April 18, 2024

Transatlantic restart decision takes sector by surprise

Business travel and airline chiefs have welcomed a November restart of transatlantic travel from the UK and Europe, months sooner than many had expected.

An announcement came on Monday confirming that a travel ban, which had been in place since March 2020, will be lifted from early November and the US will allow entry for fully-vaccinated UK and European travellers. An exact date has yet to be confirmed.

Travellers will have to show proof of vaccination and a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days of departure.

Virgin Atlantic said bookings shot up by 600% following the news, which took the airline by surprise.

Speaking at this week’s BTA Conference in Liverpool, Virgin’s Chief Commercial Officer Juha Järvinen said it had expected the restrictions to be relaxed from January at the earliest.

He said Virgin was now acting fast to bring back “most” of its US schedules in November.

Representatives from British Airways, Delta and other airlines who were at the BTA Conference were also surprised by the timing of the relaxation, with some fearing restrictions would stay in place until the middle of 2022.

Here’s how others in the industry reacted to the news:

IATA Director General Willie Walsh

This announcement marks a key shift in managing the risks of Covid-19 from blanket considerations at the national level to assessment of individual risk. The next challenge is finding a system to manage the risks for travellers who do not have access to vaccinations.

Data points to testing as a solution. But it is also critical that governments accelerate the global rollout of vaccines and agree a global framework for travel where testing resources are focused on unvaccinated travellers. We must get back to a situation where the freedom to travel is available to all.

Fred Stratford, CEO Reed & Mackay

The London–New York route has historically been one of the hottest for business travel and the opening of the US to UK and EU citizens has been much anticipated by our professional services client base. We’ve seen week-on-week growth in excess of 20% throughout September and fully expect this latest news to further fuel corporate travel volumes for the region, particularly as businesses move to take advantage of the opportunity to meet face to face with their clients.

The news provides a huge confidence boost for the role of vaccines in a safe and confident return to travel.

Abby Penston, CEO of Focus Travel Partnership

Last week’s easing of travel restrictions and scrapping the traffic light system was welcome news, but for our 50 travel management companies, it pales compared to the lifting of the US travel ban.

This move will breathe life back into a sector on its knees – 30% of the current Focus Travel Partnership turnover came from flight tickets to the US in 2019We know we are not yet out of the woods yet, but this is a bright light at the end of a very dark tunnel – and is a sight for sore eyes.

Sean Doyle, British Airways CEO and Chairman

This news, which will see our two nations reunited after more than 18 months apart, marks an historic moment and one which will provide a huge boost to Global Britain as it emerges from this pandemic. 

We are immensely grateful to the Prime Minister and his Government for all the hard work that’s gone into securing this deal with the US, and which builds upon last Friday’s announcement on the lifting of many travel restrictions. Our customers should now feel that the world is re-opening to them and they can book their trips with confidence.

Clive Wratten, CEO of the BTA

The reopening of international travel between the UK and the US is long overdue. The announcement from President Biden gives the whole travel industry light at the end of a very dark tunnel. 

We have been calling for this for many months. Waiting until November harms businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. Once travel between the two countries resumes, it must be on a permanent basis.

Julia Simpson, WTTC President & CEO

The prospect of the US lifting travel restrictions to restore transatlantic travel between the UK and US is welcome news – not just for hard-pressed airlines but for the wider Travel & Tourism sector, which has been decimated by Covid-19.

It will finally enable families to reunite, business travellers to resume face-to-face meetings and for Travel & Tourism to return for Brits looking to travel to America.

WTTC has long-been calling for the US to reopen and our research shows that by opening its borders to key markets such as the UK, it will pump US$198 million back into the US economy every single day.

Andrew Crawley, American Express Global Business Travel Chief Commercial Officer

After more than 550 days of shut borders, we are thrilled that the US will finally be reopening to fully vaccinated travellers from the UK and EU. There is huge pent-up demand for transatlantic travel among our customers and we fully expect to see a sustained spike in bookings.  It is a positive step forward for global economic recovery and we await further details from the White House.”