UK industry bosses call for US-UK travel corridor

written by Hannah Dowling | April 8, 2021
Aerial photo of Terminal 3 at London Heathrow airport (LHR) in the United Kingdom.

The chief executives from British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow Airport have joined forces to plead for the UK government to introduce a trans-Atlantic travel corridor as soon as next month.

The aviation industry leaders have joined in a rare joint plea to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arguing that the successful rollout of vaccination programs across both nations should result in travel between the UK and US being a priority once non-essential movement of people is allowed.

It comes shortly after PM Johnson this week unveiled dubious plans to restart international travel to and from Britain.

The government’s intentions include the reintroduction of the UK’s previous traffic light system, with destinations deemed safest – or ‘green’ – based on its progress through the vaccine rollout, current COVID-19 infection rates, and the prevalence of mutant strains of the virus.

Passengers travelling from countries on the “green” list would not be required to quarantine, although would still need to take COVID tests both prior to departure and after arrival.

As such, in their plea to the government, the UK aviation bodies are requesting that the US be listed on the “green” list as soon as practicable.

“There is a great opportunity here to focus on the corridor between the US and the UK . . . the US has a hugely successful vaccination program,” said Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic.

As it stands, the UK government is advising it is still too early to book any overseas travel, and non-essential international travel will remain banned until 17 May at the earliest.

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While the government remains tight-lipped on how likely it is to ease international travel restrictions on this date, British Airways’ chief executive Sean Doyle feels fairly certain the UK will follow through on opening up at least some international destinations from 17 May.

“The British public should not lose hope, we remain optimistic this [easing of restrictions] will happen,” Doyle said.

“If we can create a framework for travel between the UK and US, and open up that market, that would set a benchmark that others could follow.”

Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland Kaye said, “The UK can’t sit back and see its vital trading routes sitting idle”.

Doing so would see a “genuine risk” that some UK businesses reliant on trade or tourists won’t survive, as the pandemic enters into its second summer season.

Any decision on a UK-US travel corridor would need to be bi-lateral, with the US still imposing a ban on travellers from the UK, executed under former president Donald Trump.

However, the US and UK are among the fastest nations to rollout their vaccination campaigns, according to the Financial Times, with the UK currently sitting at 55.2 vaccines administered per 100 residents, and the US at 49.8.

Before the COVID pandemic, the transatlantic travel market was worth $9 billion per year to airlines.

Around 22 million people would travel between the US and UK per year, accounting for nearly 10 per cent of all global air travel.

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