US Airlines Join UK Partners In Calling For A Travel Corridor

A consortium of airlines and airline industry players has written to senior government figures in both the UK and USA calling for an expedited travel corridor. With vaccination rollouts well underway in both countries, airlines want to ease travel restrictions on the normally busy transatlantic travel corridor.

A consortium of airlines is calling on the UK and US Governments to ease transatlantic travel restrictions. Photo: London Heathrow Airport

“Air travel is a critical enabler of trade between our countries that was worth US$273 billion or £196 billion in 2019,” said the letter to US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and UK Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps.

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Airlines join forces to call for travel corridor reopening

Signatories to the May 11 letter were key airlines on both sides of the Atlantic, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, and industry group Airlines for America.

“Public health must guide the reopening of international air travel, and 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,” the letter said.

In a rare joining of forces between airlines that are normally arch-rivals, the CEOs who signed the letter proposed a summit to explore how to safely and swiftly re-open the critical travel corridor.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby is one of the signatories to the May 11 letter. Photo: United Airlines

The transatlantic travel corridor matters more to UK airlines

Arguably, the transatlantic corridor matters more to UK carriers than US carriers.  In 2019, more than 23% of passengers moving through London Heathrow Airport were coming on or off transatlantic flights. The number one route was the London Heathrow – New York JFK run.

But it isn’t all about New York. In 2019, British Airways operated approximately 30 routes into the USA. Most departed from London Heathrow. In 2019, North America accounted for around half of Virgin Atlantic’s flights and nearly three-quarters of the airline’s ASK capacity.

Generally, United States-based carriers have more diversified international networks, but the transatlantic runs to the UK still account for a significant share of their network capacity. The routes take on additional importance given the demand from premium passengers and the rich revenue streams those passengers provide.

“Safely reopening borders between the US and UK is essential for the continued economic recovery of both nations,” the letter says.

“Returning travelers to the skies is essential to securing future investment in the world’s most dynamic enterprises.”

Transatlantic routes matter because they are premium traffic heavy and a rich source of revenue for airlines. Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Airlines propose a summit with US & UK Governments

The letter notes that by early May, 42% of the adult population in the US have been fully vaccinated. 27% of the UK population have been fully vaccinated, and 62% have received at least one dose. The airlines hail the success of the vaccination rollout and say this can serve as a roadmap for safely reopening the transatlantic flight corridor.

“This success can serve as the foundation for the US and UK to lead the world by demonstrating how to safely reopen the travel corridor.”

The proposed summit, led by the UK and US governments, would look at how to re-open the travel corridor that aligns with public health objectives. But the airlines warn time is of the essence.

“The airline industry needs adequate lead time to establish a plan for restarting air services, including scheduling aircraft and crews for those routes as well as marketing and selling tickets.”

“We believe your joint leadership at a summit with us prior to the G7 Summit would allow for a robust discussion to ensure the timely return of air travel to the people and economies of our respective countries.”

At the time of publication, neither Pete Buttigieg nor Grant Shapps have agreed to the summit or commented on the letter.