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Heathrow pleads for US to ease travel restrictions as passenger numbers creep up

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Heathrow Airport has urged the United States to lift its restrictions on travellers from the UK while reporting an improvement in passenger numbers last month.

The hub airport said it handled more than 1.5 million travellers during July – a 74% lift on the same month a year ago but still 80% down on pre-COVID-19 pandemic traffic.

It credited an easing in the government’s rules on some international destinations though the uplift was yet to reflect the decision to allow fully-vaccinated people from the US and EU to travel to the UK without the need to quarantine.

That is because it only came into force earlier this month – in time for the crucial family summer holiday season.

Airport bosses have long demanded an easing of travel restrictions to help get people flying again. Pic: Heathrow
Image: Airport bosses have long demanded an easing of travel restrictions to help get people flying again. Pic: Heathrow

The decision has not yet been met by a reciprocal easing of restrictions for travellers from the UK.

Heathrow said North American passenger numbers grew by nearly 230% on July 2020 and New York’s JFK airport reclaimed the top spot as Heathrow’s most popular route.

But it added: “With fully vaccinated US visitors now able to travel to the UK without the need to quarantine, the joint UK/US travel taskforce must capitalise on the UK’s world-leading vaccine rollout and reach a reciprocal agreement for fully vaccinated UK travellers.”

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It also pleaded for other “vital trading links” to be restored – such as with Canada and Singapore.

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How does govt make decisions on travel?

Heathrow’s chief operating officer, Emma Gilthorpe, said of the situation: “Finally, some blue skies are on the horizon, as travel and trade routes slowly reopen.

“The job though is far from complete. Government must now capitalise on the vaccine dividend and seize the opportunity to replace expensive PCR tests with more affordable lateral flow tests.

“This will ensure travel remains attainable for hardworking Brits, desperate for well-earned getaways and keen to reunite with loved ones before the summer travel window closes.”