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Virgin Atlantic will not return to Hong Kong until at least March 2023

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Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. has delayed its London-Hong Kong flights by nearly seven months to late March due to “ongoing operational complexities,” even as the Asian city gradually relaxes some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 restrictions and people begin to travel again.

The UK-based airline plans to resume service on March 26, rather than September 1, as previously planned. Customers scheduled to fly between September and March can rebook, request a refund, or convert their ticket into a voucher, according to an email from Virgin.

For much of the pandemic, Hong Kong has been largely closed off, with the government prohibiting flights from countries such as the United Kingdom for several months and imposing mandatory hotel quarantine for up to 21 days. While quarantine has been reduced to seven days and flight bans have been lifted, as has a mechanism that suspends routes if an airline transports too many infected passengers, the city is lagging far behind the rest of the world in reopening.

The conflict in Ukraine is also a factor. With Russian airspace presumably remaining closed until September, the flight time from London to Hong Kong would be an hour longer than usual, while the return leg would be one hour and 50 minutes longer, according to Virgin.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Hong Kong’s main carrier, has finally seen an increase in traffic after its services were decimated by the government’s COVID rules. Its passenger numbers for June were the highest since March 2020, but they were still roughly 95% lower than pre-pandemic levels.