Airports have welcomed the UK government’s move to restore international travel this month but warns that more countries should be added to the green list when safe to do so to sustain the recovery.
From 17 May, international travel to and from England will be legally permitted via the long-awaited ‘traffic light’ system.
In an announcement on Friday (7 May), the government confirmed that 12 countries and territories were on the ‘green list’: Australia; Brunei; Falkland Islands; Faroe Islands; Gibraltar; Iceland; Israel and Jerusalem; New Zealand, Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores); Singapore; South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands; and St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
‘MEANINGFUL PROGRESS’ AT FIRST REVIEW
Travellers from those countries will no longer need to quarantine on arrival in England, although they must have a negative pre-departure Covid-19 test, complete a passenger locator form and book and pay for another test on or before day two of landing.
However, popular tourist destinations such as Spain, Italy and France remain on the bigger ‘amber list’ [for further information, see link at footer].
All three lists (green, amber, red) will be reviewed every three weeks informed by public health advice including the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s Assessment of the latest data.
Charlie Cornish, CEO at Manchester Airports Group (MAG) which owns and operates Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands Airports, said: “Many people will be frustrated that the announcement by the Transport Secretary does not allow for a broader restart of international travel, with so few countries on the initial green list.
“The aviation industry will be especially concerned that the government appears to have ignored clear scientific evidence, which shows that testing and vaccinations can support safe travel to a larger group of low-risk destinations.
“The British public will understandably question why our world-leading vaccination programme has not earned them the freedom to travel abroad without expensive and inconvenient tests – a freedom that other governments, including the European Union, will be giving to people who have been vaccinated.
“Aviation supports more than one million jobs and generates billions of pounds of economic value but is being held back by much tighter controls than any other industry. The industry has been impacted more than any other sector, and we need the same positive recovery plan that other parts of the UK economy have been given.
“It is essential that we see meaningful progress towards restarting international travel at the first review of the green list in the next few weeks, ahead of the peak summer season.
“It is also vital government explores fairer and smarter ways to protect the UK from variants of concern, removing the need for all arriving passengers to take costly and inconvenient PCR tests and mirroring the approach being taken by other countries. A true aviation recovery plan is needed to ensure it can play its part in the recovery of the UK economy as a whole.”
PORTUGAL BOOST FOR LGW
In a statement, Gatwick Airport (LGW) CEO Stewart Wingate said: “Confirmation that international travel is to restart is very welcome news after what has undoubtedly been the most difficult period in the airport’s history.
“We are particularly pleased to hear that Portugal is on the green travel list and we will have regular flights from Gatwick from 17th May allowing people to reunite with friends and family or enjoy an early Summer break.
“However, as soon as vaccination and infection rates make it safe to do so, we need more countries regularly added to the green list if the airport and our supply chains are to rebuild and protect as many jobs as possible.
“We look forward to welcoming back more passengers and can reassure them that we and our airlines are very well prepared to safely welcome back passengers in large numbers and have a significant range of social distancing, hygiene and testing provisions in place right across the airport campus.
“As the government has warned while queue time may be longer at the border due to extra health checks, we will do all that we can to help ensure these are kept to a minimum including our ongoing trialling of the use of e-gates.
“We will also continue to work with Border Force to ensure they make as much resource available to ensure passengers do not have a disrupted journey arriving into the UK. We hope people feel increasingly confident to book flights to see relatives, take a well-deserved holiday or travel on business.”
Heathrow chief John Holland-Kaye had previously raised concerns over the ability of the UK Border Force to cope with the added Covid-19 checks for travellers required once international travel resumes on 17 May.
The airport said via Twitter that the latest announcement was a ‘positive step’ to restarting international travel and would continue to update its website with the latest information as it is received.
In a statement provided to this publication, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Grant Shapps has made a positive start to reunite families, boost international trade and allow overseas holidays. As further progress is made with the vaccine roll out at home and abroad, we should see a significant extension of the ‘green’ list in early June and a change to the testing requirements so that fully vaccinated people can travel without restrictions.
“The government should help people plan ahead by publishing a list of countries expected to be on the green list for the summer holidays so that passengers are not faced with high prices for last-minute bookings.
“The government also needs to urgently address the unacceptable situation at the border, where passengers can wait for longer than their flight to the UK. Long immigration queues are an inevitable result of under resourcing, not an inevitable results of extra checks. Passengers will expect ministers to keep every desk staffed at peak times.”
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) welcomed the UK’s gesture of opening the door to international travel through the travel light system but expressed disappointment that the US was not included on the green list, denying the chance to throw a ‘lifeline’ to the transatlantic travel sector.
“The UK is the fourth biggest G20 economy in terms of international travel & tourism spend from business travel, which amounted to £7.5 billion in 2019, before the pandemic ripped through the heart of the sector,” said Gloria Guevara, President & CEO of WTTC.
“While we understand that protecting public health should be the priority, the UK is being too cautious and risks losing its hard-won competitive advantage achieved by the early vaccine rollout by being too slow to allow the significant resumption of international travel.
“Holidaymakers and business travellers will be disappointed by the news, with so few countries on the ‘green list’, while Europe steals a march on the UK by continuing to open up and welcome visitors back.
“We are also disappointed that UK travellers are expected to pay for expensive PCR tests, even when travelling from countries on the green list. This will make foreign holidays totally unaffordable for many families.
“We urge the UK government to work with its providers to offer more cost-effective tests for UK travellers, or accept the more affordable yet rapid and effective, antigen tests.
“After suffering the biggest fall in contribution towards GDP from travel & tourism of the 10 most important global markets – by a staggering 62.5% – the UK can ill-afford to be this cautious.”
Research by the Airport Operators Association (AOA) reveals that the 12 countries and territories on the green list accounted for 5.5% of passengers in July-August 2019.
AOA Chief Executive Karen Dee said: “UK airports are ready to welcome back passengers from 17 May, with high levels of health and hygiene measures in place, and we welcome confirmation that international travel will resume.
“Given the success of the UK’s vaccine roll-out, it is disappointing that so few countries are on the green list. This is not yet the meaningful, four-nation restart UK airports and the economy need.
“Aviation is essential to connect families who have not been able to meet for so long, to provide well-earned holidays, and for businesses to reach new and existing customers abroad. To ensure this can restart effectively, the UK government must play its part by adding countries to the green list, making testing more affordable, through the use of widely available rapid tests, and by simplifying the processes and providing sufficient resource at the border.
“The unacceptable queues passengers experience at the border in some airports put passenger welfare and safety and security in UK airports at risk.
“Ministers need to use the upcoming reviews to reduce restrictions for fully vaccinated people, just as the EU and the US are planning. This is particularly important for restarting the UK’s inbound tourism sector.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says the UK has taken a ‘cautious’ approach in a bid to protect public health.
To protect against new variants of Covid-19, the Maldives, Nepal and Turkey will be added to the red list as of 4am on 12 May.
“This is a new way of doing things, and people should expect travel to be different this summer – with longer checks at the borders, as part of tough measures to prevent new strains of the virus entering the country and putting our fantastic vaccine rollout at risk,” he said.
Different travel restrictions apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the devolved administrations will decide whether or not to mirror England’s rules.
Click here for red, amber and green list rules for entry into England.