EDITORIAL: The hypocrisy of G7 leaders’ international travel

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Hopes for an announcement during the G7 Summit of a re-opening of the UK-US air travel market were dashed when all British Prime Minister Boris Johnson could offer was the setting up of a task force.

Government task forces, as everyone knows, are code for kicking an issue down the road while not admitting the inaction. A task force should have been established months ago—as soon as this vital transatlantic market was shut down so that the "hows and whens” could be examined early on.

The CEOs of every UK and US airline that serve the market—plus the JetBlue CEO who intends to launch service to London this summer—jointly appealed to Johnson and US President Joe Biden to make the UK-US travel corridor a priority in a press conference ahead of the summit.

Instead, Biden ignored the appeal and Johnson announced after the summit’s close that the lifting of the UK’s highly restrictive lockdown will be postponed by at least four weeks after the original June 21 deadline. The only interpretation for the air travel industry is that late July will be the earliest there can be any policy shift on the corridor, so a second summer season will be lost.

France, Italy and other European countries, meanwhile, are re-opening to Americans and airlines are understandably responding quickly, restoring routes and frequencies to Europe’s many beautiful cities while London Heathrow is reduced to closing one of its runways for lack of use.

The hypocrisy at the summit of the UK and US leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was glaring. For them, the viability of virtual conferencing was likely never a question. Of course, they had to fly to Britain’s scenic southwest coast, with armies of aides and press corps, to conduct their important business in person.  And on arrival, they and their spouses socially distanced merely for the purposes of formal photo ops between paddling in the Atlantic, wrapping arms around one another and sharing cocktails on a beach.

Trudeau will have returned to his homeland one of the very few that has been allowed out (or back in) during one of the world’s most restrictive constraints on free movement. Biden, when he completes his hops to Brussels and Geneva, will return to the White House having had tea in Windsor Castle, a hugely popular destination for American tourists that is currently denied to them.

On both sides of the Atlantic, Americans, Brits and Canadians are eager to reunite with their long-separated friends and relatives or to simply enjoy a vacation in one of their favorite places be it Disneyworld, Canada’s gorgeous national parks or a British pub. Even more are ready to do business in person—or to take that business to places where they can seal the deal with a handshake or even an elbow bump. 

If presidents and prime ministers cannot conduct their business via Zoom, they should lift the travel rules they impose on their citizens but cannot comply with themselves.

Karen Walker

Karen Walker is Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief and Aviation Week Network Group Air Transport Editor-in-Chief. She joined ATW in 2011 and oversees the editorial content and direction of ATW, Routes and Aviation Week Group air transport content.