U.S.-UK Flying Will Be Back in Weeks: Airline Group Chief

White passenger airplane is flying in the sky with clouds

The head of global airline body IATA said he was cautiously optimistic about demand for travel in the second half of the year, adding that he expects transatlantic flying between Britain and the United States to re-open in the coming weeks.

Schedules are expanding as airlines sense consumer demand for travel rising and progress with COVID-19 vaccinations means shuttered routes could resume, International Air Transport Association Director General Willie Walsh told reporters.

“I think we have to be optimistic that we will see a relaxation in relation to transatlantic flying during the coming weeks,” Walsh said on Wednesday.

Major airlines including American Airlines, IAG unit British Airways, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have for some months been pushing the U.S. and UK governments to re-open travel between the two countries citing the pair’s advanced vaccination programs.

Walsh said there had been no announcement on the matter at the G7 leaders meeting in June due to a lack of data about the vaccine’s efficacy against the Delta variant of the virus, but that had changed now.

A transatlantic re-opening would be a huge boost for the airlines.

Walsh’s optimism came after IATA published figures for May showing that passenger air travel demand remains subdued globally, 63% lower in May 2021 compared to the same month two years ago before the pandemic struck.

Walsh blamed ongoing restrictions and a lack of co-ordination between governments for creating consumer confusion and hindering the speed at which aviation can recover.

He said data showed that the risk of re-opening borders was very, very low where people were fully vaccinated or where sensible testing regimes were used to facilitate travel.

Governments would come under increasing pressure to allow travel, he forecast, as growing numbers of vaccinated consumers, who were reluctant to holiday at the height of the pandemic, demand their freedom again.

“What we’re seeing is a shift in the consumer attitudes over time and I think that’s going to accelerate now, as people become more frustrated at the pace at which governments are moving,” he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Tim Hepher; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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