The boss of Virgin Atlantic says there is “no reason to delay” the return of US-UK travel next month – as the carrier reported an £858m annual loss.
Virgin, which has cut thousands of jobs with flights grounded during the pandemic – and last autumn completed a rescue deal with investors – said passenger numbers last year fell by more than 80% to 1.1 million.
Under the government’s roadmap for reopening, non-essential travel is set to resume on 17 May under a “traffic light” system but it has yet to announce which countries will be on the “green list” subject to fewest restrictions.
Virgin’s boss Shai Weiss has argued that the US should be on the list – which will allow passengers to return from the selected countries without having to isolate, though they will have to pay for COVID tests.
Mr Weiss said: “With world leading vaccination programmes in both the UK and US, and evidence to support safe reopening through testing, there is a clear opportunity to open up travel and no reason to delay beyond 17 May.”
The comments, reiterating a stance previously outlined by Mr Weiss, come after easyJet boss Johan Lundgren said earlier this month that European holiday destinations such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal should be on the list too.
Travel sector operators have also been asking to be told about the list as soon as possible as the reopening date nears.
This week, Jet2 said the uncertainty was resulting in travellers leaving bookings until the last minute.
Transatlantic routes typically account for about four-fifths of revenues for Virgin Atlantic – which is 51% owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group and 49% by America’s Delta airlines.
Mr Weiss said Virgin welcomed the government’s framework for reopening travel but that it did not go far enough, with hundreds of thousands of jobs in the industry at stake.
“Now we need certainty that the framework will allow for a phased removal of testing and quarantine,” he said.
Virgin said revenues fell by 70% to £868m last year with an upturn in cargo volumes the only financial boost.
It also said it “made a significant contribution towards the national effort to protect lives, from transporting vital PPE and medical supplies, to volunteering to support NHS frontline services”.
The carrier said it had processed more than £600m of customer refunds during the year as a result of the disruption.
Virgin’s loss for the year of £858m compares to a loss of £63.7m in 2019.
The annual report showed that the company’s number of employees fell from 10,016 to 5,907 over the year while the company received £70m from the government’s furlough scheme subsidising the wages of workers temporarily laid off due to the pandemic.