UK-US travel ‘not a question of if, but when’

Opening up a travel corridor between the UK and the US is “not a question of if, but when”, according to a representative of American carriers.

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed he is having “regular” talks with his opposite number in the US, Pete Buttigieg, in a webinar hosted by airlines UK and Conservative Home.

He explained: “The simple answer is [former US] President Trump passed an executive order, 212F, which bans Brits from travelling to the States, that bans Europeans and many other countries – and that has been there since March last year.

“That is the thing that needs to lift to be able to open these corridors. Of course we are having bilateral conversations.”

Keith Glatz, vice president, international, at Airlines for America (A4A), told the session: “We have 212F, it has been in existence for over a year but while it does restrict the movement of the UK and the EU Schengen Area, Brazil and China primarily – the rest of the world is open to the US already. That’s why it’s not a question of if, but a question of when.

“I have heard from various sources all across the US government that there’s broad recognition that it does in fact need to be repealed. We really need that to happen as soon as possible.

“We have to understand what these triggers are. Otherwise, when the government says everyone’s free to travel we’re going to be behind the 8-ball.”

More: UK-US travel ‘should lead’ reopening of travel, says BA boss

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Noting the US aviation sector has lost $46 billion as a result of Covid a passenger numbers dropped by as much as 96%, he said the industry was starting to pick up again now domestic travel was restarting in the US since the vaccine rollout began to gather pace. He said around 31,000 of the 93,000 workers who lost jobs in US aviation had been rehired.

Glatz said the withdrawing of restrictions for international travel is “way behind” and said data showed that transmission on board an aircraft is less likely than in a pub.

He said US airlines have “laid the groundwork” for a restart of international travel safely, and noted the “big step forward” that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it was safe for vaccinated people to travel.

“We need governments globally to agree and be transparent about the global health metrics are going to be to lift international travel restrictions.

“We need to repeal 212F restrictions. They no longer make sense at this point in the pandemic. Not just in the UK and the US, but we see these restrictions that made sense at the beginning of the pandemic – but the science no longer supports them.”

Glatz said US carriers had been “trying to stand up” a US-UK travel corridor for more than a year “and we think the time is right to do that as soon as possible”.

He added: “We’re hopeful the two governments will have a roadmap in place for a commercially meaningful opening in time for the summer season. That’s what we’re going to keep working towards.

“[But] perhaps the time for talking about reopening is growing short and now it’s time for action. The idea of losing another summer season doesn’t make sense given all the progress the two countries, and the two countries’ airlines have made.”

Collinson’s joint chief executive David Evans said it was important for testing frameworks to be universal across global aviation.

“If we don’t do this, we are going to see a continual loss of revenue over this summer period,” he said. “The survival of airlines, and those in the travel trade, will need to see a return to revenue.

“Otherwise we will start to see Chapter 11s, more issues coming through, smaller businesses going under and the ability to rebuild post pandemic is going to be a lot harder.

“Let’s open up travel, let’s do so safely – but let’s try and get as much consistency of approach. If we get that we will get greater adherence to the rules and safe borders in the UK.”

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