Pressure mounts on governments to establish US-UK travel corridor by June
Pressure is mounting on the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom to reestablish an air corridor for open travel between the two countries.
Ahead of the G7 Summit in England in June, travel industry executives, unions, businesses and operators have turned to the highest of powers to get restrictions on travel between the U.S. and U.K. lifted.
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In a letter addressed to U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a group of nearly 50 travel operators, providers and industry groups, such as Heathrow Airport, Airlines for America, the International Air Transport Association, Virgin Atlantic and more, pushed on the governments to reopen the transatlantic corridor "as soon as safely possible."
In part, the coalition of groups and companies wrote to Biden and Johnson:
"As the collective leaders of the U.S. and U.K. aviation, travel and tourism industry, we are writing to underscore the importance of both governments reopening one of the world’s most important aviation markets as soon as safely possible. Given the deep economic, social and cultural ties between our two nations, we believe your meeting ahead of the G7 in early June would be an ideal opportunity for a joint announcement of the full reopening of the U.S.-U.K. air travel market for both U.S. and U.K. citizens. We stand ready to support the work of governments in the interim to secure a positive outcome."
There has been pressure on the governments to establish a U.S.-U.K. travel corridor for months, however, it's picked up more steam in recent days. The joint letter as well as individual comments from travel executives have put additional pressure on the governments to finalize an approach to transatlantic travel before the G7 Summit, which is set to take place in Cornwall, England, from June 11-13, 2021.
Related: UK airlines push for travel corridor with US as vaccine rollout raises hopes for summer travel
In the letter, the group of travel companies detailed that the success of both the U.S. and U.K.'s vaccination programs is sufficient for safely reopening the travel corridor. According to data from the University of Oxford, more than 246 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States — about 44% of the population. In the U.K., meanwhile, more than 50 million doses have been administered — about 52% of the population.
Among the reasons for the push to restart travel between the countries is to help kickstart the resumption of international travel at a large scale, helping to boost airline operations and tourism's recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Related: Will Americans be able to vacation in the UK this summer?
"If you look at the progress of vaccinations that the U.K. and the U.S. have made, they're almost neck and neck," British Airways CEO Sean Doyle said at an online industry conference last week. "I think the U.S. is a great opportunity to get up and running again."
Since March 2020, the United States has banned non-nationals coming from the U.K. — and other Schengen Area countries — from entering. As such, tourism from Europe (including the U.K.) to the U.S. has been completely off the table.
Likewise, the U.K.'s enhanced border restrictions since January 2021 have meant that travelers entering the country from abroad must quarantine for 10 days. Travelers entering from high-risk red countries are required to undergo their quarantine at a government-approved hotel, however, the U.S. is not categorized as a red list country.
With the latest push from industry trade groups and businesses to establish a travel corridor between the U.S. and the U.K., not only would the U.S. have to reopen its borders to non-nationals coming from the U.K., but the U.K. would need to add the U.S. to its green list of low-risk countries.
Non-essential international travel in the U.K. has been illegal since 5 January when the country went into its third lockdown. In his roadmap out of lockdown announcement in February, Johnson set a date of May 17 for the possible return to international travel — though that date could be pushed back.
We've since learned that when international travel does resume from England, it will use a traffic light system to categorize destination countries based on their risk level: red for high-risk countries, amber for medium-risk countries and green for the lowest-risk countries.
Arrivals into England from red countries will need to undergo quarantine in a government-approved hotel, while amber arrivals will need to undergo a 10-day quarantine at an accommodation of their choosing, as well as taking two additional COVID-19 tests on days two and eight of their quarantine. The lowest-risk green arrivals will not need to quarantine on arrival in England, but they will need to take a COVID-19 test prior to departure to England as well as a PCR test within two days of arriving.
The U.K. hasn't yet confirmed if international travel will be permitted to resume on 17 May, but given industry pressure on the government and infection rates that have remained low, there is reason to believe the date will stick. However, the English government still hasn't released which countries will be on the green list, though there is reason to believe that the number of countries that could be on the low-risk green list could be in the single digits.
Related: Which countries could be on the UK’s green list?
Among the growing number of businesses and trade groups pressuring the governments to establish a corridor between the U.S. and U.K., airline executives have been especially vocal. In addition to BA's Doyle, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss has said on numerous occasions that there is no need for a ban on travel between the two countries.
"With world leading vaccination programs in both the U.K. and U.S., and evidence to support safe reopening through testing, there is a clear opportunity to open up travel and no reason to delay beyond 17 May," Weiss said.
Weiss also pushed that the governments should consider a quarantine- and testing-free approach to the corridor for fully vaccinated travelers. Currently, there are no exemptions for fully vaccinated travelers entering the U.K.
The reopening of a U.S.-U.K. travel corridor would be a massive step towards economic recovery for the tourism sectors in both nations, as well as airlines and the larger economies.
"The tourism and hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 in both economies and safely restoring the U.S – U.K. air travel market will have a significant impact," the group of travel companies said in their letter to Biden and Johnson. "If travel restrictions are lifted by this June, we expect the market will start to recover and approach 70 percent of 2019 levels by the end of the year buoyed primarily by summer season traffic.
"The return of Transatlantic flying would not only have a significantly positive impact on our respective economies but will also reunite those who have been separated from their loved ones for over a year. In 2019, over 22 million passengers traveled between the U.S. and UK with approximately four million of those travelers visiting friends and family."
Beyond the U.S. and U.K. travel corridor, travel companies have already received positive word on the resumption of leisure travel last week when the EU said it intended to allow fully vaccinated Americans to vacation across its Member States this summer.