The British Prime Minister is eyeing changes to existing rule travels that have proved problematic for airlines, passengers, airports, and the wider travel industry. Boris Johnson wants to simplify the rules. But he walks a fine line between rebooting the beleaguered travel industry and keeping Britons safe.
Calls to reform an out-of-step traffic light system
Many people view Britain’s constantly changing traffic light system as increasingly out of step with the times and fuelling uncertainty.
“We also have to recognize that people want, badly, to go on their summer holidays,” said Mr Johnson on Thursday. “We need to get the travel industry moving again, we need to get our city centers open again, and so we want an approach that is as simple as we can possibly make it.
“We have had to balance it because of the anxiety that I think a lot of people have, I have, about importing new variants, bringing back the disease.”
UK Office for National Statistics reveals the biggest economic impact in the services sector in 2020 was in the tourism industry. That includes the airline industry. Inbound flight arrivals have been down 90% for over a year compared to 2019 levels.
London’s Heathrow Airport handled 13,255 aircraft movements and 956,689 passengers in June 2019. In comparison, the airport hosted 40,382 aircraft movements and 7,246,157 passengers in June 2019.
Reshuffling traffic light countries causes widespread chaos
British Cabinet Ministers are due to meet on Thursday to update the travel list system. There are concerns a raft of amber countries could be demoted to red list countries. Several green list countries may fall back to amber status. This would cause chaos for Britons about to go abroad or already abroad. Cancelations and flight changes would severely impact already embattled airlines.
The uncertainty has seen several senior figures in the airline and tourism industry, along with interest groups, call for clarity.
The Sunday Times reports British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak wrote to the Prime Minister calling for an easing of travel restrictions. Mr Sunak argues Britain’s successful vaccination rollout should result in an easing of travel restrictions.
Travelers returning to Britain from red list countries currently have to quarantine at their own expense for 10 days regardless of vaccination status. Travelers who received vaccinations in certain countries (including Britain and the United States) presently do not have to quarantine when returning from amber list countries.
Industry insiders call for reforms
Chairman of the Transport Select Committee, Huw Merriman, has warned downgrading a country’s status under the traffic light system would cause a collapse in bookings.
Trade group Airlines UK criticizes a “frustrating” traffic light system and expensive testing requirements. In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Airlines UK said the traffic light system had been hampered by “frustrating, last-minute, and opaque decision-making.”
There are calls for Britain to adopt the EU’s policy. Under current EU rules, cross-border recognition of a digital passport that includes a person’s vaccination status had helped reboot the airline sector there.
“I think the European policy has worked an awful lot better than in the UK,” Ryanair’s Neil Sorahan told the BBC.
“It’s given more certainty, it has led to more steady green lists all across Europe. The UK has been a little bit more haphazard with what’s on the green list, what’s on the amber list.”
Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport, a good barometer of the state of the British airline industry, says it had lost £2.9bn since March 2020. Compared to 90 million passenger movements in 2019, Heathrow Airport expects just 21.5 million passengers to move through the airport in 2021.