(Bloomberg) — U.S. President Joe Biden signaled progress toward lifting a ban on travel from Europe, raising hopes for a full reopening of the almost $40 billion North Atlantic air corridor 16 months after flights were grounded because of Covid-19.
“It’s in process now,” Biden said at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after she raised the issue in a White House meeting Thursday. “I’m waiting to hear from our folks, our Covid team, as to when that should be done.”
He said to expect an answer “within the next several days.”
Removing the ban would be a boon for carriers on both sides of the Atlantic. Then-President Donald Trump barred entry from most of Europe, including the U.K., in March 2020. Biden extended the policy early in his term.
“It is past time for the U.S. government to act on the scientific evidence, which makes it clear that international travel can safely resume,” Airlines for America, the lobbying group for major U.S. carriers, said in a statement Friday.
While Canada and the U.K. have among the highest national vaccination rates, at 70% and 69% respectively, travel to the U.S. from those nations remains down 96% and 94%, according to A4A data.
Shares of Air France-KLM, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and IAG SA rose modestly in Europe, while major U.S. airlines United Airlines Holdings Inc., American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. were little changed at 12:41 p.m. in New York Friday amid broader market declines.
“It’s good news for the sector, a bit of optimism,” said Daniel Roeska, an analyst at Bernstein. “The timeline will be important. In any case it will likely be too late for summer vacationing but it may be in time for business travel in September and October.”
Trans-Atlantic routes are especially important for airline profit, because they comprise by far the biggest market for premium long-haul travel.
Flights between Europe and North America attracted 88 million passengers in 2019 and generated $37.5 billion in sales, according to the International Air Transport Association. Both metrics fell more than 80% last year as the virus led to a shutdown in cross-border trips.
European governments have grown increasingly frustrated with the Biden administration for refusing to lift restrictions that prevent most of their citizens from traveling to the U.S., with officials citing inconsistent rules, economic costs and an outdated strategy for halting the coronavirus.
Fully vaccinated Americans can now travel to most European countries, and a quarantine requirement going to the U.K. is set to be lifted next week.
But the U.S. hasn’t reciprocated, leaving half the market unfulfilled.
Americans living in Europe have generally been able to travel to and from the U.S. throughout most of the pandemic.
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