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British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Push to Open up Transatlantic Routes

As vaccines roll out in both countries, airlines prepare for spiked demand

April 7, 2021

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are pushing for the full opening of transatlantic routes from May 17.

The airline CEOs, joined by the CEO of London Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye, said the routes are essential for British business, and that they needed advance notice of what the government was planning to give them the opportunity to prepare for the reopening of the transatlantic routes.

Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said that, “Within the UK government’s traffic light framework, we have the opportunity to put the UK and US on a ‘green’ basis and get the economy moving again as of May 17.”

Weiss admitted that the airlines would rely on the “US and UK governments to expedite the specific measures”, but “The global success of our respective vaccination programs coupled with proportionate testing regimes means we can open these vital links between the UK’s largest trading partners and form the international basis for a post-pandemic movement of trade and goods ahead of the G7 in June.”

Sean Doyle, CEO of British Airways said,

“We at BA and Virgin connected the UK with over 30 cities in the US directly before the pandemic. Now we are operating [to] only a handful of cities with significantly reduced frequencies. Not opening up the UK economy [to the US] is costing the UK about £32 million per day, and means we are missing out on one in 10 business trips. About four and a half million US passengers come to the UK each year and spend about four billion pounds each year. And 4.8 million UK visitors go to the US each year.”

Responding to questions about US States which are currently seeing high levels of Covid-19 infection such as Florida, Doyle said.

“We’ve got to look forward to May 17 and anticipate how much progress the US will have made in terms of vaccination programs because we know that’s the most effective way of dealing with surges either regionally or locally. On the basis of what we see looking forward with the vaccination program we think the case for opening up the entire US as a single system is very compelling.”

John Holland-Kaye, CEO of London Heathrow said that “It’s astonishing the UK can sit back and see its vital trading route sit idle for more than a year.”

On the safety of the route, he said “Even if the U.S was on the green list from the middle of May, in addition to vaccination, there would also be pre-departure testing for anyone who was travelling and that is a good belt and braces approach taken at this initial stage.”

“The US has a hugely successful vaccination program just behind the one in the UK. We have seen over a 107 million citizens vaccinated there, and they are due to vaccinate 75 percent of their population by May. Last week, the CDC provided updated travel advice based on a study, and it recommended that fully vaccinated people can travel freely at low risk to themselves and others,” Weiss noted. “Here in the UK we have 31 million people vaccinated, with some 60 percent of all adults being vaccinated with at least the first dose.”

Asked if he thought the British public would support travel between green countries without testing.

“We do believe there is a ‘pathway to green,’ but we and others have shown through scientific studies that testing before arrival is as effective as a 10-day quarantine. But the CDC in the US is showing that it is permissible for those who have been vaccinated to travel without testing.”

The CEOs also pointed to the example of Australia and New Zealand, which have announced quarantine-free travel between the two countries from April. Holland-Kaye characterized these countries as “two of the most cautious countries in the world.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week outlined a plan to start international travel from May 17, but warned it was still too early to book foreign holidays. All non-essential international travel is banned until May 17.