Airlines press U.S. on refusal to lift COVID-19 travel restrictions

Travelers wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) take their luggage back at the airport in Denver, Colorado, the United States, November 24, 2020. REUTERS / Kevin Mohatt

Major airlines are urging the U.S. government on its decision not to quickly relax COVID-19 restrictions that are blocking travelers who have been in much of Europe and elsewhere, even as other countries began to relax bans.

On Monday, the heads of several major airlines, as well as the CEOs of Heathrow Airport and the US Travel Association, will hold a virtual press conference to press for the lifting of travel restrictions between the US and the UK. At hand are the CEOs of American Airlines (AAL.O), IAG (ICAG.L) British Airways unit, Delta Air Lines (FROM N), United Airlines (UAL.O) and JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU.O).

The airline’s CEOs called for a summit on May 11th between US officials, British officials and airlines to discuss how “transatlantic voyages can be quickly reopened”.

As of March 2020, the US has banned entry to almost all non-US citizens who have been in the UK within the last 14 days. Most US travelers visiting the UK are required to be quarantined for 10 days upon arrival.

Airlines and administration officials say no change is expected in the near future, but add that restrictions may be lifted as early as July 4th or around, but warn that decisions have yet to be made.

On Friday, France announced that vaccinated Americans would be able to enter the country from June 9. United said it would resume Paris flights from Washington in July, and Delta said it would add flights to France as well.

At a press event at Washington National Airport on Friday, American Airlines (AAL.O) President Robert Isom said, “We know there is a huge backlog in services.”

Isom said the airline has “plenty of capacity to be operational” for European travel. When asked if July 4th was too late for European summer travel, Isom said, “We’ll take it whenever it comes.”

Airline officials had previously hoped the United States would lift travel restrictions to the UK and Ireland by the end of May, where new COVID-19 cases have slumped. (See graphic, global vaccination tracker: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access/)

The travel restrictions also apply to most non-US citizens in Brazil, South Africa, India, and Iran.

The Biden government phoned British officials on Thursday, people said, but the White House gave no indication that it plans to lift restrictions.

The White House, which is focused on increasing US vaccination rates and reducing COVID-19 cases, declined to comment on Friday.

President Joe Biden will certainly face the issue from foreign politicians on his trip to Europe next week.

“We certainly understand the desire of many Europeans to visit the United States and vice versa,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on May 21. “We cannot respond to public pressure or even emotions. We have to rely on the instructions “from our health and medical experts.”

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