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An overview of operations at American’s Chicago-O’hare hub (Photo: Greg Linton | AirlineGeeks)

U.S. and U.K. Airline Chiefs Urge Summit to Reopen Trans-Atlantic Travel

The chief executive officers of leading U.K. and U.S. airlines have issued an open letter to the government officials responsible for transport in their respective countries requesting a summit to discuss the reopening of the transatlantic aviation market. The letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and U.K. Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps was published on Tuesday. Signatories to the letter represent Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, jetBlue, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and the industry trade organization Airlines for America.

The letter seeks a meeting ahead of the scheduled G7 summit in Cornwall, U.K. from 11 -13 June ‘to explore a path to safely and expeditiously reopen transatlantic travel in a manner that aligns with public health objectives.’ The G7 summit brings together leaders from the U.K., U.S., Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, plus the EU. As hosts, the U.K. government has invited Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa as guest countries to attend the in-person summit.

Citing the continued success of the vaccination programs in both countries, the airline executives declare that ‘we are confident that the aviation industry possesses the right tools, based on data and science, to enable a safe and meaningful restart to transatlantic travel.’ Increased testing capability and trials of digital health certificates are means by which the industry believes it can use to remove some of the restrictions imposed on travel.

Currently, the U.S. is closed to U.K. citizens and residents with limited exceptions and the U.S. has been placed on the U.K. government’s restrictive ‘amber list’ of countries for the recommencement of leisure travel from 17 May.  The ‘amber list’ requires passengers who have ‘visited or transited through an amber country to fill in the passenger locator form, provide a valid notification of a negative test result prior to travel, quarantine at home for 10 days, and take a test on day 2 and day 8 after arrival. Passengers will also have the option to opt into Test to Release at day 5.’

To support the importance of the crucial air links between the two countries, the letter cites that the value of trade between the U.K. and the U.S. was worth $273 billion in 2019 with the transport of 900,000 tons of air cargo. Passenger numbers between the two countries reached 22 million in 2019 with 4 million of those cited as visiting friends and relatives (VFR).

The requested summit may coincide with the U.K. government’s first revision of its ‘traffic light’ system of international travel which is due between 1-4 June. Further revisions are expected every three weeks with two weeks’ notice given of any changes to a country’s category. Hopes are high that major summer destinations to Europe and the U.S. will be added to the initially sparse ‘green list’ from mid-June. Aviation industry leaders are also hopeful that less restrictive measures will be imposed on passengers to reduce testing costs and stimulate confidence and demand.

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