On Monday, the chief executives of Britain’s largest airlines wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, requesting that the government repeal emergency COVID-19 travel testing restrictions and provide the industry with a tailored package of financial assistance to help it survive the winter.
In November, the British government lifted most restrictions on fully vaccinated travelers, but ministers rapidly tightened international travel restrictions after the Omicron variant was discovered in South Africa.
Travel has grown increasingly difficult in recent weeks as stricter restrictions such as hotel quarantine, self-isolation, and post-arrival PCR testing have been reinstated. Pre-departure testing was reinstated after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps swore not to do so because it may destroy the business, but he did so just days later.
Despite conceding that the new restrictions may impose severe strain on the aviation and travel businesses, the British government has refused to provide any more financial assistance.
Airlines had hoped to make up for lost revenue over the summer by filling planes to previously closed-off locations such as the United States and South Africa. They now allege that the continually shifting restrictions, which are frequently implemented with little or no notice, have harmed their confidence.
“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,” wrote the chief executives, including British Airways CEO Sean Doyle.
“We urge the government to act now to prevent more damage to the travel industry, which the Transport Secretary himself alluded to,” the letter continued.
As the Omicron variation takes over from the Delta strain, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has stated that travel restrictions may be withdrawn, but the government has not to set a date for when those limitations will be eliminated.
The World Health Organization has urged the British government to halt sweeping travel bans, but its pleas have gone unheeded. Following the WHO’s censure of the UK, the government imposed a travel ban on Nigeria.
The travel limitations will be revisited on December 20, and airline CEOs want the testing requirements scrapped and a “bundle of customised economic support measures” delivered promptly “to help the sector get through this crisis.”
Airlines including Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair called the current restrictions “haphazard” and “disproportionate”. Ticket sales are currently covering less than a third of the capacity that airlines had planned to operate this winter.