming customers back on board, taking them to the skies safely and in true Virgin Atlantic style.
“The health and wellbeing of our customers and crew is at the centre of all our operations and that includes social distancing at the airport and onboard wherever possible, meticulous cleaning of the aircraft and individual Health Packs for all customers, containing medical-grade face masks, hand sanitizer and surface wipes.” Koster continued.
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