UK airlines push for travel corridor with US as vaccine rollout raises hopes for summer travel
With vaccination rates on the rise in both countries, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are calling for a travel corridor to be set up between the United Kingdom and the United States that would ease travel restrictions for travelers in both countries.
The airlines are talking to the U.K. government about allowing safe summer travel to and from the U.S., without mandating costly COVID-19 tests or quarantine. Executives from BA and Virgin hope to get a travel corridor between the two countries arranged as soon as next month.
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"There is a great opportunity here to focus on the corridor between the U.S. and the U.K... the U.S. has a hugely successful vaccination program," Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said.
The success of the vaccine rollout in America is boosting optimism, set by President Biden's announcement on Tuesday that all adults will be eligible for a first vaccine by April 19.
Both BA and Virgin expect international travel out of the U.K. to resume by May 17, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson's words earlier this week that it's too soon to say when travel would be deemed safe.
The two carriers are desperate to resume overseas travel, which has been grounded to a virtual halt the past year due to the pandemic. The transatlantic passage is especially vital to the financial health of the airlines. For Virgin Atlantic, those flights accounted for roughly 70% of its pre-pandemic route network. And that traffic has been mostly non-existent the past year.
Entry to the states has been banned for nearly all U.K. travelers — as well as EU travelers — since March 2020. It has also been incredibly difficult for anyone to travel from the U.S. to the U.K., given its strict quarantine requirements.
A "safe travel program" to allow for quarantine-free travel between the two countries would be a huge financial relief for airlines heading into the summer travel months.
The big hurdle to overcome in order to establish a travel corridor between the U.S. and U.K. comes down to where both countries currently stand with regards to vaccinations. In the U.S., things are moving well enough that travel restrictions have been loosened. The CDC now says fully vaccinated people can travel internationally.
The U.K. is on pace to have the first dose of vaccine in every adult's arm by the end of July, but supply remains a concern. The prime minister even cautioned against making summer travel plans just yet. That's why the Global Travel Taskforce has determined that when travel can resume, it will do so using a "traffic light system" identifying the risk of a particular destination — red (high risk), amber (medium risk) or green (low risk).
However, even for the lowest-risk green countries, two tests will still be required for travelers: one pre-departure and one post-arrival.