It is incredible to think that for more than a year since the covid crisis began that it has not been possible for passengers to travel between the USA and the UK other than for essential travel. As the G7 meets, leaders of the major US and UK Transatlantic airlines have come together to call for a safe reopening of services.
Successful vaccination and testing programmes
Compared to a year ago, we have enormously encouraging vaccine roll outs in both countries, well developed testing regimes and technology investment by airlines to allow passengers to manage documentation on tests and vaccinations, to permit safe and low risk air travel to resume.
The airline industry by nature, invests in safety for its customers and staff on a daily basis and when this reality is combined with its essential role as an economic enabler, there should now be a real political imperative to allow a managed restart of passenger air services in this critical global air market.
Economic importance of US-UK trade relationship
This is both urgent and important. In broad economic terms the US and UK are key trading partners, the UK is the 7th largest trade partner of the US. Airlines estimate a loss of £23 million ($33 million) trade daily, to the UK economy, while borders remain closed.
Tourism too is a major component with millions of Americans and Brits normally visiting each other’s countries each year, particularly in the summer months and providing a vast contribution to each economy in the process.
On top of this, there are the strong cultural ties with people missing out on meeting friends and family and business relationships cemented by in person meetings. It is noteworthy that the G7 will meet in person and not on a virtual platform, recognising the value of in person human contact.
UK-US Transatlanic market a world leader
Right back to the time when I was a network planner at BA early in my career, where I worked on the North Atlantic market, I have understood the importance of the UK-US market. London’s Heathrow Airport alone saw over 21 million passengers in 2019 between the UK and US and usually sees its airline customers serving over 30 cities a day.
Yet for more than a year now airlines globally have had extremely limited long haul operations. It is incredible to think that there have been only a nominal number of, largely cargo, flights operating between the UK and US since the covid crisis began. Airlines like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have retired their fleets of Boeing 747 jumbo’s which had been used mainly on these routes. Thousands of jobs have been lost by these airlines alone as a consequence.
Losing a second summer, key to airline revenues, would lead to more cuts in airline work forces and still more broad economic damage. We are already almost half way through it.
Pent up demand
This need not be the case, there is clear evidence of enormous pent up demand for travel across the Atlantic, airlines could mobilise significant capacity at around four weeks’ notice to meet this. JetBlue, which plans to launch services from New York to London from August, has already seen significant bookings for its new flights. Along with other US carriers including American, Delta and United it has already seen the resumption of safe US domestic services as well as to some international markets.
Iceland, for example, has opened up to vaccinated travellers from the US already and has seen full planes arriving to the benefit of its economy. Yet the blue riband US-UK market remains shut.
The right time for Government action
The US Government would need to change legislation enacted last year at the start of the crisis, prohibiting entry of UK citizens, while the UK would need to add the US to the green list under its traffic light travel system. Now is the time to do so.
It is psychologically important to get people together again, to get the UK and US economies moving again and help the airline industry get back on its feet.
The G7 meeting is the right time for the two Governments to take the requisite action to strengthen the Special Relationship while there is still a summer to be saved and to do so safely.