Former BA CEO Confident On UK-US Flight Relaxation In Coming Weeks

The UK-US travel corridor remains one of the biggest hurdles facing airlines on both sides of the pond. Formerly one of the most lucrative markets in the world, new variants of concern have led the borders to remain firmly shut. However, IATA’s new Director General and former British Airways CEO, Willie Walsh, said that he remains optimistic that some relaxation will occur within the coming weeks.

American Airlines Boeing 777-223(ER) N759AN (2)
IATA’s new DG is optimistic about a return of transatlantic travel. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Are we weeks away from a UK-US travel corridor?

For people on both sides of the Atlantic, a US-UK travel corridor can’t come soon enough. Current restrictions make it impossible for all but a very small minority to travel transatlantic, whether that’s for business, for leisure or simply to see loved ones.

Speaking today at IATA’s media days, Director General and former British Airways CEO Willie Walsh said that he is confident that the corridor will happen. He said,

“We’re optimistic, based on the data, that this could and indeed should happen.”

To date, talks on reopening the corridor have been slow to make progress. Walsh puts this down to the Delta variant, which has been so rife in the UK. However, he says that this strain of COVID is now everywhere, lending further credibility to the reopening of the borders. He said,

“The issue of the Delta variant in the UK caused people to pause and reflect on whether that corridor could be open, but as I said, if you look at data now in relation to the percentage of cases that are Delta variants, the UK is high at 97%, but the US is at 47%, Canada is at 50% and Mexico is at 74%. So, it’s very clear that Delta variant is pretty much everywhere in that area.”

United Boeing 767
Airlines on both sides of the Atlantic need a restart to travel. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Walsh noted that the efficacy of the vaccines against this variant was even more encouraging. His optimism extended to even saying that he expected something to happen within the coming weeks.

“We strongly believe that the evidence supports reopening travel, particularly given that the vaccines are effective against the Delta variant. I think we have to be optimistic that we will see a relaxation in relation to transatlantic flying during the coming weeks.”

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IATA is breaking down the data

Over the past weeks and months, there have been stronger and more frequent calls to relax travel restrictions, not just from organizations like IATA, but from airlines and tourism sectors too. Although the loud protests have largely had little effect to date, Walsh believes it’s a strategy worth pursuing.

“I believe it is effective. I don’t think being silent would be more effective. We have to highlight the evidence when we see the evidence. I think it’s important, as I said that consumers be given accurate data to enable them to make an informed decision.”

Former BA CEO Confident On UK-US Flight Relaxation In Coming Weeks
Walsh is striking an optimistic tone. Photo: IATA

Walsh noted that, right now, there is a whole lot of data out there on everything from testing to vaccine effectiveness to variants of concern. Most would-be travelers don’t have the time or the inclination to seek out the evidence for themselves, which is why IATA is stepping in to fill the gap.

“We’re making the data available in simple format to provide encouragement to more people to support the view that borders need to be reopened,” Walsh noted.

Former BA CEO Confident On UK-US Flight Relaxation In Coming Weeks
IATA consumer research suggests most people support borders reopening. Photo: IATA

And the message seems to be getting through. IATA’s recent consumer research found that two-thirds of consumers would advocate for borders being reopened, with only a small percentage still in favor

of having no travel between countries at all. Walsh concluded that the best outcome right now would be for decisions to be made based on the evidence available,

“That’s as much as we can hope for, that decisions will be based on scientific data, and that the data will influence the decisions. Ultimately, more governments are recognising the fact that we have to live with this, and the issue there is that you give people the ability to make an informed decision as to the risks that they’re prepared to take.”

Do you think a transatlantic travel corridor is an optimistic proposition before the summer ends?