UK Air Travel Industry Leads Protests over Covid Restrictions

 - June 23, 2021, 11:32 AM
Flight crew from the British Airline Pilots Association protest against UK government Covid travel rules outside the 10 Downing Street residence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Photo: BALPA)

UK airline managements and their employees on Wednesday led protests involving the wider travel industry against what they say amounts to government mismanagement of Covid travel restrictions. The protesters say that the UK’s so-called “traffic light” system for color-coding Covid risk levels for visitors from different countries has been confusing and inconsistent, resulting in serious harm to the travel sector.

The industry’s “travel day of action” involved protests outside the UK parliament and also across the country at airports and other sites associated with the travel industry. It came a day ahead of a planned parliamentary debate on the issue in which many expect the government to face criticism from its own Conservative Party representatives, and also 24 hours before officials are due to review the list of countries for which onerous Covid testing and quarantine requirements apply.

Government ministers, including Secretary of Health Matt Hancock and Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, have indicated that they might be willing to revise travel restrictions. Hancock hinted that they could relax the restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers and that officials will look at ways to open international travel.

Pressure on the British government has grown since the European Union’s 27 member states announced that they will open borders to vaccinated visitors beginning July 1. The UK has faced an increase in Covid infections involving the so-called Delta variant, thought to have originated in India. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced criticism for delaying the suspension of flights from India in April when, according to critics, proper action could have prevented the surge.

The UK travel industry also has complained that the country’s “green, amber, red” risk designations have resulted in confusion that has undermined both consumers and companies. Arrivals from the small number of “green” countries are permitted with testing or quarantines, but the requirements remain in place for “amber” countries. Many consumers have assumed they could travel to and from “amber” countries, only for the government to clarify that, in fact, the designation allows only “essential” travel.

Now the UK travel sector fears that its counterparts in the European Union, which Britain left through the Brexit process last year, will be far better placed to rebuild their businesses under the new policy taking effect on July 1. While most agree that the UK’s vaccination process has proved largely successful, there remains widespread criticism of the government’s handling of travel rules, which have been changed several times on short notice. That has left travelers stranded and has discouraged consumers from booking trips ahead of the peak summer vacation season.

The British Airline Pilots Association called for the government, “to use science and data to open up a number of safe travel routes with the U.S. and far more European destinations, just as other countries are doing.” It cited statistics from IATA showing that around 860,000 jobs in the UK aviation, travel, and tourism sectors have been lost or are now at risk as a result of Covid.

Last week, a group of UK airlines and airports, led by Ryanair and Manchester Airport Group, started legal action against the British government over Covid travel rules. They have asked the high court to review policies, demanding full transparency over the reasons for the restrictions and how they can be changed.