Plans to reopen transatlantic travel have been dismissed by industry leaders as lacking “clarity”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden will agree on Thursday to launch a taskforce to make recommendations on safely restarting international travel.
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss described its creation as “a first step towards reopening the skies” but warned that the “absence of a definitive timeframe” means airlines, businesses and consumers have not been given “much-needed clarity”.
He said: “Restrictions on transatlantic travel are costing the UK £23 million each day and, despite one of the highest vaccination rates globally, the UK is now falling behind the EU’s reopening.
“For global Britain to be seen as the best place to do business, visit and invest, UK Government must act immediately to safely reopen the skies.”
British Airways boss Sean Doyle said the announcement was “a step in the right direction”, but added: “We are now at a critical point and need action without delay, including clear criteria and a timeline.
“Anything other than this could result in tough consequences.”
Before the outbreak of coronavirus, the UK-US air corridor was one of the busiest in the world.
More than five million people from the UK visited the US every year, with 4.5 million trips made in the reverse direction.
But demand has collapsed as coronavirus restrictions mean people arriving in the UK from the US must self-isolate for 10 days, while most UK citizens are banned from entering the US.
The new taskforce will be overseen in the UK by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and will be chaired by senior officials in the Department for Transport and their US counterparts.
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said the group is “the latest in a long line of travel taskforces which so far have only wreaked further devastation on our industry”.
He continued: “Jobs won’t be saved, nor livelihoods protected, until we are given a certainty on dates for the resumption of international travel.”
The UK Government’s own Global Travel Taskforce issued reports in November 2020 and April 2021 recommending how foreign travel can resume.
But the travel industry has claimed that many of its findings did not go far enough or were ignored.
A spokeswoman for travel trade association Abta said: “The US-UK link is incredibly important for business and leisure travel, as well as UK trade, so steps to get travel restarted are very welcome.
“However, there is little in this announcement in terms of detail or timings.”
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “We owe it to the millions of people whose lives and livelihoods have been put on hold to get transatlantic connectivity restarted as soon as possible, and we look forward to supporting the taskforce’s urgent work to achieve this.”