British Airways resumes Beijing flights

British Airways has operated its first passenger flight between London Heathrow and Beijing in more than three years after suspending the route due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The airline began operating a regular passenger service to China in 1980 and continued doing so until the sharp drop in demand caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

Western airlines have been reluctant to resume operations to and from Asia because of tough rules for visitors.

Flights to China are restarting following a relaxation of the country’s travel restrictions, with borders reopened to foreign nationals for the first time since 2020.

British Airways’ first flight from Heathrow to Beijing since January 2020 touched down on Sunday.

The airline will operate four return flights per week on the route, which is also served by its business partner, China Southern.

Louise Street, British Airways’ director of worldwide airports, said: “The restart of one of our most important routes after more than three years is a long-awaited moment for all of us at British Airways.

“Following the successful resumption of flights between Shanghai and London in April, we’re excited to be back in Beijing too, reuniting families and friends and facilitating international student and business travel once again.”

Virgin Atlantic announced on Monday that it will operate flights to South America for the first time, with a daily service between Heathrow and Sao Paulo, Brazil, from May next year.

It will also begin flying between Heathrow and Bengaluru, India, and resume flights between Heathrow and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and between Manchester and Las Vegas in the USA.

Virgin Atlantic said its capacity will be increased by more than 250,000 seats next year compared with 2019.

Chief executive Shai Weiss said: “We’re excited to announce a range of new routes across three continents, giving our customers the opportunity to fly in style with Virgin Atlantic.

“From our entrance into South America, to our expansion in India and the growth of our premium sun portfolio, there is something for all of our customers to experience.

“By leveraging the power of our strategic partners, and welcoming our state-of-the-art, brand new A350 and A339 aircraft, customers can rely on Virgin Atlantic to connect them to where they need to be, enjoying a premium customer experience, delivered by our amazing crew.

“Our plan is working, positioning us to return to profitability in 2024.”

Last month, the airline reported that it made a pre-tax loss before exceptional items of £206 million in 2022 due to factors such as high inflation, the weakness of the pound and increases in interest rates for debt repayments.

Meanwhile, global airline body the International Air Transport Association (Iata) has upgraded its forecast for the sector’s finances, partly due to the relaxation of China’s Covid rules.

It expects airline industry net profits to reach 9.8 billion US dollars (£7.9 billion) this year, more than double its previous forecast of 4.7 billion US dollars (£3.8 billion).

Some 4.35 billion people are expected to travel by air in 2023, which is closing in on the 4.54 billion who flew in 2019.

Iata director-general Willie Walsh, former boss of British Airways’ parent company IAG, said: “Airline financial performance in 2023 is beating expectations.

“Stronger profitability is supported by several positive developments. China lifted Covid-19 restrictions earlier in the year than anticipated. Cargo revenues remain above pre-pandemic levels even though volumes do not.

“And, on the cost side, there is some relief. Jet fuel prices, although still high, have moderated over the first half of the year.

“Economic uncertainties have not dampened the desire to travel, even as ticket prices absorbed elevated fuel costs.

“After deep Covid-19 losses, even a net profit margin of 1.2% is something to celebrate.

“But with airlines just making 2.25 US dollars (£1.82) per passenger on average, repairing damaged balance sheets and providing investors with sustainable returns on their capital will continue to be a challenge for many airlines.”