Did you know there’s one singular airline route in the world which generates more than a billion dollars in revenue annually, for just one airline alone? There’s no more “premium” route in the world than the one between New York JFK and London Heathrow, and understandably, hard hit UK airlines and their US counterparts are eager to get it back going again. There’s just a few, well actually, quite a few issues at hand.
New York was among the first hit hard by covid-19 in the United States, with density among city residents among the primary early concerns. But significant measures put in place by Governor Andrew Cuomo have made a clear impact on preventing second, or third waves.
New York remains among the few states in the United States which haven’t experienced new spikes, and has trended level or declining for months now, even after the July 4th weekend. The state is closer to “herd immunity” than virtually any other, with up to 30% of city residents estimated to have contracted the virus already.
In many ways, the story of New York is a parallel to UK handling of the covid-19 crisis. Slow out of the gates, huge early spikes, tragic death tolls, but a largely mitigated outcome ever since. Neither party is without fault, but strict measures on social distancing, hygiene and face coverings inside stores and public spaces made a defined, and now sustained impact.
An Air Bridge Between The Two?
According to The Times (UK), airlines are pleading with government to create a special bridge between New York and London.
Europeans, including those from the United Kingdom are currently banned from entering the USA, with only a few exceptions for permanent residents and family members. The European Union just extended a similar ban on US visitors, unable to break the deadlock. It makes little sense for the USA to ban European visitors, since virtually all countries have lower infection rates and every country has lower death tolls.
Americans, however, are not banned from entering the UK. They’re simply subjected to a 14 day quarantine upon arrival, as a “red” country in the recently introduced UK stoplight system defining which countries a traveler can visit, or visit from, without needing to quarantine on arrival in the UK.
With billions on the table and precious summer season melting away, airlines on both sides of the Atlantic are keen to open up an air bridge between New York and the UK, creating a travel corridor where 14 day quarantine would not be required in either direction. At the very least, they’d love UK Government Ministers to make New York an exception to the 14 day quarantine that applies to all flights from America.
They’d at least be able to fill planes in one direction, and with their new found cargo businesses, may be able to turn a slim profit until traffic in both directions picks up. The move is unabashedly aimed at rebooting commerce and business travel between the two capitals of banking and commerce, particularly as the UK moves toward the end of its days in the EU and seeks trading partners for a post #brexit world.
Could New York effectively break with US immigration policy and allow international visitors when the rest of the country cannot? Doubtful. Any notion of special circumstances for New York would inevitably be met by legal and constitutional challenges, despite an administration keen on states rights.
The UK, along with most of Europe has vastly lower rates of infection or case counts than the United States, so it makes little sense to keep those visitors out.
New York is also currently quarantining visitors from most other US states, which creates a level of security for the UK in weighing up a potential deal. The out of state quarantine has done wonders to curb infection rates, but that doesn’t necessarily do anything to stop travelers from outside of New York attempting to visit the UK, by flying through via a connection.
To make an air bridge work, The UK and New York would need to consider…
- Confirming state residency in NY before allowing boarding to the UK.
- Preventing sale of connecting itineraries from outbreak states.
- Adding testing requirements in advance of travel to bypass 14 day quarantines.
- Limiting travel to essential business, registered travelers, or new visa programs.
- Curbing number of daily visitors, total overall flights.
Still, it could all be worth it. New York and London share many similarities both in the handling of covid-19 and the many sectors which are second to none in each respective city. Many businesses and travelers along with them are keenly interested in rebooting travel as safely as possible, and starting with one route could be just the crawl then walk approach that creates a model for future travel between the US, UK and Europe once again…