New York & London Air Bridge: Coming Soon?

Filed Under: Travel

We’re increasingly seeing discussions around the concept of “air bridges.” This agreement could come in a couple of different forms:

  • A reciprocal agreement could be formed between two low risk areas to allow travel, despite overall travel restrictions
  • A reciprocal agreement could be formed that requires a rigorous testing protocol, despite overall travel restrictions

A couple of months ago we first heard about the possibility of an air bridge between New York and London, and it seems that this is closer to becoming a reality. This would be the first such air bridge for the US.

London & New York air bridge being considered

Before the pandemic, the New York to London route was the single highest revenue international route in the world, given that it connects two of the biggest business hubs.

Unfortunately this route currently isn’t seeing much traffic, given restrictions in place:

New York to London used to be the most valuable international route

The Wall Street Journal is now reporting that an air bridge is closer to becoming a reality, with talks still ongoing. Based on unnamed sources familiar with discussions:

  • The growing availability of COVID-19 testing in the US has prompted officials at the Transportation Department and Department of Homeland Security to embrace the concept of travel corridors
  • The plan as of now is that travelers would need to be tested both before departure, and upon arrival; this would allow them to skip the typical 14-day quarantine, though it’s not yet known if travelers would have to quarantine until their test results are made available on arrival
  • While this would specifically create a travel corridor between New York and London, it’s not known if travelers could come from elsewhere to take these flights, or if this would strictly be for residents of the areas
  • The general air bridge plan has apparently been approved by the White House National Security Council in recent weeks
  • This could become a reality by the holidays
  • There have apparently also been talks between US and German officials, though it sounds like things aren’t too far along there yet

The UK’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has also repeatedly gone on record as saying that the possibility of regional travel corridors are under consideration.

Could we see an air bridge between NYC & London?

Why I would be surprised if this happened

On the surface the concept of air bridges make sense in a couple of different ways:

  • For areas with similar infection rates, there’s not much added risk to allowing travel between the two destinations
  • With the exception of countries in full lockdown (like Australia and New Zealand), there’s limited downside to allowing travel with a rigorous testing procedure

Personally I’d still be surprised if this happens, simply for political reasons. Let’s keep in mind that in mid-March when President Trump introduced the Europe travel ban, he justified it by talking about “our nation’s unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak.”

He said that the US took “early and intense action” to stop the spread of coronavirus, and stated that because the European Union failed to take the same precautions, we needed to prevent travel from “hotspots.”

Suffice to say that a lot has changed in the past seven months, so how is it that exactly the same travel restrictions are still in place? Can anyone justify the concept of restricting travel to the US for people coming from places with significantly lower infection rates than the US?

Even those from Iceland aren’t allowed to visit the US right now

That’s also exactly why I’d be surprised if this did happen:

  • An “air bridge” would have to be approved by the federal government
  • Personally I don’t see President Trump making an exception for New York City, given his relationship with Governor Cuomo

I could be wrong, but personally it seems more likely to me that the US would lift its European travel ban altogether, rather than making an exception for New York. Though frankly neither seem particularly likely to me at this point.

This concept would require federal approval

Bottom line

For a couple of months now there have been discussions taking place about the concept of an air bridge between New York and London. It seems that talks are ongoing and advancing, and have at least unofficially gotten some government approval in the US.

The concept as such makes sense, especially with testing becoming more available. Still, I’d be surprised if this happened for political reasons.

What do you make of the concept of a US & UK air bridge?

Comments
  1. I think that regardless of your particular politics, with 20 odd days to go before the US general election, this probably won’t be enacted until after the election. With that in mind, the question should be what do we think the next US President’s approach to Covid will be and how will that impact opening up air corridors (no matter which candidate one may support).

  2. I said this over on Gary’s blog, but the push for this kind of air bridge from the airlines miss the point. While some travelers will take advantage what you really need to happen is for destinations on either side of the pond to be willing and ready to accept visitors. Meaning offices in New York and London need to be prepared to take business meetings, pubs / soccer matches / museums need to be open in London, Broadway / restaurants / museums / attractions need to be open in New York, etc. Also, if New York is asking residents of states like Wisconsin to self quarantine, I would assume they would ask people from the UK, Spain, France to do so at the current infection rates as well.

    Get the infection rates down through masking, vaccines, test/trace/isolate, improve Covid outcomes through treatments, and you will see end destinations open up, and then travel will open up. The real decision makers are corporate America, cultural institutions, local regulatory authorities, not airline executives or even federal governments…

  3. Mike makes a good point – political realities will change dramatically over the next several months as governments change and as vaccines begin to be administered early next year. Once vaccines even start to be doled out, the pressure for lifting of travel restrictions will increase. By the time an air bridge can be approved and implemented, travel demand may be increasing in general, and restrictions will likely begin to be chipped away globally.

  4. @ Ben — Given that the US just entered what will be the worst of the COVID crisis this weekend, this either won’t happen anytime soon or will be very short-lived.

  5. There is currently absolutely no proof that vaccines are going to be successful. Just look at the fact that people infected and with severe symptoms during the first wave, getting Covid a second time. The immunity they had following the first infection has not prevented them getting infected again with a different strain 4-5 months later, vaccination is not available or effective, for all diseases. It’s not a golden bullet in medicine. There are still a lot of diseases, with no vaccine despite years and years of research, take hepatitis C, tuberculosis, malaria and HIV as just a few

  6. I don’t think a test prior to arrival or right after arrival is highly secure. It’s partly airline propaganda IMO.

    The probability of testing somebody who, in fact, is infected false-negative is non-trivial. The NYT quotes a recent study the type of PCR used in the US has a chance of a false-negative of almost 20% even 7 days post infection. And 7 days past the time of infection is actually the point in time where the rate of false-negative is lowest.

    Now, there are a whole bunch of qualifications to be made to the above I don’t wanna get into. What I think is safe is that tests in addition to masks can bring down the infection on an airplane and even at the airport (which is potentially riskier) down to a very small number.

    But there’s still the risk of somebody catching the virus on day 0, travelling to NYC (or London) on day 2, having two negative tests, and becoming a spreader of the virus on day 4. (Average incubation period is 5-6 days, infectiousness begins typically 2 days before the start of symptons, so day 4 is somewhat realistic.)

    Now, if the prevalence of the virus in NYC and London is roughly the same, the scenario outlined above may represent a risk that’s acceptable. However, it’s no solution for travel between Manchester and NYC, Bogota and NYC, or Prague and NYC. (The prevalence of covid-19 is around 10-20x higher in Manchester, Bogota, and Prague than in NYC.)

  7. It is sad commentary that we would even think it a possibity that NYC may not be sanctioned because of Donald Coumo relationship. Would you ever imagine Boris Saddique relationship beimg a factor in denying LHR . Our ununited States of America.

  8. @Malcolm – I hope that you hope you are wrong, because a vaccine is the only thing that is going to let our society go back to normal. If we don’t get a safe, working vaccine, I don’t see how we ever go back to how things were before governments let this mess spread out of control. The black death took years to burn through Europe killing hundreds of thousands. This is not a good outcome.

  9. It’s not going to happen this (northern) winter. Maybe next spring concurrent with early vaccination roll-out.
    Frankly, I wish they’d stop with floating ideas/ vague plans/possibilities/maybes and wait for something definitive/concrete/workable.

  10. It is sad commentary that we would even think it a possibity that NYC may not be sanctioned because of Donald Coumo relationship. Would you ever imagine Boris Saddique relationship beimg a factor in denying LHR . Our ununited States of America.
    –Naren

    Indeed, one of the most tragic facts of our political life these days. We’re talking about the same administration that refused to process Global Entry applications from New Yorkers as political retribution.

    Our case numbers have been increasing again. I don’t think we need to export more to New York, really
    –Ray

    UK per capita case numbers have surpassed the US, sadly, a grim milestone.

  11. Hey, lets open up “air bridges” to India and Brazil, too. We’ve all managed the pandemic equally well, so we might as well just embrace the deaths that would result. Brilliant plan!!!

    Hey, idiots: travel, the economy, and anything like “normal life” can’t and won’t come back until people collectively start to behave responsibly. Sadly, we haven’t and don’t seem capable of doing that. Until enough people grow the hell up, we will remain stuck where we are. Don’t like it? Wear the damn mask, you idiots.

  12. Closing international air travel was always a political move. One can argue that is was important at the very beginning to slow down the pandemic. In order to be effective it has to be carried out like in New Zealand or Australia, with aggressive lock downs and restriction on local travel. In US even Hawaii failed to control Covid-19 using quarantine. Politicians will keep the borders closed till election and the reason is stickily political.

  13. @Malcolm: You (and other people) are missing the point of a vaccine from a public health perspective. The vaccine isn’t supposed to eradicate the virus or make it certain that a vaccinated individual doesn’t get infected (although it will lower individual risk). The point of a vaccine is give enough immunity in the population so that the overall transmission of the virus is reduced to a point where A) the risk of getting exposed is dramatically reduced B) the caseload of actual infections is kept at a level that doesn’t overwhelm health systems. Doesn’t have be 100% effective or even that close to it. And won’t be.

    Folks in the US need to stop looking at COVID from an individual perspective. That’s the core of the failure of our collective response here in the US…
    ———–

    Highly skeptical that this air bridge will happen anytime soon – more so because of developments on the UK side of things than on the US. The UK is increasing community restrictions around COVID…not reducing them.

  14. You can pick apart any testing scheme and think of hypothetical ways it can fail.
    But in countries not aiming for total eradication in lockdown (eg NZ) I don’t see how a sensible testing regimen wouldn’t at least limit the incoming cases to a few traceable cases, which given the overall presence of local transmission, would not be an excess burden.

  15. You should probably change your wording of your article, as NZ and Australia are not in “full lockdown”, but the borders are closed to non residents and non citizens. People are still allowed to live their lives basically as normal (far more normal than the rest of the world)

  16. Biden will win the popular vote but Trump will win the electoral college by a landslide. Then the democrats will contest the election results. Even if Biden wins the US will be put back into full lockdown. and the US won’t reopen until at least 2022. Don’t plan on traveling anytime soon.

  17. Tag this post and see if these flights are operating by October 2021. The U.S. still has no national testing plan or treatment strategy. Under Trump that will never change so life as it is now will continue for years. If Biden is elected, the US optimistically is six to 12 months away. The UK has its own failed leadership on COVID plus Brexit this winter. NYC or London are not bubbles of safety for either country.

  18. C19 is endemic and is not going anywhere. We think vaccine compliance will be less than 50% which is compliance % of influenza. It sucks but this is reality. As much as I want to be wrong we just have to adapt and move forward.

  19. The way to manage a pandemic for which there is no vaccine or cure has not changed – it’s just the UK and US refuse to do what they taught the rest of us.

    You close your borders, you introduce supervised quarantine, you test. But you need to understand that testing misses newly acquired cases.

    And above all, you contact trace: until you have fewer than 1 case per million population per day for which the contact cannot be traced, you keep your city or state or country behind a closed border.

    NYC currently has 70 untraced cases per million population per day. London has 100.

    As such, basic public health tells us that no city – even in their own country – should permit travellers to arrive from with city without mandatory supervised (paid) quarantine.

    A quarantine-free travel corridor between the two is just insanity. Especially when London residents currently are being told to travel 300+ miles to get tested!

    Australia has 25 million people returning a daily average of 15 positive tests, almost all in paid ($2800) hotel quarantine. So life and the economy are relatively normal. NYC is currently returning 1400 cases per day, and London 1000.

  20. Malcolm, there is a vaccine against tuberculosis – BCG. One of the most commonly used vaccines worldwide although no longer routinely administered in countries where prevalence is almost nil.

    A lot has been talked about the R-number of coronavirus – the number of people an infected person will go on to further infect and so on. One of the points of a vaccine is to significantly lower that number, so that cases reduce and an outbreak will eventually end.

  21. @Luke: “We’re talking about the same administration that refused to process Global Entry applications from New Yorkers as political retribution.”

    That has changed. As of a couple of months ago, New Yorkers can get Global Entry. I just renewed mine (and I live in NY).

  22. I think it is likely as it would be popular with many with friends and relatives who live overseas, business which want to get back out doing business in the world and with the aviation and hospitality industries where some jobs could be saved and perhaps some retrenchments reversed. It does require a competent testing facility which the UK will struggle with. It plays politically to the current theme of take precautions but there is no need to be afraid of the President’s campaign.

    My concern is that should Vice President Biden win the Election we could see American Isolation as Government Policy for the next 4 years, given the strong focus on stirring up fear that has resulted from that campaign.

  23. Reading through the subsequent comments to my first post. I think we should all bear something in mind. There is no 100% secure option. The only secure option would be to have closed all borders to citizens and none citizens and stopping all foreign travel including freight by sea, trains, road and air. This would have to have been done before a single infected person, animal or other item capable of carrying the virus entered the USA. 14 days is used as a quarantine but some people can take 4-5 weeks to show symptoms. A large number of people are asymptomatic. There are false positives and false negatives. The isolationist camp are already saying vaccination will be dangerous and they refuse to have it. Mostly we have the virus active in the USA in all states, some very little, some a lot. What makes it even more difficult is the flu season will start as will the common cold. This ramps up the demands on Medical Services but also will no doubt dramatically increase the amount of testing on flu and cold patients to ensure they do not have the virus and preventing the diagnosis from being missed. So nothing will be perfect. My feeling is a travel report with a certification from personal physician that there is no history for treatment of Sars Covid 2 like symptoms and a good standard of health, a PCR Test within 72 hours and a follow up test weekly for 4 weeks would go a long way to reassure folks. We also need to start testing the whole population symptoms or not, traveled or not. I guess the issues once again will be funding testing and funding vaccination. There is no reason why CVS, Walgreens, Target, Walmart etc, anywhere with a resident pharmacist could not administer the latest high speed tests as follow ups and do it at a price that a traveler can afford. The big problem there is testing in the UK is very scarce and it is Ironic that for all the talk of Socialist Medicine in Britain, getting a PCR test for travel in the USA is much cheaper than in the UK.

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