Normal services need to resume on US bound routes for British Airways to have a reasonable chance of emerging from successive losses. Image Credit: AP

London: British Airways parent IAG said it's expecting only a gradual reopening of travel including key trans-Atlantic services after losses continued to mount in the first quarter. IAG, which also owns Spain's Iberia and Aer Lingus of Ireland, will deploy 25% of its 2019 capacity this quarter, given "limited progress" in restoring markets.

The group had an adjusted operating loss of 1.14 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in the first three months amid new COVID-19 lockdowns, following its first annual loss in almost a decade in 2020. With the UK poised to announce which countries will feature on a "green list" for the resumption of leisure travel from May 17, and the European Union planning a reopening from June, IAG said it's hopeful for a restart after long-haul specialists like BA and Iberia suffered the worst of the crisis.

Even then, it will take until "at least" 2023 for passenger demand to reach pre-virus levels. "We're absolutely confident that a safe re-start to travel can happen as shown by the scientific data," CEO Luis Gallego said in a statement. "We're ready to fly, but government action is needed."

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US will be crucial

While the US may not be included in the initial UK list of countries with the lowest restrictions for arriving passengers, successful vaccination programmes and falling coronavirus infection rates on both sides of the Atlantic means prospects are positive for an early return. Gallego called for a travel corridor without restrictions between the countries to allow for a prompt reopening.

IAG had been forecast to report a quarterly operating loss of 1.13 billion euros, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts. The London-based group, which suffered a 7.43 billion-euro loss last year, said it's too early to provide earnings guidance for 2021.