Heathrow boss: UK is ‘too cautious’ on international travel - THE GUARDIAN
by Joanna Partridge
The chief executive of Heathrow airport has accused the government of being “too cautious” over international travel, which could result in the loss of the important summer season for travel companies.
The aviation industry is frustrated by the lack of detail from the government about the expected restart of foreign trips on 17 May using a traffic light system.
It is calling for passengers travelling to and from countries with a “green” status – allowing UK citizens to visit and return without quarantine – to be able to do so without the need for Covid-19 tests before they travel.
John Holland-Kaye, the boss of Heathrow airport, said: “There is a genuine risk that the government is too cautious and we don’t see any material travel until after summer, and that of course would be too late for many of those UK travel companies which rely upon the summer holiday. It is the only time they make money.”
The aviation sector is “calling for the government to give clarity about which countries we can fly to as soon as possible so we can start to get all of our facilities, planes and people ready and people can start to book tickets,” Holland-Kaye said.
He added: “We need some warning. If we only get the information about what is going to open up in the middle of May or later, it will start to get too late to get people on their holidays this summer.”
The chief executive of budget airline easyJet has also warned that it would be too expensive for many travellers if they are required to take two Covid tests, before departure and after arrival home from a trip, under the proposed traffic light system.
The tests could potentially cost up to £200 each, which Johan Lundgren warned could exceed the price of a standard easyJet ticket. “You wouldn’t open up international travel for everyone, but only those who can afford it,” Lundgren said in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “If you are ticking all of those boxes to become a green destination … [Multiple tests] don’t make sense to me and it would add to cost and complexities.”
Boris Johnson, questioned about Lundgren’s concerns in a Sky News interview on Tuesday, said his government would see what it could do to make testing of international travellers “as flexible and as affordable as possible”.
Johnson said he wanted to see international travel start up again but added that he had to be realistic, given that “a lot of the destinations we want to go to at the moment are suffering a new wave of Covid”.
“We can’t do it immediately,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that we’ve given up on 17 May [for resuming international travel].
“I know how impatient people are to book their holidays if they possibly can. But we just have to be prudent at this stage.’”
Aviation industry leaders believe the continued vaccination programme, combined with rapid Covid testing and digital apps to verify documents will enable the safe restart of international travel from the UK.
It is currently illegal to travel abroad for holidays, with foreign travel only allowed in specific circumstances. The government has said overseas travel will be permitted “subject to review” from 17 May, although it has not named countries which will appear on the green list.
Shai Weiss, the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said he believed vaccinated passengers flying to amber destinations should also not face testing or quarantine.
The aviation industry has welcomed the government’s promise of widespread Covid testing, using rapid lateral flow tests, which have been trialled in schools and for lorry drivers.
“We can’t have a prohibitively expensive testing system, that puts businesses, people and families off travelling,” said Weiss.
BA’s chief executive, Sean Doyle, urged the government to work on bilateral agreements with countries such as the US and Israel which also have successful coronavirus vaccination programmes, “so we don’t waste the opportunity of having had an incredibly successful vaccine rollout”.
The use of Covid status certificates, for people to prove they have had either a vaccine, a recent negative Covid test or antibodies from a coronavirus infection within the last six months, remains under review in the UK.
Airlines have been trialling various systems for certifying documents which provide passengers’ Covid status, including the travel pass initiative from the International Air Transport Association.
Industry executives said a digital health pass would facilitate travel, but they emphasised that any introduction of health passports for travel would need to be decided bilaterally between Britain and overseas governments.