UK Airlines Say COVID-19 Travel Curbs ‘Disproportionate’

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
December 13, 2021 Updated: December 13, 2021

Leaders of Britain’s major airlines and travel companies have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, complaining about the “haphazard and disproportionate” travel restrictions imposed after the detection of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and urging the government to help the travel industry survive the crisis.

Under restrictions introduced to slow the spread of Omicron, all travellers arriving in England are required to take a pre-departure CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival test.

In addition, people arriving in the UK from the 11 African countries currently on the UK’s travel “red list” must spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285 ($3,029) for solo travellers.

In their joint letter, the chief executives of seven companies—including Ryanair and British Airways—accused Boris Johnson of breaking his promises to fix the high cost of PCR tests for travellers.

“As leaders of UK airlines, we are deeply concerned about the haphazard and disproportionate approach by government to travel restrictions following the emergence of the Omicron variant,” they wrote.

They said the timing of the restrictions, which came so close to Christmas, has “undermined customer sentiment.”

“We and our customers feel sincerely let down, having believed a more pragmatic, evidence-led approach to travel, in line with the rest of the world, had been achieved and agreed by all concerned just a few months ago,” the letter said.

“Instead, the layering of additional travel restrictions, introduced at short notice without consultation or discernible strategy, have disrupted Christmas plans and [undermined] customer sentiment just before the crucial Christmas and New Year booking season—up to 30 percent of tickets are sold.”

The letter said that “all emergency testing for fully vaccinated passengers should be removed at the formal review on Dec. 20” and a “package of bespoke economic support measures should be provided immediately to bridge the sector through this crisis.”

The letter urged Johnson to meet with the industry leaders “to understand the problems that we and our customers are now facing because of these measures, which the transport secretary himself admitted risked ‘killing off’ the travel industry.”

The business leaders urged Johnson to “act now to prevent this from happening.”

Heathrow Airport said last week it had seen a “high level” of cancellations by business travellers concerned about being trapped overseas since the reintroduction of pre-departure testing was announced.

On Dec. 10, Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye called for the rules to be relaxed so that travellers returning to the UK from “red list” countries are allowed to self-isolate at home over Christmas rather than be forced to stay in a quarantine hotel.

He also urged the government to reverse tighter testing requirements as soon as it is safe to do so.

PA contributed to this report.