Heathrow Airport and airlines hope for quick decision on US-UK flights

Airlines say success of vaccination campaigns and need to maintain economic ties should be considered

British Airways planes at Heathrow Airport. Reuters
British Airways planes at Heathrow Airport. Reuters

British and US airlines on Monday said they were hoping for a quick decision to restart transatlantic flights, given vaccination campaign successes and the need to maintain economic ties.

Leaders of the G7 wealthiest nations, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden, meet in Cornwall, south-west England, this weekend.

In an online briefing, leaders of major airlines and London's Heathrow airport said the summit was the right moment to announce that flights would restart.

"The borders have been shut down since March 2020," said Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, referring to the start of the first coronavirus lockdown in Britain.

"We're asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Biden to lead the way and open the sky. They need to do that at the G7 summit."

United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby said if that were to happen, flight capacity could be well on the way back to normal levels by the end of the month.

"We could be back and add significant capacity in a four-week period," Mr Kirby said. "It's the peak travel season. Every single day is a day lost for the recovery."

Airlines, which have taken a battering from the global health crisis due to travel restrictions, insisted that flying was safe.

Mr Weiss called for the US to be put on the UK government's "green list" of countries where travellers do not need to enter quarantine on arrival or return.

The US is an "amber" country in the UK's traffic light system, which means travellers are recommended not to undertake journeys except for emergencies.

Travellers returning to Britain have to enter quarantine for up to 10 days.

British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said that transatlantic flights mainly catered for business travellers and tourists.

Mr Doyle said both countries have "low prevalence of infections and high vaccination rates".

Opening up would send a positive signal to the world, said American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker.

Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said there was "not only a political special relationship" between London and Washington, but "an economic special relationship".

Mr Johnson is due to meet Mr Biden on Thursday before the start of the summit. But the UK prime minister's spokesman refused to speculate on reports of a US-UK air corridor.

"We obviously want to, whenever safe, open using our red-amber-green system to countries that are safe to travel to," the spokesman said.

"And we're obviously in touch with a number of countries as that work continues."

Updated: June 8, 2021 10:58 AM

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