The upcoming reopening of transatlantic air travel can serve as an example of how other travel markets can be restarted – which is why the aviation industry has so much riding on the process going smoothly.

Last month the administration of US President Joe Biden said it will lift coronavirus-driven entry restrictions for fully vaccinated non-citizens and non-residents – rules that have been in place for more than 18 months. But details of the re-opening, including the exact date, have not yet been released, and airlines are anxious to learn more.

Aviation executives say, though, that when it happens the industry has to get it right.

“The North American market must open successfully,” says Aengus Kelly, chief executive officer of aircraft lessor AerCap, while speaking on a panel at IATA’s World Air Transport Summit in Boston on 5 October.

British Airways, American, Virgin aircraft at Heathrow Nov 18

Source: Heathrow Airport

The re-opening of US borders to non-citizens and non-residents must go smoothly

“North America [to Europe] is by far and away the most-important long-haul market in the world. We just cannot afford any infighting or squabbling in the industry,” he adds. “That market will be the one that other countries will follow. People will look at it and ask: ‘Was it a success?’”

Bookings made in Europe for travel to the USA jumped about 50 percentage points in the immediate wake of the announcement easing the travel ban, according to IATA analysis.

Following the announcement, airlines on both continents quickly reinstated flights across the North Atlantic that they had suspended early in the global health crisis. Many carriers had been in wait-and-see mode as the US government teased an opening several times in past months.

Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways, says transatlantic bookings on his airline – which began offering service between New York City and London in August – jumped a whopping 900% on the first day after the announcement.

But carriers are still waiting for further details about the reopening from the Biden administration. First and foremost, a date. The government has not yet specifically said when the policy will lift.

“We do expect it to happen in November, ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday,” Hayes says.“A significant number of customers have made bookings, and if the opening is delayed we are going to face the consequences of tens of thousands of peoples’ flights that will have to be cancelled because they can’t come.”

Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in the month. 

“We’ve all waited for this announcement,” says IATA president Willie Walsh. “The clear message is: there’s huge demand for travel on the transatlantic routes. People want to travel and are looking forward to the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends across the Atlantic, and that’s a very positive development for the industry.

“If we have to wait a short while for clarity, we will wait,” he adds.