“I find it hard to believe. Two and a half years!” Alison Henry ran to her grandson Liam as soon as she saw him at the New York airport, and gave him a long hug with tears in her eyes. “He is very emotional.”
They have spoken to each other every week since the introduction of health restrictions at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 that have significantly limited passenger arrivals from several countries in the US, including the UK.
“But it’s the human connection, which you feel when you have someone in front of you, that I miss so much,” Liam says, his eyes glimmering over a long beard jutting out of the tree. In Brooklyn for several years.
With the US border reopening to all vaccinated passengers on Monday, he has plenty of places to introduce his parents and grandmother Patricia who didn’t hesitate to make the trip despite turning almost 88. But mostly they plan to spend time together.
– ‘The United States opens’ –
“We were watching the news every day, waiting for the US to reopen,” Alison recalls. They booked their tickets as soon as it was officially announced.
At Terminal 7 at New York’s JFK airport, passengers on board the first British Airways flight since borders reopened were greeted with applause, red, white and blue company-colored balloons, and cookies in the shape of yellow cabs, large apples or figurines. Freedom, three symbols of the city.
Entrepreneurs are the first to land.
“It’s great to be back,” “It’s great,” many of them said to the cameras installed for the occasion.
Then come the passengers, eager to be reunited with their loved ones: a grandmother who has never seen her grandson. A man is waiting with a bouquet of red roses for a friend he has not seen for 11 years, a very long wait delayed by the epidemic. Another aunt finds my niece and is planning a big family dinner tonight.
– 730 days –
After 730 days of separation, Jill Chambers is finally able to hug her sister and nephews. “I am so happy,” she repeated over and over, her eyes red. Before she was found, her sister, Luis Irribara, warned: “I will cry like hysteria.”
“It was awful not to know when we would meet again because of Covid, and not to know if the borders would be reopened,” she says.
For Max, a young man who was in a hurry to meet his friends and family, this time of separation was also “very, very difficult”. “We communicated via Zoom, but it is different from reality,” he told AFP before rushing to the director’s doors.
For the occasion, British Airways gave the flight the prestigious ‘BA1’ number, a number attributed to the legendary Concorde when the plane was still flying between London and New York.
The trip was “fantastic,” assures the company’s general manager, Sean Doyle, who has also returned to New York for the first time since the start of 2020.
He told AFP that British Airways had never completely stopped its traffic, but that this first flight to allow all vaccinated passengers to come to US soil was an “important symbolic step”.
For a company, transatlantic links are essential to business turnover. “We think demand will return (to pre-pandemic level) in 2023 or 2024,” says Sean Doyle.
For at least one customer, reopening borders isn’t necessarily a godsend.
“I had two amazing years that I didn’t have to fly,” says Tom Hargreaves, among the first business class passengers to get off the plane. “Now I have to go back to her.”
“Food trailblazer. Passionate troublemaker. Coffee fanatic. General analyst. Certified creator. Lifelong music expert. Alcohol specialist.”