Sun and sandy beaches: Virgin Atlantic focuses on winter Caribbean routes

Oct 27, 2020

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Virgin Atlantic has firmly set its eyes on the Caribbean for the winter season. With the U.S. largely unavailable as a tourist destination for British travellers, the carrier sees hope in U.K.-based travellers seeking winter sun — and easing entry restrictions — to a number of Caribbean destinations.

Last week, the carrier detailed its seasonal winter route schedule to the Caribbean countries of Antigua and Grenada. As of 26 October, Virgin resumed its flights to both island nations with two weekly flights on Boeing 787s.

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The resumption of the two routes joins Virgin’s already-resumed routes to Barbados and Jamaica. Since late summer, Virgin restarted its operations between London Heathrow (LHR) and Bridgetown, Barbados (BGI) with two weekly flights before increasing that frequency to three as of 26 October. Additionally, the carrier detailed plans to resume service between Manchester (MAN) and BGI as of 26 October, however, those plans appear to have been put on hold until at least December.

Virgin has also resumed its route between London Heathrow and Montego Bay, Jamaica (MBJ). While it’s not expected to resume until early January 2021, the carrier does have plans to resume its route from London Heathrow to Havana (HAV), however, current Cuban government restrictions mean that commercial operations to HAV are still suspended.

While the carrier has introduced some new routes that are already in operation, it’s failed to uphold its winter route plans in all cases. In addition to not resuming its Manchester to Barbados connection, the carrier also had plans to relaunch winter flights to Tobago (TAB). However, those flights are no longer showing on Virgin’s winter schedule.

Virgin’s goal here is clear: To capitalise on Brits looking to soak up winter sun on highly leisure routes. As of time of publication, all of the carrier’s planned — or already-resumed — Caribbean routes are on England’s travel corridor list, with the exception of one country: Jamaica. Otherwise, Antigua, Barbados, Cuba and Grenada all appear on the list, meaning travellers won’t have to quarantine for 14 days when they return to England.

Related: Which Caribbean countries can I travel to from England right now?

That said, each of the island destinations features different entry restrictions for travellers. As of time of publication, here’s what you’ll need to get into each of Virgin’s already-relaunched routes or those that it plans to relaunch later this winter:

  • Antigua — All arriving passengers must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than seven days before arrival. Travellers could be subject to additional checks on arrival, such as temperature checks, travel history checks, completion of a Health Declaration Form, a check to ensure your accommodation is approved and even an additional coronavirus test. All arrivals will be monitored for up to 14 days, and it is the decision of the Quarantine Authority on who must self-isolate.
  • Barbados — All arriving passengers must present a negative COVID-19 test, taken no more than 72 hours in advance of arrival. All U.K. arrivals are deemed high-risk and will undergo a health screen and then will be quarantined at a designated hotel or government facility for between two to three days. You’ll then be retested, and if it’s negative, you can leave quarantine.
  • Cuba — Only tourists flying to airports other then Havana are permitted to enter. You’ll have to take a PCR test on arrival. With a negative test result on arrival, there is no quarantine requirement.
  • Grenada —Travellers must provide a negative PCR test within seven days prior to arrival, and then will be re-tested at the airport. Even if you test negative at the airport, you will still be required to quarantine for four days at accommodation approved by authorities. After four days, you’ll be tested again. If it’s negative, you can travel freely.
  • Jamaica — All arriving passengers may be tested for COVID-19. Depending on where you’re staying, you may need to provide a negative PCR test prior to arrival. Additionally, depending on where you’re staying, you may have to quarantine for 14 days.

For an airline like Virgin Atlantic, which relies heavily on the transatlantic market between the U.S. and the U.K., the pandemic and subsequent government-imposed travel restrictions have been devastating. In a typical year, transatlantic flights account for 70% of Virgin’s network.

Related: Virgin Atlantic secures £1.2 billion deal, but return of transatlantic travel is ‘imperative to recovery’

While it’s still operating some routes to the U.S., they’ve not been at the same pre-pandemic capacity levels. With popular business routes like London to New York largely on hold because of the pandemic, Virgin has turned to prioritising leisure destinations that are available options for British travellers.

The possibility of a London and New York air corridor could greatly help Virgin’s operations on its flagship route. Industry executives have long pressured the U.K. government to implement a testing alternative to quarantine for international travellers, saying it would encourage tourism at a time when the industry needs it most.

In early November, the U.K. government’s Global Travel Taskforce is expected to announce the results of its findings on the possibility of a testing alternative. Until then, arriving passengers from non-travel corridor countries are still required to quarantine for 14 days.

Related: Everything you need to know about the Global Travel Taskforce and what it means for your holiday

Featured photo by Szilard Maron/Getty Images.

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