Trade ramps up capacity after US border announcement

The trade is in “frantic planning mode” to ramp up capacity and sales ahead of the resumption of holidays to the US in November.

Lee Haslett, global sales vice-president at Virgin Atlantic, told a Travel Weekly webcast that the announcement from the White House was a “welcome surprise”, adding: “We are in frantic planning mode now.

“We’ve got time to get ready for November. Based on what I’ve seen, in the last few hours of yesterday’s trading, and even early trading this morning, the UK consumer is very much ready to get back to the US.”

He hopes the airline can publish its schedule for November onwards “in the next few days”.

It has been flying some transatlantic services over the past year but plans to restart and ramp up popular leisure routes such as Las Vegas and Orlando.

“The numbers have been phenomenal since the announcementFrom a demand perspective, at the moment, it’s been incredibly strong,” he said.

“By far the number-one route selling to the US at the moment from our perspective is Orlando, all for the fourth quarter of this year and Q1 next year.

“We’ve seen a massive surge in bookings in the last few hours of trading yesterday and overnight. We will be looking at what capacity we put in there, what frequencies we put in and mobilising our workforce.

“Virgin is not Virgin Atlantic without the Atlantic. We are absolutely delighted to be restarting those routes.”

MoreVirgin Atlantic US bookings ‘up 600% overnight’ on travel ban lifting

Haslett will also put his trade campaign plans into action to take advantage of the current surge and an anticipated “bumper peak selling season”.

The airline is also looking at running fam trips for agents by the end of the year, he added.

Olly Brendon, founder and chief executive of, said: “I am expecting there to be a consistent surge of demand.

“We just need to get people back and get the organisation focused on sales rather than the drudgery of refunds and cancellations.”

The company has gone from a workforce of 140 before the pandemic to about 70-80 now but Brendon hopes to bring colleagues back.

The call centre operated skeleton hours of 10am-4pm during the pandemic but at 4pm on Monday, there were still 30 calls in the queue, he said.

“We’ve got lots of people on sabbatical. We’re still using furlough,” he said.

Brendon will be working with colleagues in the call centre on Tuesday to gauge the market and hopes to see a shift from cancellations to amendments, as well as “full sales mode”.

Harry Hastings, co-chief executive and co-founder of Ocean Holidays, said the specialist’s contact centre managers had only agreed on Monday morning to allow staff to take holiday time off in the coming weeks – but now that won’t be possible.

There was a planning meeting on Monday evening immediately after the announcement and more taking place today, including a company-wide ‘town hall’ meeting which will be joined by the welcome centre in the US office.

“It is so important for the whole company and all the people that work at Ocean Holidays that we all go on this journey together,” he said on the webcast.

“We will be announcing to the whole company what the next steps are, and just bring everybody at Ocean Holidays on this journey with us so we can actually start enjoying it.”

The company’s headcount has dropped from 150 at the beginning of the pandemic to about 130 and it is looking to recruit now.

“We’ll continue to focus on sales and marketing as these borders open up,” he said.

“We’ve seen a huge uptick in enquiries straightaway.”

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