Airlines Seek Trans-Atlantic Restart on Eve of Biden Trip

Airlines from Britain and the U.S. issued a joint plea for the resumption of travel between the two countries, saying government curbs on the world’s most lucrative air route are holding back an economic recovery.

Leisure and business trips could restart without undermining efforts to combat Covid-19, the heads of Delta Air Lines Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc., American Airlines Group Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp. said Monday. They were joined by counterparts from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, along with business groups and airport executives.

London-to-New York City “is the most valuable bilateral corridor in the world and it seems completely crazy that this is closed at the moment,” said Duncan Edwards, chief executive officer of the trade group BritishAmerican Business.

While carriers have been pitching for a resumption of trans-Atlantic travel since last summer, the latest push comes days before President Joe Biden is set to attend the G7 summit in England. Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said the industry is seeking to reopen travel between the U.K. and U.S. by July 4 at the latest.

Biden’s visit has stirred hopes that talks on a reopening could bear fruit, most likely starting with quarantine-exempt flights for vaccinated passengers. Prior to the pandemic, London-to-New York was the world’s top route for revenue, generating more than $1 billion annually. The segment has been all but shut down, despite rapid progress on vaccinations in both countries.

Airlines Seek Trans-Atlantic Restart on Eve of Biden Trip

Reopening the corridor would “show that there’s a prize for taking the lead in vaccinations,” London Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said at the event. The airport has said its American passengers normally spend 3.74 billion pounds ($5.3 billion) a year in Britain, almost a quarter of the total for foreign tourists.

The pace of inoculations has made people increasingly eager to cross the Atlantic, said American Airlines CEO Doug Parker. A reopening between Britain and the U.S. is “a critical next step in both the travel industry and the global economy’s recovery.”

Green List, Decree

Specifically, airlines are lobbying for the U.S. to be included on the U.K.’s “green list” of nations from which passengers can skip quarantine requirements. It currently has amber status, meaning arrivals must self-isolate -- effectively snuffing out demand for most trips.

Restrictions are even tougher for flights in the other direction, with only American citizens and permanent residents and their families allowed into the U.S. since March 2020. Biden extended the ban, which has limited exceptions, in a presidential decree issued just after taking office.

Airlines would take about 4 weeks to ramp up their services across the Atlantic once travel is allowed to return, Scott Kirby, United Airlines’ CEO, said on the briefing.

U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in April he was in touch with his U.S. counterpart Pete Buttigieg regarding a potential travel corridor between the two countries, though no agreement has yet materialized.

“I urge politicians on both sides to seize the initiative,” said BA CEO Sean Doyle. “We’ve got momentum, we’ve got a great opportunity. We need to get back up and running and the north Atlantic would be a huge incentive to the industry.”

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