U.S. travel industry seeks government roadmap to reopen borders this summer

FILE PHOTO: A commercial plane crew member walks along an empty terminal at Reagan International Airport as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Washington, U.S., April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Reuters) - Major U.S. airline and travel groups on Monday urged the government to develop a plan to reopen international borders this summer, assuming COVID-19 vaccine and case counts continue to move towards positive trends.

In a letter sent to the White House COVID-19 recovery coordinator Jeffrey Zients, more than two dozen industry groups, including Airlines for America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Travel Association said: “The time to plan for and chart a defined roadmap to reopen international travel is now.”

The United States has banned most travel from Britain, Europe, Brazil, China and South Africa since the coronavirus pandemic started taking hold last year, devastating the airline and travel industry globally.

The U.S. groups called for a risk-based, data-driven roadmap to safely lift those restrictions to be finalized before May 1 so that a plan is in place for international travel by the summer of 2021.

Travel within the U.S. has picked up considerably over the past week as more Americans become vaccinated, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against nonessential travel.

The United States has administered nearly 125 million doses of the vaccine but CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday she is “very concerned” that a leveling off of COVID-19 cases after a period of decline could signal a risk of renewed outbreaks as the United States works to get more people vaccinated.

The aviation groups said the resumption of international travel should be at the top of the agenda of the next G-7 Meeting in June and called for quick bilateral negotiations to ease travel restrictions through corridors between countries.

The roadmap should maintain testing for international traveling to the United States, except for those who have been vaccinated, they said, adding the government should not require vaccines as a prerequisite to travel.

A sharp decline in international travel in 2020 caused a loss of $146 billion to the U.S. economy and the U.S. Travel Association estimates that a total of a 1.1 million American jobs and $262 billion in export spending will be lost by the end of this year if international travel and demand are not restored.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Aurora Ellis