UK airlines and airports say travel reopening is inadequate
- Thousands of Brits flock to UK airports amid easing travel restrictions
- British Airways and other airline bosses urge the UK government to add more countries to the green list
- Brits ignore UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s warnings and take vacations to “amber” destinations
- UK reopening optimism to drive pound Sterling (GBP) higher
Chief executives from British Airways, EasyJet, Heathrow Airport and other travel firms are urging the UK government to add more countries to Britain’s green list and streamline testing requirements for travel abroad.
The news comes as the UK lifts the ban on international travel, allowing Brits to holiday abroad, quarantine-free in twelve destinations, including Portugal, Iceland, Israel and Gibraltar.
Until Friday, British holidaymakers scheduled to fly to Portugal were in a state of limbo due to the EU’s broader ban on all non-essential travel.
However, on Friday afternoon, Portuguese authorities said they would welcome Brits, providing they show a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arriving in Portugal.
The news was met with a sigh of relief from the aviation sector and holidaymakers. However, industry bosses have said that with just twelve destinations on the green list – many of which are not popular holiday destinations – chances of recovery remain limited.
Although industry bosses acknowledge the importance of ensuring a safe return to the skies, they said the UK government must relax some measures and make travel easier for passengers to help the industry bounce back after months of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
UK reopening boost optimism over summer travel
Despite concerns over depressed demand and strict testing requirements, airline bosses said that confidence was returning, and there have been signs of an early rebound in travel to European countries.
Today, thousands of Britons descended upon the nation’s airports to take advantage of easing COVID lockdown restrictions and the reopening of travel.
British Airways (BA) Chief Executive Sean Doyle said that the airline’s busiest flight routes were to “green destinations” in Portugal such as Faro, Madeira and Lisbon.
Meanwhile, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary revealed that holiday bookings with his firm were up from 500,000 a week at the start of April to 1.5 million in the week ending May 16th – a sign of improving confidence.
Although most destinations are on the “amber” and “red” lists, Mr O’Leary said he is very optimistic about the coming months.
However, some travel firms, including the global travel group, Thomas Cook, are more cautious, noting that booking activity remains well below pre-pandemic levels.
Heathrow Airport also said that the number of people travelling abroad had only increased by 4,000 on Monday to 11,000 after averaging 7,000 a day last week.
BA further commented, saying it was operating a fraction of its typical schedule for May as the new traffic-light system meant the airline could only offer a limited number of routes.
Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said: “We are calling on the UK government to help people plan by publishing a list of countries expected to be on the green list for the summer.”
As the Global Travel Taskforce (GTT) categorises countries based on their COVID-19 vaccination programme, infection rate and the prevalence of new variants, many hope that France, Spain, the US and Caribbean islands will make it onto the green list next.
However, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the green list might not be extended due to the growing threat of new variants, to the dismay of UK airports and airlines.
Is Britain’s COVID green list too cautious?
Travel firms were left disappointed by the UK government’s green list announcement, arguing that it was inconsistent with plans to reopen the economy and kickstart the industry.
BA Chief Executive Sean Doyle said that the United States should’ve been added to the list as the vaccination and infection rate in the country had been “trending positively.”
The US is an important market for British travel firms and businesses. Although America has one of the highest COVID death tolls, the country has now vaccinated 60% of its adult population, and the infection rate is following a downward trajectory.
If ministers added the US to the green list, travellers returning to the UK from the country would not be required to self-isolate for ten days.
EasyJet CEO, Johan Lundgren, said neither data nor science could justify why the US and other countries with progressive vaccination programmes and low COVID case rates were not categorised as “green.”
However, he believes that the United States and other popular summer destinations such as Spain and Greece “should be in scope for inclusion in the green list next month as we see the trends on vaccination and prevalence” in those countries improve.
There have also been calls to scrap COVID testing for fully vaccinated Brits returning from “green” listed countries and allow unvaccinated travellers to use lateral flow tests instead of PCR tests.
Ministers introduced the double testing requirement as an added safety measure, but multiple COVID tests can cost more than the flight for some holidaymakers.
However, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the stricter regime would remain in place for the foreseeable future to prevent a spike in the infection rate.
Although Britain has a relatively low infection rate, there have been growing concerns about the fast-spreading Indian variant, which has already been identified in areas across the country.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has also warned Britons against holidaying in several European countries amid increased reports of new coronavirus variants, albeit many UK holidaymakers have defied his orders.
Brits travel to “amber” destinations despite Matt Hancock’s warnings
There has been considerable joy at airports on Monday, with Britons permitted to travel after nearly five months of travel restrictions.
Despite warnings from the Health Secretary to avoid “amber” listed destinations, hundreds of passengers flocked to Heathrow, Gatwick and Birmingham airports to catch flights to countries across Europe.
According to MailOnline, Heathrow and Gatwick have more than 300 flights scheduled to amber destinations today. Italy, Greece, France, and the US were among some of the more popular destinations for holiday-goers.
MailOnline found that some passengers had deliberately ignored advice against travelling to riskier countries.
One passenger heading to Corfu with five friends said: “I work from home at the moment, so having to self-isolate on my return is neither here nor there. I’m still fairly young and fairly active.”
Currently, people holidaying in amber destinations must self-isolate for ten days upon returning to the UK, while those travelling to red list countries are required to quarantine for ten days in government-designated hotels at the cost of GBP 1750 per person.
While foreign travel is limited, today also marked the reopening of indoor hospitality, which should help reboot the service sector and boost overall economic growth.
However, European stocks and pound Sterling (GBP) have traded in mixed fashion on Monday as fears that the highly transmissible Indian mutation will delay plans to lift all COVID-19 restrictions on June 17th.
At the time of writing, the British pound to US dollar (GBP/USD) exchange rate is trading 0.2% higher at USD 1.4128 while the British pound to euro (GBP/EUR) currency pair is 0.1% higher at EUR 1.1621.
While London’s blue-chip FTSE 100 Index has closed above the 7,000-mark, it is down by 0.15% or 10.75 points at 7,032.85, as disappointing Chinese data has also weighed against UK reopening optimism.
However, given that almost 70% of the adult population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 40% are fully vaccinated, the FTSE 100 and pound Sterling (GBP) could advance over the coming days.