By John Flett
UK Airlines Welcome Government Easing of Travel Restrictions for Fully-Vaccinated Citizens
UK airlines have been quick to capitalize on changes to travel restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens and residents of England. On Thursday UK Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced that those returning to the country from countries on the UK’s ‘amber list’ from 19 July would not be required to undertake 10 days quarantine and PCR tests on days 2 and 8. Instead, the rules of a return from a ‘green list’ country would apply to no quarantine and a single ‘travel test’ on day 2. The date of the rule change coincides with a broader ‘opening up’ of the country announced earlier in the week by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In response, British Airways was quick to advertise that the airline flies to 43 green and amber countries, the most of any UK airline. Chief executive Sean Doyle said: “We’re pleased to see this common-sense approach which is already working safely for many other countries, but there is more work to do.” In a statement released after the announcement Johan Lundgren, the easyJet chief executive, said: “We have always said that vaccination is the key to unlocking travel and now millions will finally be able to reunite with family and loved ones abroad or take that long-awaited trip this summer. But with unnecessary testing staying in place, more needs to be done.” easyJet’s social media team also responded with a countdown to 19 July, a day which has been labelled ‘Freedom Day’ by Mr Johnson.
Responses from the wider aviation industry reported in The Guardian have also celebrated the news though there is cautious optimism and hopes that the lifting of restrictions will go further to apply to non-residents and citizens.
Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said, “This is a positive move towards the genuine reopening the sector has been looking for. Opening up the market for the rest of the summer, this announcement will provide far greater opportunities to travel, do business and see family and friends, and enable many more of our customers to book with certainty. The summer season essentially starts here.”
Mr Alderslade did voice concerns that the industry has been raising on the ability to deal with and process the increase of travellers with such short notice at the country’s airports. He stated: “Airlines look forward to working with Ministers and Border Force to ensure measures are in place by 19 July to provide a safe and streamlined experience at the UK border. We now urge the Government to continue this momentum by adding many more countries to the green list next week and removing onerous testing requirements at its next review on 31 July, thereby opening up more non-quarantine travel to all.”
The next review of the ‘traffic light’ system of countries is expected in the week of 12 July with the expectation that more countries from the ‘amber list’ would be classified ‘green’. This would add to industry optimism given that currently a minority of those under 35 years of age can be classified as fully vaccinated and so are currently restricted to quarantine upon return from popular holiday destinations such as France.
Though restrictions are being lifted for citizens and residents returning back to the UK, countries on the UK’s lists apply their own restrictions for arrival which will continue to limit options for travellers. For example, France classifies arrivals from the UK as ‘amber’ which limits travel for non-vaccinated Brits to essential only and the US has stopped travel for UK arrivals since 16 March 2020.
Heathrow airport’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye acknowledged the positive effect Thursday’s announcement will have but added “the job isn’t done. To really kickstart the UK’s economic recovery, global Britain needs to get trading again. The UK should open up travel to fully vaccinated people from more countries – particularly our key partners in the US – by the end of July. If the EU can do it, so can the UK.”