In a potential bid to restart the persistent near standstill in transatlantic travel UK and US government officials are reportedly looking at establishing regional air corridors. Localized travel bubbles could allow for UK quarantine exemptions for passengers from low-infection rate areas, such as New York, and jumpstart the world’s most revenue-generating route.

Discussions on “very senior” level

Even as the UK removes more and more European countries from its quarantine exemption list, talks seem to be moving ahead on a travel corridor with the US. Regional “air bridges” could allow people arriving from areas with low infection rates, such as New York, to forego the 14-day quarantine requirement currently in place.

“There are discussions going on at a very senior level around opening up London and New York. They are at a very early stage but it is vital to get business going with a major trading partner especially as we near Brexit,” a source familiar with the matter told the Telegraph two days ago.

Before corona restrictions were imposed, London-New York was the world’s most revenue-generating route, with over $1 billion in annual sales.

Business travelers to the UK from the US spent £1.06 billion ($1.4 billion) in 2019, according to Statista. This is far more than the £372 million ($495 million) spent by Germans in second place, or the £199 million ($265 million) by the French.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – APRIL 16: John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) stands mostly empty due to the ongoing cutbacks in travel because of the coronavirus on April 16, 2020 in New York City. While some national and international flights are still departing and arriving, many flights have been cancelled due to a lack of passengers and restrictions on global travel. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York has lower rates than the UK

At the moment, along with all other Europeans, UK nationals are still prohibited from entering the US. Similarly, any Britons returning from the States are subject to a two-week-long quarantine. While all of the USA remains red-listed, some states and areas are experiencing much lower rates of infection than others.

Early virus hotspot New York has, following strict lockdown measures, reduced its weekly infection rate to 7.2 cases per 100,000, which is lower than the UK’s 11.3. At the same time, other areas such as the southern states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana are faring much worse.

But, of course, as the term implies, travel corridors are a bilateral affair. The US must make equal considerations. Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, told the Telegraph that these talks could increase pressure on the UK to introduce COVID-19 testing on arrival.

“The US will only agree to this if there is proper testing in place in the UK. The delay in establishing a testing policy is in danger of holding up the opening of commercially-important travel corridors,” Mr Charles said.

Potential German pilot bubble

Only a week ago, Germany’s leading aviation industry group, BDI, proposed the creation of limited air-travel corridors between major US and European hubs. The proposal would require passengers to produce a negative COVID test before flying. The pilot project would include Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Newark in the US, and Frankfurt and Munich in Germany.