United, American Airlines Ask to Restart Transatlantic Travel with COVID-19 Testing

United, American Airlines Ask EU, White House to Allow Transatlantic Travel with COVID-19 Testing

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American Airlines, United Airlines, Lufthansa and IAG (the parent company of British Airways and Iberia) are lobbying the EU and U.S. to loosen restrictions on transatlantic air travel by implementing a joint European Union and U.S. COVID-19 testing program, potentially at the airport.

The CEOs of the four airline companies wrote to Vice President Mike Pence and European Commission for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson that “given the unquestioned importance of transatlantic air travel to the global economy as well as to the economic recovery of our businesses, we believe it is critical to find a way to reopen air services between the U.S. and Europe.”

Since March 13, the U.S. has been closed to travelers from Europe, with exceptions for U.S. citizens, permanent residents, diplomats, and a few others. Since March 17, the European Union has been closed to American travelers, with a few exceptions, for example dual citizens, diplomats, and Americans who are permanent residents in the EU.

The EU is unlikely to accede to the airlines' pleas until the U.S. as a whole makes more progress in driving down coronavirus cases. The EU, which banned Americans, leaving the U.S. off its recommended list of non-EU third countries whose citizens should be permitted to enter, has in place the following criteria. The U.S. as a whole fails at all three.

  • number of new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days and per 100 000 inhabitants close to or below the EU average (as it stood on 15 June 2020)
  • stable or decreasing trend of new cases over this period in comparison to the previous 14 days
  • overall response to COVID-19 taking into account available information, including on aspects such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting, as well as the reliability of the information

European countries, with a few exceptions such as Sweden, which never locked down, have in recent weeks reopened while avoiding the level of per capita new coronavirus cases and deaths that are prevalent in so many U.S. states. For example, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Finland all have a coronavirus test positivity rate of 0.5% or less, less than even the best U.S. state, Maine, which has a just under 1% test positivity rate. See Coronavirus Positivity Rate: Safest States and Countries.

With airlines in desperate straits (United Airlines' revenue is down 87% in Q2 2020, vs. a year ago), it seems that anything that can bring back lucrative transatlantic travel sooner has to be explored. “We recognize that testing presents a number of challenges, however we believe that a pilot testing program for the transatlantic market could be an excellent opportunity for government and industry to work together and find ways to overcome obstacles and explore all solutions to protect health, build confidence, and safely restore passenger travel between the U.S. and Europe.”

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