Several high profile airlines want to see fewer restrictions on transatlantic travelers. Airlines on both sides of the ocean say border closures, entry, and transit restrictions are undermining both the viability of transatlantic flights and the broader airline industry.
Desperate times make for strange bedfellows
Desperate times make for strange bedfellows. With airlines bleeding cash on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, four airline CEOs have got together to write to the United States Vice President Mike Pence and Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs.
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In the letter, IAG boss Willie Walsh, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Scott Kirby from United Airlines, and Lufthansa’s Carsten Spohr, ask for a rapid rollout of a joint COVID-19 testing program and the restoration of transatlantic flying.
They argue the airline industry and governments could work together to rollout a testing program on both sides of the Atlantic. According to The New York Times, the letter said;
“… Given the unquestioned importance of transatlantic air travel to the global economy as well as to the economic recovery of our businesses, we believe it is critical to find a way to reopen air services between the U.S. and Europe.”
Two other big airlines in the transatlantic market, Delta Air Lines and Air France/KLM, did not sign the letter.
Transatlantic market critically important for airlines
The transatlantic market is important to these airlines. Arguably, it’s critically important for the European carriers. IAG’s Willie Walsh has previously said British Airways was fighting for survival and has been highly critical of the British Government for implementing a mandatory 14 day quarantine period.
Earlier this month, the International Airline Transport Association suggested there could be an overall 53% drop in airline traffic if transatlantic flying remained at current levels.
Several carriers and airports have begun trialing testing procedures. Lufthansa offers its Frankfurt passengers a test, the results of which can get linked to the passenger’s ticket. London’s Heathrow Airport was swab testing passengers. While laudable, these are all ad hoc programs. There is a lack of uniformity, results transmission, rules, and reciprocality.
Airlines want testing rather than restrictions
The airline industry wants the testing, it wants consistency, uniformity, and speed. Instead of border closures, restrictions, and quarantine periods, the airlines asked Mr Pence and Ms Johansson for a joint U.S.-European Union testing program.
UK airline industry group, Airlines UK, told The Financial Times testing had to be safe, quick, accurate, and cost-effective.
“We’re urging government to consider a co-ordinated pilot testing passenger program, so the industry can look to restart operations between the EU and the US,” its spokesperson said.
The airlines who reached out to Vice President Pence all continue to cross the Atlantic. But loads on their flights are unsustainably low. Many countries in Europe are concerned about the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States. EU nations have closed their borders to travelers from the United States.
Meanwhile, travelers from the EU have not been able to easily enter the United States since March.
It is impacting not just citizens and residents of those countries, but transit passengers. For the airlines, it is a critical issue, and an issue an effective COVID-19 testing program can help overcome.