15 NOVEMBER 2021
© 2022 Business Travel News Ltd.
Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association (BTA), was a guest of British Airways on BA001 to New York Kennedy last Monday 8 November.
It was a mild, autumn November morning, at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. I had my coffee and morning newspaper and was ready to board my transatlantic flight.
But it was no normal morning. It was no normal business trip. I was set to return to New York City (NYC).
I had waited over 603 days to make this journey.
On Monday 8 November, I was amongst the first British business people to ease through customs at JFK, and continue my journey, by fixed price taxi to Manhattan.
It was a memorable and momentous day.
On arrival, I glimpsed what celebrity status must feel like. Hords of photographers, cheering staff and cab drivers with placards were waiting to meet passengers from my flight.
They weren’t there to catch a glimpse of pop legends or sports stars. They were there to greet loved ones whom they had been separated from during the pandemic.
The warmth, anticipation and excitement were electric. It was a fitting scene that marked the landmark re-opening of US borders in style.
At the BTA, we have worked so hard with colleagues across the industry (and the Atlantic) to reach this moment. Transatlantic business and leisure travel has finally resumed.
I was last in New York in March 2020, one of my final pre-Covid-19 trips. Part business and part leisure. I could never have imagined the world we were about to descend into, the challenges and heartache we would all face.
When I was invited by British Airways to travel on their inaugural flight back into New York, it felt like I’d been given the golden ticket.
It felt appropriate that New York should be one of my first post-Covid-19 business trips. It’s a vital hub for business travellers of all natures. A thriving metropolis that rewards dedication, creativity and passion.
The importance of recommencing flights to the US was palpable at Heathrow. The extra wide beams from check-in staff, the flags taking us down onto the plane, highlighted that it was not just me, but our whole industry that was excited about the return to the US.
On my British Airways flight there were a few surprises. A welcome doughnut decorated with Stars and Stripes complemented flags around the cabin. Then a rousing welcome speech from BA's CEO Sean Doyle, followed.
I watched out the window as Virgin Atlantic’s plane took off alongside, waving to my colleagues on board.
I am an industry veteran, but I want to confess, that as west London fell into the distance, I shed a small tear.
In New York, it was perhaps fitting that my first business meeting was a mid-town reception, between 5th and 6th, at the Empire State building.
I bumped into colleagues who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. The mix of accents in the room was delightful and the need not to switch to mute, at any time, was a relief. Free, flowing business chatter flowed.
Put bluntly, I achieved more in 24 hours in New York than I would have done if I had spent a week on Zoom.
My meetings in NYC re-enforced that there are productive times ahead for the BTA; yet also highlighted that our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic is by no means over.
Nevertheless, with COP26 finishing, we must begin to look at a wider agenda. The whole travel community has a vital part to play in revitalising international trade, rebooting world economies and building a more sustainable future.
I look towards 2022 as a year of more change, of stronger relationships and taking the collaboration of the pandemic into new areas.
I am proud of how our industry has navigated the worst crisis of my lifetime, I’m invigorated by being able to meet face-to-face once more and confident in the knowledge that we are better equipped to deal with the challenges ahead.
All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum
Gillian Jones, Brighton
Clive Wratten was a happy soul. We were in the back and also pleased to get to New York and see a granddaughter born 18 months ago. Much better than Zoom. Well done BA.