RAWALPINDI: A year after British Airways’ resumption of operations in Pakistan, another British airline, Virgin Atlantic, has launched its flights for Pakistan amid the coronavirus pandemic that has badly hit the aviation industry across the world, with Islamabad International Airport becoming its first destination of the new route on Friday.
From Manchester, Virgin Atlantic’s first flight (VS-362) arrived at 1.45am at Islamabad airport where an opening ceremony was held, according to airport sources. British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari, who attended the ceremony, received the passengers at the arrival lounge.
According to the statement by the British High Commission in Pakistan, another flight (of the airline) from the federal capital will take off for London’s Heathrow airport on December 13 and a third one will head from Lahore to London on December 14.
Pakistan is Virgin Atlantic’s first new route to launch since the start of the pandemic, as it will offer three routes from Pakistan to the UK — two from Islamabad to London Heathrow and Manchester and one from Lahore to London Heathrow.
On the occasion, British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner said: “It is a historic day as Virgin Atlantic is now flying to Pakistan.
“Eighteen months ago we had no British carriers flying here; today we have over 20 direct flights a week. This is a sign of real confidence in Pakistan.
“I welcome all passengers from Manchester today. Our 1.6 million British Pakistani diaspora in the UK is at the heart of our dosti [friendship]. They will now have more options to visit loved ones, build ties and boost trade. This will be good for tourism and business. When I arrived in Pakistan, you asked me to help change perceptions. A year on, despite the difficulties, we have changed travel advice, seen the return of England cricket to Pakistan, and now British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are flying direct. Because in difficult times, friends help lift each other up.”
To ensure the health and safety of customers and crew, Virgin Atlantic says, it is implementing additional measures to offer peace of mind in the airport and when taking to the skies. These include enhanced and thorough cleaning practices at check-in, boarding gates and onboard including the use of electrostatic spraying of high-grade disinfectant in all cabins and lavatories before every flight, ensuring no surface is left untouched.
The press release said safe social distancing will also be adhered to wherever possible, and mask wearing will be required throughout the journey. All customers will be provided with a personal Health Pack for their health and safety, which will contain three medical grade face masks to be worn onboard, surface wipes and hand gel.
The airline is offering a temporary simplified hot food service in all cabins. Meals have been redesigned to limit interaction, enclosed and controlled from preparation in a Covid-safe, monitored environment to the moment it is served. Economy and Premium customers will now enjoy a “Fly safe, eat well” meal box, which incorporates a choice of three hot meals, cheese and biscuits and a dessert pot washed down with a selection of beverages. Upper Class customers will receive a choice of three hot meals, desserts, including cheese & biscuits and a ciabatta roll, all delivered to their seat on a tray. All customers will receive a second meal service which, on day flights from the UK, includes the delicious Mile High Tea in collaboration with celebrity pâtissier Eric Lanlard.”
According to the press release, Virgin Atlantic will operate state-of-the-art Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft on all routes from Pakistan, offering the airline’s Upper Class, Premium and Economy cabins. Passengers can take advantage of over 1,000 hours of in-flight entertainment, which includes a selection of Urdu films and TV programmes. Virgin Atlantic would offer Halal food options for customers along with its award-winning service, it said.
Additionally, Virgin Atlantic will offer seamless connectivity via London Heathrow to North America, offering speedy connections to destinations such as New York JFK, Boston and Los Angeles. Virgin Atlantic will also offer onward connectivity alongside its transatlantic joint venture partner Delta Airlines to more than 200 destinations within North America.
The press release said Virgin Atlantic would also offer a fast, efficient cargo service. This will enable growing trade volumes between exporters and importers in both the UK and Pakistan. The UK is the largest export market for Pakistan in Europe, transporting high volumes of goods such as textiles, apparel and machinery.
In a statement, Virgin Atlantic’s South Asia Country Manager Alex McEwan said: “We are thrilled to bring our award-winning service to customers in Pakistan. We are confident that passengers will love flying with us on our cutting-edge Boeing 787 Dreamliner to London Heathrow, Manchester and beyond to North America.”
He was quoted in the press statement as saying: “Our services will promote trade and provide vital connectivity between the UK and Pakistan, enhancing already close ties. It has been a monumental effort to enable our set up in Pakistan, and I would like to thank the British High Commission and the Pakistan authorities for their unwavering support.”
It is noteworthy that Pakistan International Airlines’ flights for Europe had been suspended for months after the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had suspended authorisation to operate flights to its member countries in July 2020.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2020