Can I make a business trip to the USA?


Not so long ago, for business people a trip over the Atlantic Ocean to the states was commonplace.

The airports were full of cbusinessmen and businesswomen tapping frantically on their laptops or making those last-minute phone calls, before jetting off to the US. Of course, then came the Coronavirus.

Since the pandemic began the American government have put restrictions in place. These restrictions, which started on the 16th March and have curtailed normal travel to the US.

It could be considered fortunate that the virus hit us in the current age. Never have communications been so easy, often negating the need for business travel. But whilst the demand for travel has been reduced, there are still a lot of reasons for these trips to be undertaken.

Can UK business people visit the USA?

Unless you meet extremely specific conditions, which are unlikely to be satisfied by any business motive, the answer is no. So, unfortunately, those business trips are on hold for the moment.

Of course, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in force in both countries, even if you did somehow meet those conditions, the benefit of any business trip would surely be negated by this requirement.

The list of countries that these restrictions apply to is subject to change and currently includes the United Kingdom and the European Schengen Area.

How long are the restrictions likely to be in place?

At the moment, all restrictions are without a time limit. Both governments have stated they will remain in place until it is deemed safe to fly. In the US in particular, infection rates are so high that it is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon.

Indeed, America’s top health official, Dr Anthony Fauci, is on record as having said, the restrictions could even last until a vaccine is developed. A view echoed by US treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, who has stated that the travel ban might not be lifted until 2021.

Is there any chance of an earlier resumption of flights?

There is a glimmer of hope. The bodies involved in imposing these regulations are fully aware of the damage that is being done to the economy and to people’s lives and livelihoods. They don’t want to do this, if they don’t have to.

And naturally, the airlines don’t want this either. Last year alone there were 14,000 flights between JFK and Heathrow. A large percentage of this was for business purposes.

In August this year, the possibility of a transatlantic ‘air bridge’ between London and New York was discussed. New York now has one of the lowest infection rates within the States, and as such is deemed safer than other areas of the US.

When asked about this possibility a Department for Transport spokesman said. “Conversations between governments in other countries on a whole range of issues take place regularly.

Public health remains the UK’s top priority and we are committed to tackling this virus while enabling a sustainable and responsible return to international travel.

We keep the data for all countries and territories under constant review and will not add a country to our travel corridor list unless safe to do so.”

What are the airlines doing?

For obvious reasons, the airlines are desperate to get their routes opened again. To try and enable this they had called on the government of both countries to launch a passenger testing trial for flights between New York and London.

This procedure would have each passenger tested as part of the boarding routine and only if the test is negative would the passenger be allowed to fly.

An industry spokesperson has said, that this would provide an effective frontline defence until a vaccine is in place.  He added that the tests would help to “gather real world evidence and data.”

They had initially hoped to have these in place by the end of September, but to date, it is not operating.

Pilot scheme

However, a pilot scheme has now been initiated by American Airlines, in collaboration with foreign governments, to begin offering pre-flight Covid-19 tests to passengers.

Initially, this will be only available to passengers flying to Jamaica or the Bahamas, but they are hoping to add more destinations soon. This scheme will apply to flights from its Miami hub and apply only to residents returning home.

It is hoped that it will be extended to include US citizens.

If these trials work, then it may be that they are used as a future template for all air travel, at least until the virus is under control.

And if they are successful, it is guaranteed that the airlines will be pushing to have it rolled it out as soon as possible.

Are there any flights available?

If, for some reason, you still must fly to the States and you satisfy the required conditions, what flights are available?

This is best checked with the airlines, but for the moment limited services fly from London’s Heathrow airport to most major US hub airports.

Am I likely to fly this year?

That is far from being certain. Although there is no definitive answer to this, I think it would be safe to say it is highly unlikely. The United States still has one of the highest infection rates in the world, and while this remains the case, borders are unlikely to be as open as they were prior to Covid-19.

There is still that glimmer of hope, that some form of business travel will be able to resume before the virus has been brought under control. The airlines are a powerful lobbying force. If they can prove to governments that their ‘test and fly’ scheme has been successful, then governments will hopefully ease restrictions.

Nobody wants this, not the businesspeople, not the governments and certainly not the airlines. There are a lot of motivated parties working towards keeping the current situation as short as possible. We can only hope they succeed.

Can I still apply for an ESTA?

UK citizens can still apply for approved visa free entry to the United States, which they will be able to use as soon as travel restrictions are lifted.

Just click on the link below to begin your application.

ESTA application