Watch: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic perform spectacular, simultaneous take off from London

An historic moment in aviation history took place in the UK on Monday to mark the end of dark chapter in the history of global travel.

Following the closing of borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, commercial travel from the UK to the US was given the green light to recommence on November 8 by President Biden.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, two of the biggest rivals in the airline business, celebrated the reopening of travel across the Atlantic by taking off simultaneously from London's Heathrow Airport.

Both airlines were flying ultra-modern Airbus A350-1000 aircraft, arguably the most fuel-efficient aircraft in the skies. It was no coincidence, with the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place just a few hundred kilometres away, as pressure has been mounting on airlines to reduce their carbon emissions. 

Each flight took slightly different paths.
Each flight took slightly different paths. Photo credit:

The British Airways flight was powered by a 35 percent blend of sustainable aviation fuel and made from used cooking oil. The A350 aircraft is up to 40 percent more efficient than the Boeing 747-400 Jumbo Jet aircraft that used to operate between London and New York.

The take-off which took place at 8:50am (London time) was watched by hundreds of thousands of people. The event was broadcast live on breakfast television shows across the UK, as well as numerous live streams on the internet. Flight tracking websites also saw a spike in visitors with each flight being tracked by nearly 100,000 people each.

The airlines have calved out an intense rivalry on flights across the Atlantic over the past 40 years, but joined forces to celebrate the first commercial flights to New York in nearly 600 days.

One particularly hyperbolic aviation commentator described the coming together of the two rivals as "similar to when the English and the Germans played a game of football on Christmas Day during World War I".

Each flight took slightly different flight paths across the Atlantic Ocean, with a focus on which airline could use the least amount of fuel rather than which airline would arrive first.

Fuel consumption numbers are yet to be released, but Virgin Atlantic's route proved to be slightly faster, touching down just four minutes ahead of British Airways at New York's JFK Airport at 4:01pm (New York time).

Now that the ceremonious first flight has taken place, both airlines will return to their battle stations and compete for every single passenger planning on flying between the UK and the US. Currently both airlines are offering return airfares between London and New York for around NZ$650.