In an emotional letter addressed to the Vice President of the United States Mike Pence and the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, chief executives of American Airlines, International Airlines Group (IAG; the parent company of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and others), Lufthansa, and United Airlines pleaded for a “safe and swift restoration of air travel between the United States and Europe.”

The letter raises a lot of questions, especially considering the current situation in the United States, as its COVID-19 cases numbers keep rising at an unprecedented rate. The Council of the European Union (EU) left the United States out of its list of countries whose residents are able to conduct non-essential travel into the EU from outside the Bloc.

While citizens or long-time residents of the EU, including their families, are able to travel to the countries where travel restrictions still apply, the volume of travelers between the United States and the European Union would be different if travel was unrestricted.

“Nobody will benefit from a prolonged closure of this most indispensable corridor for global aviation,” Doug Parker, Willie Walsh, Carsten Spohr, and Scott Kirby ended their collective letter to Mike Pence and Ylva Johansson.

But why are these executives calling for the resumption of travel between Europe and the United States, even when the latter is still facing the full brunt of the pandemic?

Cash cow

Undoubtedly, the North Atlantic corridor is one of the most important transcontinental routes in aviation. Not only it ensures crucial connectivity for travelers, but it is also a cash cow for many airlines across the industry. In August 2019, OAG published an analysis of airline revenues and their most lucrative routes. In first place, generating $1.1 billion of revenue in 2019, was British Airways’ London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) route. Qantas’ Melbourne to Sydney domestic route was in second place, bringing almost $300 million less revenue than BA’s transatlantic itinerary.

In 2019, British Airways earned $14.9 billion (£11.8 billion) of passenger revenue. Thus, the LHR-JFK route alone was responsible for 7% of British Airways’ passenger revenue throughout the year. While the number might look small, but for one route that is pretty impressive, to say the least.

The trend continues throughout the International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways.

“IAG’s North American market accounts for almost 30 percent of the Group’s Available seat kilometers ('ASKs').” Available Seat Kilometers measures an airline’s available capacity.

“We now serve 33 points in North America making us the largest long-haul carrier into the North Atlantic market and we will continue our strategic growth with our Atlantic Joint Business partner, American Airlines, throughout 2020.“

Thus comes in the second company figuring in the letter, American Airlines. In 2008, the Dallas/Fort Worth-based airline joined British Airways and Iberia to form the Atlantic Joint Business (AJB), a collaborative network on the North Atlantic flight corridor.

In 2019, out of the total 95.8 Available Seat Miles (ASM) on its International network, American Airlines dedicated 42 billion ASMs (43.8%) to the Atlantic sector alone. Out of the total $11.1 billion earned on its international operations, $4.6 billion were on routes above the Atlantic Ocean. While AA does earn most of its revenue on domestic operations ($30.8 billion) versus its international flights ($11.1 billion), in times such as these every penny counts. Also, AA recently announced a partnership with the New York-based JetBlue. The airline plans to expand its transatlantic presence further with the added domestic network of JetBlue, broadening its reach of customers. Together with the new joint venture, American also indicated new and resumed routes to Europe, including Greece, Spain and the United Kingdom.