Leading airlines call on UK government to put an end to travel restrictions

Jan 24, 2022

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Airlines have grouped together to ask the British government to rule out future border closures for fear it could break the holiday industry for good.

The CEOs of seven leading air companies that serve the U.K. wrote an open letter to travel secretary Sajid Javid urging him to “rule out border closures and flight bans in response to future variants of concern”.

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They want his cast-iron guarantee that unvaccinated travellers – “at the very least” – will be allowed to go as they please without suffering the disruption of 11th-hour flight cancellations, having to provide negative COVID-19 tests or sit through lengthy quarantines.

The letter was coordinated by industry body Airlines UK and signed by Ryanair, Easyjet, Loganair, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Jet2, as well as the holiday travel group Tui.

When Omicron was first detected in November, a number of countries, including South Africa, were placed on the U.K.’s “red list” of no-go nations and commercial flights to those countries were grounded. That list was then abandoned on 15 December.

Following that, travellers entering Britain were told to take both pre-departure and on-arrival COVID-19 tests, with compulsory quarantine until results came in. The former of which has also been recently ditched, with recent speculation that testing for arrivals could also soon follow suit.

“This has meant fewer business trips and less investment in our economy, fewer chances for holidays and to reunite with friends and family abroad, and fewer international visitors,” they wrote. “VisitBritain estimate nearly £50bn in tourism spend from overseas has been lost since the pandemic began — all resulting in less tax revenue to fund public services including the NHS.”

Related: Airfares could get a lot more expensive in 2022, warns Virgin Atlantic CEO

The U.K.’s aviation industry says it has suffered catastrophically as a result of these restrictions, as it watched international departures plummet last year to 19 per cent of 2019 levels. This has cost the tourism industry some £50 billion in revenue. More recently Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss has said that the price of flights will need to increase this year to recoup rising work costs, supply chain shortages and the price of being more eco-friendly.

The letter added: “The recovery of the U.K.’s aviation industry is vital; not just to the more than half a million people working in it, but to everyone who lives and works in the U.K.”

Earlier this month Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “I’ve always said that we won’t keep international travel restrictions in place any longer than they are necessary to protect public health.

“We want to provide more certainty to passengers and businesses, and will do a full review of our international travel measures for 2022 by the end of the month.”

An announcement on easing restrictions is expected as soon as today (24 January).

Featured image by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images.

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