British Airways and Virgin restart flights to China – but journey is two hours longer

british airways plane
british airways plane

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will restart flights to China for the first time since the pandemic but with two hours added to the journey time as the airlines avoid Russian airspace.

After a two-year hiatus, BA will resume services to Shanghai and Beijing after China backtracked on its strict zero-Covd policies.

The UK flag carrier will run a daily service between Heathrow and Shanghai Pudong from April 23. Meanwhile, services between the London airport and Beijing Daxing will resume on June 3, four times a week.

Virgin Atlantic will restart a daily flight between Heathrow and Shanghai from May 1.

Unlike state-owned rivals from China, BA and Virgin Atlantic will avoid Russian airspace. Bosses have previously said that staying away from the country would add between two and four hours to journey times when heading east.

Flying over Russia risks breaching strict financial sanctions imposed by the West on the Kremlin following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

Prior to the pandemic, Russia generated $1.7bn (£1.3bn) from so-called overflight charges each year.

Last year Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Atlantic’s founder, suggested that there should be a ban on Chinese airlines that still use Russian airspace en route to the UK.

Sir Richard, the founder of Virgin Atlantic, raised concerns that flying around Russian airspace was “disadvantageous” for Western airlines that were abiding by sanctions.

The British entrepreneur told The Telegraph that a “good point” was now being raised that those airlines returning to fly over Russia were indirectly helping the Kremlin’s war effort.

Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic chief executive, called on UK and EU leaders to enforce a “level-playing field” among airlines in relation to Russian overflights.

Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer at Virgin Atlantic, said of the restart of China flights: “Shanghai is the final route to return following the global pandemic, restoring our flying programme to full capacity.  

“Our focus for 2023 is on delivery, as we look forward to launching routes to new destinations, welcoming brand new clean, green aircraft and getting back to our best for our customers and people.”