The boss of Virgin Atlantic has slammed the Government's latest travel restrictions as the airline holds talks with its backers to raise hundreds of millions of pounds to steer it through the winter.
Chief executive Shai Weiss has called the UK's flight bans to red list countries 'the wrong thing to do'. He accused Ministers of making airlines 'an easy target' as part of efforts to guide the public towards more cautious behaviour.
Weiss said: 'Travel [restrictions] is not the way to stop a pandemic. This variant is now everywhere in the world, everybody understands that. Shutting borders hurts millions of people – businesses and GDP are reliant on this.
Hitting turbulence: Chief executive Shai Weiss has called the UK's flight bans to red list countries 'the wrong thing to do'
'I think we should evaluate the situation quickly. What I am telling the Government in the UK is that as quickly as you introduce those measures, if things turn out [impact of new strains] ... not as significant, then take them back immediately as well,' he said on the Bloomberg TV channel.
Virgin Atlantic is in talks with its shareholders Virgin Group, wholly owned by billionaire Sir Richard Branson, and Delta Air Lines to raise £400million within the next two months. Weiss said: 'We are never short of needing more capital. All options remain on the table, and we are exploring them robustly.'
New investment by Virgin Group, which owns 51 per cent of Virgin Atlantic, would be matched by Delta, which owns the remaining 49 per cent, meaning the ownership structure would be unchanged.
Virgin Atlantic chiefs are also considering an alternative plan to raise funds through a stock market listing next year. The hard-hit airline has already raised more than £1.5billion over the pandemic. Aviation consultant John Strickland said: 'After the great relief of the transatlantic reopening, these travel bans in the run-up to the peak Christmas season are the last thing airlines need.'
Branson, 71, called for a £7.5billion Treasury bailout for airlines at the start of the pandemic but was rejected. He then offered to mortgage his Caribbean island, Necker, but has instead sold more than $1billion of shares in space tourism business Virgin Galactic to prop up Virgin firms.
A spokesman for Delta, which bought its stake from Singapore Airlines in 2012, said: 'Our longstanding partnership with Virgin Atlantic provides great customer benefits between the US and the UK. We continue to support Virgin's efforts to bolster its balance sheet and emerge from the pandemic a stronger airline.'