Heathrow is urging the UK government to "massively expand" its initial "green list" of quarantine-free destinations, including "other low-risk markets such as the US".
The call from Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye has been echoed by Virgin Atlantic, which said on Tuesday (11 May) it was "vital" the government builds on the first iteration of the list, highlighting in particular the value of transatlantic air links to both economies.
It comes after the US Travel Association said the UK government’s decision to classify the US as "amber" under a new traffic light system governing the resumption of international travel from 11 May "defied logic".
President and chief executive Roger Dow said the move did not account for the US’s rapid Covid-19 vaccination programme, lower rates of Covid infection, and efforts to mitigate Covid risk.
However, he also criticised the US government for failing to come to the table to renegotiate the current ban on UK-US travel, enforced by the Trump administration in March 2020.
On Monday (10 May), the US State Department eased its UK travel advisory, stepping its advice down from level four "do not travel" to level three "reconsider travel".
Both Heathrow and Virgin upped the pressure on the UK government on Tuesday (11 May) to reclassify the US green, and to further expanded the green list, which currently features just 12 countries – only four of which are viable destinations in the current Covid climate. These are Portugal, Israel, Iceland and Gibraltar.
Heathrow said while it welcomed the decision to lift the blanket ban on international travel from 17 May, the initial green list was "overly cautious". "The next review in three weeks’ time should bring a significant expansion to the list of ’green’ countries, including the United States," said Heathrow.
Additionally, the airport said government should help people plan ahead by publishing a list of countries expected to be on the green list for summer holidays so passengers were not left facing high prices for last-minute bookings.
Heathrow also said the UK’s "rapid progress" on vaccination and further evidence of the effectiveness of the various vaccines being deployed against new Covid-19 variants should allow "significant simplification" of the traffic light system in June, including "allowing fully vaccinated people to travel without restrictions".
"The government’s green list is very welcome, but they need to expand it massively in the next few weeks to include other low risk markets such as the United States, and remove the need for fully vaccinated passengers to take two expensive PCR tests," said Holland-Kaye.
Juha Jarvinen, Virgin’s chief commercial officer, added: "It’s now vital the government builds on the list of destinations on the green list, including the US. While transatlantic links are restricted, £23 million in economic value is lost each day, which is why a transatlantic travel corridor is vital to deliver a much-needed boost to economic recovery.
"We urge the UK government to expedite talks with the Biden administration to lead the way in opening the skies ahead of the G7 in June. Consumers and businesses need to book and travel with confidence and demand clearly demonstrates eagerness to travel safely. There is no reason to delay."