US, UK airlines urge governments to reopen transatlantic travel

Unsplash/Miguel Angel San

The decline of transatlantic travel between the UK and U.S came primarily from heavy travel restrictions and border control to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the grounding of commercial aviation in March 2020, travellers from the US have been barred from entering the European Union and citizens from European countries have also been restricted from entering the US.

A year later, after regaining a somewhat firm footing from the instability of the pandemic, hopes for a return of transatlantic travel are collecting, reignited by an effort from the chief executives of leading UK and US passenger airlines to move governments to reopen the transatlantic channel.

On May 11, 2021, an open letter addressed to US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and UK Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, put forward a proposal to hold a summit between US-based and UK-based carriers and their respective governments to explore the safe reopening of transatlantic travel in “a manner that aligns with public health objectives.“ 

The letter, signed by the chief executives of Airlines for America, American Airlines (A1G) (AAL), British Airways, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic, urges for a summit ahead of the G7 Summit which will be held in Carbis Bay, Cornwall from June 13, 2021. The executives expressed the need for a reopening of the transatlantic channel in support of “continued economic recovery of both nations“ following the success of vaccination programs in both the US and UK.

In the US, 42% of the adult population have been vaccinated and 59% have received at least one dose. Across the Atlantic, 27% of the adult population in the UK has been vaccinated and 62% have received at least one dose as of May 2021. It is projected that by the end of July 2021 all U.S. and UK adult populations will be vaccinated.

The opening of the channel is said to be beneficial for both passengers and the air transport industry on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Over 22 million passengers traveled between the US and the UK in 2019, of which 4 million of those passengers flew for family-related activities. In 2019, the transatlantic travel corridor was one of the busiest airspaces in the world with over 1,300 flights per day. Today that number nears about 500 flights per day with loading capacities of up to 20%.

The air transport industry is confident in the safe restart of long-haul travel across the Atlantic hinged on safety measures and testing capacities established into travel channels since March 2020. 

The industry also aims to re-establish the economic benefits and trade activity between the two nations which in 2019 recorded trade valued at $273 billion with approximately 900,000 tons of transported cargo. 

Agreements and collaboration between airlines and governments will be the key foundation to a sound recovery of long-haul travel and the approaching summer season will be vital for airlines on either side of the pond. Potentially 70% of pre-COVID travel could be recorded by the end of the year if the UK-US travel ban is lifted, generating approximately $3 billion for both nations. However, if restrictions were to continue beyond June 2021, a further cash hemorrhage is to be expected on both sides of the Atlantic.

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