Finally reunited: How travellers reacted as US borders finally reopened

Nov 9, 2021

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On Monday, fully vaccinated international travellers were finally allowed to enter the United States for nonessential travel 20 months after the nation closed its borders to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The historic reopening was marked by a dual takeoff by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow (LHR) to New York-JFK on 8 November, 2021, with TPG’s Ben Smithson along for the ride with BA.

Also present on the flight was British Airways CEO, Sean Doyle who said:

“British Airways has traditionally been the largest European [airline] in the United States so to have this important gateway closed has been difficult. We used to fly to 30 destinations in North America; we are only at 17 right now but hope to be back to 23 by Christmas, with all returning by next summer. Our flights to the United States this week are full and that is very encouraging.”

Related: What it was like on the first British Airways flight to the US on reopening day

Elsewhere, celebrated mixologist My Lyan (aka Ryan Cetiyawardana) could be seen enjoying the flight, as could U.K. Trade Commissioner Emma Wade-Smith OBE.

Touching down in New York City, TPG’s Ben Smithson said: 

“It was an exciting and emotional experience to be on the first flight to the United States on reopening day, from the special flight number, the dual takeoff with Virgin Atlantic and sitting just three feet away from the British Airways CEO the entire flight, culminating with a wonderfully warm welcome from local staff and press in New York City.

“For many passengers like myself, it was our first long-haul flight of the pandemic and a real symbol of how quickly travel is now returning.”

The flight was a huge emotional release for many as vaccinated travellers were finally able to visit American friends and family, some of whom hadn’t seen each other in the flesh for almost two years.

From the moment passengers left the plane, to taking their first tentative steps on American soil and basking in the marvels of the New York skyline, if you were looking for a pop-culture reference here, we’d say it all got a little bit “Love Actually.”

British Airways BA001 flight arrives in New York as loved ones reunite for the first time in 604 days – marking the U.S. entry restrictions being lifted for the U.K. (Photo by Chris Floyd / British Airways)
(Photo by Chris Floyd / British Airways)
(Photo by Chris Floyd / British Airways)

The warm welcome didn’t just finish at the arrival gates of JFK Airport. Visitors to New York were also greeted by the Empire State Building and several other key landmarks illuminated in celebratory hues.

Whilst the world may not be quite back to how it was before the pandemic, the reopening of U.S. borders is a fantastic step closer to ‘normality’ for travellers the world over and comes at a great point as we begin to usher in new beginnings for 2022.

Photography by Chris Floyd / British Airways

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