Transatlantic travel is something of a one way street at the moment. Last month the European Union opened its doors to American tourists, designating the U.S. as a ‘safe country of origin’ and allowing individual nations within the bloc to make their own rules. Since then, several member states have started to welcome Americans who are fully vaccinated or have recently tested negative for Covid-19, including Italy, Greece and Spain.
On the other side of the pond, however, things are less simple. Visitors from the UK and EU are still barred from entering the United States, with American citizens returning from Europe being asked to quarantine for at least seven days if they’re not fully vaccinated.
This has led to outcry from the airlines industry, which is seeing flights to popular vacation spots go unfilled at what is supposed to be one of the busiest times of the year. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian has complained that the government is insisting on this “one-way” market despite being given “all the science why it’s safe”.
Other airlines, including American Airlines, United Airlines and British Airways have also lobbied for travel to be opened up, arguing that rising levels of vaccination mean that international travel is now very secure. In the United Kingdom, for example, over half of people have been fully vaccinated while in Europe 40% of citizens have received two shots. This is compared to 47.8% of people in the U.S.
An announcement on a potential travel corridor between the U.S. and Europe was anticipated at the G7 meeting in England last month, however it was delayed over concerns of how effective vaccines were against the new Delta variant. Data now shows that the Pfizer vaccine is around 95% effective against the new variant at preventing hospitalisation and 88% effective at preventing symptomatic infection. This has in turn bolstered hopes that an agreement might be struck before the summer is over.
One individual who is cautiously optimistic about this prospect is Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). According to Willie, we should see a “relaxation in relation to transatlantic flying during the coming weeks”.
This is primarily because the risk of reopening borders is now very low, particularly when people are fully vaccinated and testing regimes are in place. However, it may also be because consumers are getting increasingly frustrated at having to put off their vacation plans and are starting to demand their freedoms back.
“What we’re we're seeing is a shift in the consumer attitudes over time and I think that's going to accelerate now, as people become more frustrated at the pace at which governments are moving,” says Walsh.
Passenger airlines are already noticing this increase in demand and responding in turn. American Airlines have bolstered their services from Philadelphia to Athens in the second half of August and have also upped flights between Philadelphia, Chicago and Rome for September. This consumer demand, coupled with the potential losses if airlines have to cancel flights, may be enough to pressure the government into reopening its borders with Europe.
Whether a travel corridor comes to pass this summer remains to be seen but with demand rising and vaccination continuing apace, it will certainly become harder for the Biden administration to maintain its closed door policy for much longer.