American Airlines and United Airlines, along with Iberia Airlines’ owner International Airlines Group and Lufthansa Group, want regulators to permit more American and Europeans to travel on transatlantic flights, arguing they need more customers on these routes for their businesses to recover.

“Given the unquestioned importance of transatlantic air travel to the global economy as well as to the economic recovery of our businesses, we believe it is critical to find a way to re-open air services between the U.S. and Europe,” the CEOs of the four companies wrote in a joint letter to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

All four airline groups fly across the the Atlantic now, serving major routes like New York to Frankfurt, Dallas/Fort Worth to Madrid, and Washington D.C. to Zurich. The problem is the customer pool is tiny, with American and European regulators placing strict limits on who can fly.

Most flights are filed with dual citizens, or customers who are transiting in European airports, or passengers exempt from the ban, such as health care workers, and diplomats. It is easier for Americans to visit the United Kingdom, though they must quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.

The United States maintains similar restrictions on which travelers can enter from Europe. It first instituted the restrictions in March, during Europe’s first wave.

European Concerns

While the letter is addressed to U.S. and European leaders, this issue is probably stickier in Europe, because it has fewer cases, per capita, than the United States.

Europeans have said they’re concerned about the rising number of U.S. Covid-19 cases, and they’re fearful that an influx of Americans would lead to more cases. In their letter, the four CEOs acknowledge the Covid-19 problem, but said regulators could mitigate it by creating a joint U.S.-EU testing program.

“We recognize that testing presents a number of challenges, however we believe that a pilot testing program for the transatlantic market could be an excellent opportunity for government and industry to work together and find ways to overcome obstacles and explore all solutions to protect health, build confidence, and safely restore passenger travel between the U.S. and Europe,” they said. “A coordinated COVID-19 testing program could be key to providing confidence to permit services to resume without quarantine requirements or other entry restrictions.”

Photo Credit: A passenger walks in Frankfurt's airport, where Lufthansa is the largest tenant. Ralph Orlowski / Reuters