The chief executives of four major American and EU airline groups have written a joint open letter to the White House and the European Commission asking for travel bans between the U.S. and Europe be dropped. Instead, the chief executives of American Airlines, IAG, Lufthansa and United Airlines suggest mass COVID-19 testing could restore “confidence” in air travel and allow the safe reopening of transatlantic flights.
Most citizens from countries that form the European Union have been barred from entering the United States since President Trump signed an emergency proclamation in March and shortly after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the continent as the new epicentre of the novel Coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, United States did not make it onto an initial list of ‘safe’ countries announced in June that EU leaders recommended could have travel restrictions lifted. The decision followed a surge in COVID-19 cases across some states in the U.S. that are yet to show any sign of slowing down.
Despite efforts by airlines around the world to demonstrate they are taking steps to protect passengers from the Coronavirus – such as mandating the wearing of face masks and introducing enhanced cleaning routines – those measures don’t address the very real risk of passengers ‘importing’ the virus from one country to another.
The solution, an increasing number of analysts believe, is to require or at least offer rapid COVID-19 testing preferably before departure but also on arrival. Some airlines and countries already require passengers to present a negative COVID-19 test certificate before accepting a passenger. Notably, Emirates will only fly U.S. passengers from certain ‘high risk’ cities if they present a COVID-19 negative test certificate.
Some airports have also introduced voluntary COVID-19 testing – including at Frankfurt in partnership with Lufthansa. These tests, however, are generally expensive and not scalable.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has generally backed the idea of airport COVID-19 testing to help the return of air travel but says the tests much be cheap, scalable and able to return results quickly. In the letter to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Tiva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, the airline CEO’s urge admit such large-scale testing would present “challenges” but believe that’s preferable to more “intrusive measures” like travel bans.
The full letter to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Tiva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs by Scott Kirby (United Airlines), Carsten Spohr (Lufthansa), Doug Parker (American Airlines) and Willie Walsh (IAG):
“As the leading airline groups in Europe and the United States, we are writing with urgency to you as leaders of the response to COVID-19 to request the safe and swift restoration of air travel between the United States and Europe. We urge you to consider adopting a joint U.S. – EU COVID-19 testing program to enhance safety and build confidence in critical transatlantic passenger air services.
The response to this crisis continues to require the cooperation of governments, citizens and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. Regarding passenger airline travel, we appreciate the leadership of aviation safety and health bodies within U.S. and EU institutions in issuing comprehensive guidelines to maximize the safety and health of passengers, crews and personnel at each step of the travel journey. These guidelines have much in common and form a solid basis on which to restart transatlantic travel safely. Many airlines and airports have also taken significant steps to protect passenger and employee health that often go beyond the government guidelines.
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 re-open air services between the U.S. and Europe. In addition to all the significant and unprecedented actions that governments and airlines are taking to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, a coordinated COVID-19 testing program could be key to providing confidence to permit services to resume without quarantine requirements or other entry restrictions. COVID-19 testing is becoming more and more common throughout the world as a tool to avoid these other more intrusive measures. 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.
Nobody will benefit from a prolonged closure of this most indispensable;e corridor for global aviation.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.