Remember the time when people surfed for airfares on the odd chance that they might find a good deal, something to entice them to take a trip across the Atlantic?
Whilst many people had hoped that those days might be on the way back, the Biden administration and Boris Johnson’s government both stated officially Thursday, that there would be no changes in current travel policy soon–there is, of course, a level of chatter over what exactly the ‘soon’ might constitute.
U.S. has no plans to change travel policy “at the moment”
Reuters reported that the Biden administration, whilst it has been in talks for a month with governments and industry professionals over when it might be able to relax international travel restrictions, said it didn’t have any plans to announce any changes soon. There had been hope that President Biden would revoke the current ban on entry for EU and U.K. nationals for non-essential travel by mid-May.
A White House spokesman said “there were no changes in travel restrictions planned at the moment”, even for vaccinated Europeans–despite a formal agreement between EU countries to expand their safe list to include some non-EU countries and to allow vaccinated travelers from around the world to visit.
Reuters also reported that U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told a news conference on Wednesday that the decision to lift restrictions ultimately lay with CDC and they would have the leading role.
U.K. “in no rush” to expand Green List soon
The last week has been a tumultuous one for U.K. travel–whilst people have been allowed to jet off to 12 safe-list countries, there has been confusion about whether people should be traveling anywhere else.
After the government published an amber list of countries where people should travel with quarantine, almost 300,000 people took the risk to travel to these destinations this week, despite the U.K. Prime Minister declaring that people shouldn’t go on holiday to amber list countries, except for extreme reasons.
This was a view shared by Matt Hancock, the U.K. Health Secretary, as well as an Oxford University professor and a government vaccine adviser warning that foreign holidays were a “very bad idea” at the moment. The opposition party called for tight restrictions on international travel to remain in place, as reported in The Independent.
Additionally, many arrivals were complaining that they were forced to mix with arrivals at London Heathrow from red-list countries, with MPs declaring that airports were becoming “a super spreading risk.”
An additional complication is the rise of the so-called Indian Covid-19 variant in specific regions across the U.K., which has given the EU cause for alarm, and might keep it off the EU White List of safe countries, due to be published imminently.
“The decision on Britain is now in doubt, which was not the case until recently when the U.K. numbers were good,” an EU diplomat said, reported in The Telegraph. “There is trepidation that if the U.K. was put on the list now, it might have to be taken back off again next week because of the surge of the Indian variant. Instead of taking the decision now, member states may say hold on until we can see the latest numbers and data”.
The Guardian reported that the number of reported B.1.617.2 cases had increased by 160% in the past week.
As a result, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Thursday “that Britain was in no rush to expand the green list of quarantine-free destinations because the country could not risk imported cases of Covid-19.”
Pressure piles on U.S. and U.K to announce timelines
After hearing the news that the EU had agreed to accept vaccinated travelers this summer and open up, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow released a statement urging the U.S. government to do the same.
“The European Union’s risk-based, science-driven plan to reopen international travel will hopefully spur the U.S. to heed the many calls for a plan and timetable to safely reopen our borders,” the statement said. “The right conditions are in place: vaccinations are increasing, infections are decreasing, all inbound visitors get tested or have to prove they’ve recovered, and it’s possible to determine vaccine status.”
Dow added, “the U.S. is being left off the U.K. and EU safe list because we aren’t yet moving forward to let international visitors back in.” Dow believes that in this regard, the U.S. “is behind its global competitors in pursuing an international economic reopening.”
There was also heavy prompting by the Chief Executive of British Airways Sean Doyle and London Heathrow’s Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye at a joint press conference, as reported by Reuters. Both have urged the U.K. government to open up more routes, especially to the U.S. and to simplify testing requirements for flying.
Both bosses had called for the U.S., the Caribbean, France, Greece and Spain to be on the U.K.’s green list before the end of summer–the list currently only includes 12 countries.
11,000 people flew out of London Heathrow on Monday 17 May, the first day that travel for non-essential purposes was restarted from the U.K., although the norm for this time of year pre-pandemic was 120,000. British Airways, for its part, said that it was only operating a small proportion of the 200 flights per day that would usually be operating.
Just as importantly, Holland-Kaye explained how advance warning was crucial: “we are calling on the government to help people to plan ahead by publishing a list of countries expected to be on the green list for the summer.” This was supported by other airlines recently, who called on the U.K. and U.S. governments to make an announcement so that people could have the opportunity to book up trips overseas before they decided to book domestically instead.