BA & American try to restart Trans-Atlantic travel, Lufthansa tempts with food

The most profitable routes in the world are Trans-Atlantic, and they’re mostly London-JFK. The income from those routes for American and British Airways was the big pile of cream on top of their annual results. In the good times.

So, while yesterday’s announcement concentrated entirely on the utilisation of Covid-19 pre-flight testing as a remedy to international travel to and from JFK and DFW, the real reason is to try and stimulate demand.

It’s this later aspect that leaves so many wondering why they are trying do this in the middle of the worst pandemics seen in the United States or the UK for a century.

If you want to travel to the US as a visitor, for tourism, visiting friends or basic routine business travel, you have to have an ESTA. As soon as you arrive at the airport to check in, the ESTA is cancelled – indeed you’re recommended at the current time to NOT check in online for this very reason.

Once you get to the airport, you’re interrogated as to your reason for travel and are expected to a point, to provide evidence. If the check-in staff are happy, they pass that to US immigration and they make a decision there and then to reinstate your ESTA.

There are not so many reasons they will accept, and they seem to vary day to day, but unless its urgent business, immediate family issues (which means parents or spouse or children), reasons are few and far between. On arrival you have to abide by the states quarantine laws.

If you’re flying from the US, there are no real blocks, except the fact you have to stay at a verified address for 14 days without leaving it once, on penalty of fines up to £10,000 and/or expulsion.

About the trials

The trial for each individual passenger will comprise:

  • An initial at-home test to be taken 72 hours before departure from the US
  • A second test will take place upon arrival at LHR
  • A third test to be taken three days after arrival in the UK

The joint trial will offer free tests to passengers who choose to participate in the programme.

The ultimate objective of this and other trials is to validate that a pre-departure test provides a high level of certainty of a passenger being COVID-19 negative, which are hoped to result in policies that further relax US and UK border restrictions, including the 14-day quarantine and entry into the US.

These impediments to travel have been more than enough to deter most people. Travellers from the UK to the US are few and far between as the pandemic has been allowed to get out of control by a stupid government and fake news, that turned the pandemic not into a controllable national rallying point, but a party-political conflict that cost Trump the election.

And yet, with Christmas coming, the airlines are still keen to maximise those opportunities. However that’s just part of the story. The real aim is to try and get the free testing ramped up for next year, so that new years bookings start to come back, and travellers feel a little more confident, that with vaccines around the corner, air travel will once again resume.

The airlines know they’re in this for the long haul, they know that vaccines or not, testing will be a routine thing for up to 18 months, maybe 2 years.

It’s not just AA and BA and their Oneworld partners either, moving to make a difference.

One of the things that the pandemic has altered and we’ll all be getting used to like it or not, is contactless travel.

Other than dropping your own bags off , everything that happens once you have your electronic boarding card sent to your device, will be touch free, you’re passport, your boarding card, will all be scanned without physical contact. Soon, once you’re at the gate, not only you’re boarding card but your face will be auto scanned before you board, matched to your passport. Trials were already well under way in 2018-19, not that they were much liked by the public. Now Covid is making what was once unloved, even resented, an accepted reality, for the good of all.

Airlines are also making other changes. Desperation to rid airlines of costs and extraneous options saw food on short-haul, especially in Europe, turned into a paid for option, or only came as a somewhat down-market snack on the more expensive economy and business tickets.

Now Lufthansa is restoring some of its food offerings next year on flights over an hour across the board, in an effort to provide better value.

This is unquestionably a short to mid-term marketing solution, which coupled to easy to modify tickets and travel times, are designed to open up a range of customer options to encourage you back.

The question will surely be for many, well if you can do that when it suits you why can’t you do it all the time? Especially when it comes to ticket flexibility and the ridiculous charges they often encounter?

Are airlines making a rod for their own backs? They probably are, but once demand returns, they’ll not care, because British Airways has always been able to prove that it doesn’t really matter what they do. Eventually if you want to fly and they go there, you’ll go with them. If you moan about it, there’s always someone else to take you’re place. Once demand outweighs or matches supply more closely, they’ll all do what they always have; get away with whatever they can.

And you though they were being generous? Realistic? Think again.