Despite concerns about the spread of potentially dangerous coronavirus variants, the European Union lifted travel restrictions for US residents in the latest step toward restoring lucrative transatlantic airline routes.
Albania, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Macau, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Taiwan have also been added to a list of countries from which non-essential travel is permitted. The new rules will go into effect as soon as they are published in the EU’s Official Journal.
Some European Union countries already permit vaccinated Americans to visit. Inclusion on the white list means that restrictions on fully immunized US citizens will be lifted across the EU. Member states also have the option of allowing unvaccinated visitors from white-listed countries to enter without being quarantined.
The move will benefit major American carriers such as United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., which fly the world’s most profitable routes alongside European competitors Air France-KLM and Deutsche Lufthansa AG. Long-distance travel, which attracts premium customers who pay for business- and first-class seats, has been hard hit by the pandemic’s restrictions.
According to Martin Ferguson, vice president of public affairs at corporate travel agency American Express Global Business Travel, the decision is “great news for the EU economies and all transatlantic travel supply chain participants.” “We anticipate a significant increase in bookings on these routes.”
Still, transatlantic traffic has not been fully restored, with presidential proclamations prohibiting Europeans from visiting the United States still in effect. As vaccinations progress across the continent and the number of coronavirus infections falls sharply, the EU is pressuring Joe Biden’s administration to reciprocate by lifting restrictions for its citizens. “The most recent vaccination data and low virus spread in Europe would allow for this to happen safely,” said trade group Airlines for Europe in an email.
Some diplomats in Brussels were hesitant to allow Americans to return until the United States agreed to a corresponding reopening. The EU decided to proceed despite pressure from tourism-dependent economies in the run-up to the summer season.
During Biden’s visit to the EU this month, the US launched a series of working groups on border reopening, including one with the EU. In response to the EU decision on Friday, a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, cited those. The work is still ongoing, and no decisions have been made by the groups, according to the official.
“We are in close contact with the United States administration on the issue of the safe resumption of all travel between the EU and the United States, and we have received assurances that this is a high priority issue for the United States administration,” European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz told reporters Friday.
While U.S. carriers such as Delta, United, and American Airlines Group Inc. make significant profits on transatlantic routes, their recovery has been aided by a rapid rebound in domestic flying that European airlines cannot match According to data from Airlines Reporting Corp., ticket sales in the United States increased 18% in May compared to April, marking the fifth consecutive month of growth.
The addition of Japan to the EU’s white list comes as internal travel within the bloc is being restored for those who have been vaccinated or can demonstrate that they have recently recovered from the virus. Holders of so-called digital Covid certificates will be able to move freely within the EU’s 27 member states 14 days after the last shot on July 1. The United Kingdom is also considering allowing quarantine-free travel for those who have been fully immunized, which would provide a significant boost to the economies of southern European countries for which Britain is a major tourist market.
It would also provide some relief to IAG SA-owned British Airways, which had the largest share of the transatlantic flight market prior to the pandemic.