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Virgin Atlantic to ramp up Israel flights after UK gives ‘green’ nod

Airline plans twice-daily flights on Tel Aviv-London route in the summer, up from 4 a week now; bookings from Israel have ‘soared,’ country manager says, amid ‘pent-up demand’

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An illustration of a Virgin Atlantic plane (Courtesy)
An illustration of a Virgin Atlantic plane (Courtesy)

British airline Virgin Atlantic said Sunday it is planning to increase the number of flights between London and Tel Aviv after the UK government placed Israel on its “green” country list, paving the way for quarantine-free travel for passengers departing Tel Aviv to London starting May 17.

“Virgin Atlantic remains committed to the Israeli market and will soon offer twice daily flights between Ben Gurion Airport and Heathrow Airport, alongside seamless connections to key US cities such as New York and Los Angeles, via London,” said Shai Weiss, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, in a text message sent on Sunday.

The British government on Friday announced a “first tentative step” toward resuming international travel, saying UK citizens will be able to visit countries including Israel, Portugal and Iceland later this month without having to quarantine on their return.

In March 2020, as the pandemic struck and skies closed, Virgin halted flights between the countries and restarted them in September. The airline currently flies the route four times a week. It now plans to fly daily from June 14 and is then expected to increase that number to two daily flights over the summer, in line with the Israeli government’s road map for opening up to foreign nationals, the airline said.

Travelers at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on April 18, 2021 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“We welcome the news that the UK Government has placed Israel on its ‘Green’ list recognizing the excellent vaccination progress in both countries,” said Weiss. Friday’s announcement “paves the way for a travel corridor between the UK and Israel.”

Bookings from Israel on Virgin Atlantic flights “soared” on Saturday, said Nicholas Bettles, the Israel country manager, with the Tel Aviv-Heathrow route becoming the third-most booked route in the airline’s network. Sixty-eight percent of these bookings are for the May/June period, “highlighting the level of pent-up demand for London in the market,” he said.

The “green list” of the British government of 12 low-risk territories includes Gibraltar, the Faroe Islands and the Falkland Islands — but not major vacation destinations such as France, Spain and Greece. British citizens traveling to those countries will have to self-isolate for 10 days upon their return.

The EU also added Israel to a safe list of countries it says should be allowed to freely travel to Europe for tourism, a statement said on Thursday.

Israel will open its borders to vaccinated or recovered tourists in tour groups from 14 destinations starting May 23: the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Iceland, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Tourists will be required to take a PCR coronavirus test before boarding a plane to Israel. Upon arrival in Israel, they will have to take both a PCR test and a serological test, which proves the existence of antibodies.

Families with unvaccinated children will have to quarantine them for 14 days in Israel upon their arrival, or 10 days after two negative COVID tests.

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