Travel bosses today slammed the Government’s approach to resuming international flights as they claimed it is ‘too cautious’ and warned many holiday firms are ‘teetering on the brink’.
Senior industry figures told MPs on the Transport Select Committee that the proposed traffic light system is ‘too complex’ while the overall strategy set out by ministers is ‘very vague in many areas’.
They also warned border control at airports is already ‘unable to cope’ with Covid checks despite passenger numbers being massively reduced due to the lockdown ban on non-essential international travel.
They warned there will need to be a ‘dramatic improvement in border performance if we are to increase passenger numbers’ when flights do resume.
Despite the criticism of the Government’s approach, airline bosses have delivered a boost to millions of Brits hoping for a summer break abroad as they said most of Europe and the US could be on the ‘green list’.
Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s chief executive, said he expects ‘most European countries’ to be included in the Government’s quarantine-free category when international travel returns from May 17.
Asked if he expects destinations such as France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus and Turkey to be on the Government ‘green list’, Mr Lundgren replied: ‘Yes, by the time we open up for travel on May 17 and if the Government continues to have the plan in place on the two-test system.’
Meanwhile, British Airways boss Sean Doyle said the continued success of the vaccine rollout in the UK and the US could allow for a transatlantic travel corridor to be put in place.
Last month, experts said London and Washington were already discussing piloting a bilateral safe travel scheme between the two countries.
Mr Doyle, who was speaking at an online industry event, also said the firm would be offering £60 PCR tests to its customers amid concerns the bill charged by some testing firms of approximately £120 could price many families out of a trip abroad.
His comments reflect the announcement made by testing firm Randox who said yesterday it would be offering £60 tests through partnering airlines in a bid to aid the sector’s recovery.
The Government has yet to say which countries will make it onto the ‘green list’ for low risk travel but the Department for Transport has pledged to categorise countries ‘in early May’.
Assessments will be based on a range of factors, including the proportion of a country’s population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.
In other coronavirus news today:
- NHS England statistics revealed just 175 Covid patients are being admitted to hospital every day in England – down from more than 4,000 in January
- Gibraltar has vaccinated its entire adult population, making it a prime ‘green list’ candidate for a sunny break when international travel resumes from May 17
- Germany is expected to give under-60s who had their first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine a different jab for their second dose amid blood clot concerns
- Sweden has recorded 625 new infections per million people in the past seven days, the latest figures reveal, which is much higher than its Nordic neighbours
The chief executive of easyJet Johan Lundgren (pictured) said that by the time travel restarts in Britain on May 17, most European countries should be on the UK’s green list for travel
EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren has said he expects most European destinations to be included on the Government’s green list when international travel from the UK resumes from May 17
The Government’s Global Travel Taskforce published details on the proposed traffic light system last week.
It will see countries rated green, amber or red, with travel from ‘green’ countries quarantine-free but passengers will have to take one test after flying home, rather than the current two.
Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit roadmap states that international travel will resume no earlier than May 17.
Travel bosses today delivered a damning assessment of the taskforce’s report as they claimed it lacked detail and argued the proposed timetable for the return of flights is too slow.
Simon McNamara, the UK and Ireland country manager for the International Air Transport Association, told MPs: ‘There was a tremendous amount of expectation from this report and we expected it to be, if you like, the start of the sprint to the finish.
‘But it has turned out to be another milestone and I think that is the disappointment in it.
‘It has provided that framework, it has provided some clarity but there are many areas that are still unanswered… it is very vague in many areas such as the timescale to when the border will be ready, which countries will fall into which category.
‘I think crucially the approach to reopening we believe is still too complex and too cautious I’m afraid.’
Chris Garton, chief solutions officer at Heathrow Airport, expressed concerns about the proposed testing regime and added: ‘Our biggest issue in terms of the summer particularly is the performance at the border and we need to see a dramatic improvement in border performance if we are to increase passenger numbers travelling through Heathrow.’
Mr McNamara echoed a similar sentiment on border checks as he said: ‘Finally, it is the point that Chris raised which is the ability of the border to handle any scale up in operations.
‘It is unable to cope at the moment so we are very concerned about that also.’
Brian Strutton, the general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, told the Committee that the taskforce’s report was a ‘bitter disappointment to everybody working in the industry’.
‘The expectation was this would be the blueprint to get summer flights going again,’ he said. ‘In fact it is not, it is a jam tomorrow, “we might let you know next month where you can fly to and when”.
‘There is no specificity in it at all so as a result many airlines have already told us they will be curtailing the plans they had for the summer.’
Mark Tanzer, the chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents, said firms are increasingly feeling the strain as he cautioned against further delays to resuming holidays abroad.
He said: ‘I guess I can’t emphasise enough the urgency of pushing forward with this given the state of the industry which has been in suspension for over a year now and the fact that we have gone through Easter and out the other side with international travel illegal means there is even more pressure on the summer season.
‘A week lost is vital for a lot of members who could be teetering on the brink.’
The evidence to MPs came after Mr Lundgren struck a more optimistic tone this morning, telling reporters: ‘I will struggle to see that there will be, unless something happens between now and then, that there would be many (European) countries who wouldn’t be in that green category.’
Mr Lundgren said the main question customers were asking was which countries would be on the ‘green list’ as he urged the Government to come forward with more details as soon as possible.
He added: ‘We would expect that, if the Government continues with the approach on the testing regime that they have said, I would expect almost all major European countries, that by the time it comes to travel reopening, that most countries in Europe should be in that category.’
Travel to and from a ‘green’ country will require people to be tested before they leave their holiday destination and again two days after arrival back in the UK.
The Government is exploring whether cheaper rapid lateral flow tests could be used for the pre-departure check with a PCR test then used for the test after arrival.
Mr Lundgren said: ‘If the PCR test and the lateral flow test will need to be in place for ‘green’ countries, I couldn’t see that there would be many countries in Europe that wouldn’t be in the ‘green’ category.
BA boss Sean Doyle (pictured) has said swift vaccine rollouts in the UK and the United States should enable transatlantic routes to open once international travel resumes this summer
‘It’s important the Government comes out with this list as soon as possible because this is the main question for most of our customers right now.
‘They want to know if the favourite destination for them to go on their holiday or to visit friends and family across Europe is that country in the ‘green’ category.
‘And it will be a big difference, of course, if you’re in the ‘green’ category, versus if you’re in ‘amber’ or ‘red’.’
The UK’s seven-day rate of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people stands at 29, while many popular short-haul locations have much higher figures, including France (348), Greece (185), Italy (169) and Spain (111).
Asked if he expects destinations such as France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus and Turkey to be on the Government ‘green list’, Mr Lundgren replied: ‘Yes, by the time we open up for travel on May 17 and if the Government continues to have the plan in place on the two-test system.
‘I wouldn’t see reason why you wouldn’t have the majority of the countries of Europe in there.
‘We really believe that, if you’re in the ‘green’ category, there should not be any need of any testing at all because it would be considered low-risk.’
Meanwhile, BA boss Mr Doyle said swift vaccine rollouts in the UK and the US should enable transatlantic routes to reopen.
‘There’s an immediate opportunity to open up the US,’ Mr Doyle said during CAPA Live, an online industry event.
With the two countries ‘more or less mirroring each other’ on vaccination, he said ‘that should lead to the UK and the US being able to lead the way in terms of opening up’.
Paul Charles, the CEO of The PC Agency, said he believes discussions between the US and the UK are ‘proceeding positively’.
He told MailOnline: ‘The UK/US governments are in negotiations at the moment which are proceeding positively, about a possible pilot bilateral corridor scheme to enable safe travel between the two countries after the end of May.
‘One of the (eight) Global Travel Taskforce workstreams is called ‘Engaging with other like-minded countries’ – these are countries such as the US which have advanced vaccine rollout programmes and are focused on reducing infection and variant rates.
easyJet boss Johan Lundren has urged the Government to come forward with details of its green list as soon as possible but Malta (pictured) is one that sources say could be included
‘Profiteering’ private firms add £1,000 to price of holiday for four as they charge up to £300 for single Covid test that other firms offer for £60
Private Covid-19 testing firms have been accused of profiteering by charging up to £300 for a single PCR test which cost just £20 to make while other companies charge as little as £60 for the same tests.
The most expensive companies on the official list of Government-approved firms sell coronavirus tests for around four times the price of the cheapest firms and five times if you want 24-hour weekend turnaround.
An investigation by the Daily Telegraph has found that this can be the difference between adding £1,000 to a family-of-four’s summer holiday overseas and a potentially more affordable charge of £240.
Every holidaymaker returning to Britain from May 17 will have to take a PCR test on or before the second day of arrival, even when travelling back from a so-called ‘green list country’. People coming back to the UK from ‘amber’ or ‘red list’ countries will have to take two tests, on days two and eight.
It follows plans by minsters to cut the cost of PCR tests and remove any private testing firms that were ‘profiteering’ from the official list, after the Government announced a huge expansion of twice-weekly testing.
Boris Johnson said the multi-billion pound move can help the return to normality by picking up asymptomatic cases and identifying local outbreaks faster.
But concerns were immediately raised as when used on that scale the tests could wrongly label tens of thousands of people a week as having Covid – forcing them to isolate and get more reliable PCR checks to show they are clear.
‘The Biden Administration has also been consulting in the US about opening up borders in advance of American Independence Day in July.’
One Whitehall source said Greece could make it on to the so-called ‘green list’ next month despite a recent rise in cases, while the USA, Gibraltar, Malta and much of the Caribbean are tipped for green status.
There remains a rumbling row over the Government’s plans to require people travelling to ‘green’ countries to be tested for coronavirus.
Current PCR prices mean a family of four with two children over the age of 11 could face a testing bill of approximately £500.
Airline bosses have called for the testing requirement to be ditched or for teh PCR tests to be replaced with lateral flow tests which take 30 minutes to deliver a result.
The Association of British Travel Agents has warned that the cost of testing could be a ‘major barrier’ to going abroad this summer.
Luke Petherbridge, Abta’s director of public affairs, told Sky News that the travel industry feels ‘an overriding sense of frustration’ with the ‘lack of detail’ in the Global Travel Taskforce’s recent report on how international travel could safely return.
He said the sector needs to know the precise criteria by which countries are going to be assessed to determine their risk levels.
Mr Petherbridge said: ‘Testing is going to be a major barrier to travel this summer – we need the Government to engage with the industry on how we can bring down the cost of testing.’
Commenting on the Global Travel Taskforce’s recommended approach to potentially low-risk countries, he said: ‘We cannot understand why countries in the green category should require a PCR test.
‘We believe a double lateral flow test approach would be a more proportionate approach to follow in that category.’
Mr Strutton told Sky News the Government should be subsidising the PCR tests to make the price more reasonable.
He also urged the Government to ‘kick-start’ international travel by offering the tests free to key workers as ‘they deserve a holiday’.
Mr Doyle said his airline will make PCR tests available to customers for just £60.
Randox, a major coronavirus testing firm, announced yesterday that it is to halve the cost of PCR tests for travellers returning to the UK from overseas in a bid to aid the sector’s recovery
This echoes the announcement by a major Covid testing firm that they were going to halve the price of their tests.
Randox said yesterday that it will charge holidaymakers jetting back to Britain £60 for the gold standard tests, rather than the usual £120 they would cost.
The cut-price tests will be available for customers of partnering airlines, which have not yet been revealed but Mr Doyle’s comments this morning suggest British Airways could be among them.
Randox managing director Dr Peter FitzGerald said today: ‘In recognition of the needs of both the travel industry and the British public at this unprecedented time, Randox will reduce the all-inclusive cost of PCR testing for those in the UK undertaking international travel to £60 per test.
‘We can see the pressures faced by both the travel industry and the general public and are committed to effective and economical testing to support holidaymakers and those undertaking international travel.’
The £60 PCR test will be ordered online and purchased using a discount code, Randox said.
It comes as easyJet has said it is getting ready to ‘ramp up’ services for the summer holiday season by offering more flights from late May after restrictions ease.
The carrier said it expects to fly up to 20 per cent of 2019 capacity levels between April and June, with most countries planning to resume flying at scale in May.
EasyJet flew just 14 per cent of its 2019 flight programme between October and the end of March.
The group confirmed it will slump to a steep first-half loss, of between £690 million and £730 million for the six months to March 31, but said this is slightly better than expected thanks largely to stringent cost-cutting.
It burned through around £470 million of cash during its second quarter to the end of December, which was lower than feared as it slashed costs by nearly 60 per cent to about £854 million.
Mr Lundgren said: ‘We continue to closely monitor the situation across Europe and, with vaccination programmes accelerating, most countries are planning to resume flying at scale in May.
‘We have the operational flexibility to rapidly increase flying and add destinations to match demand.
‘EasyJet is ready to resume flying, prepared for the ramp-up and looking forward to being able to reunite people with their families or take them on leisure and business flights once again.’
But he reiterated calls for the Government to cut the price of Covid-19 tests for air passengers, having previously said they sometimes cost more than easyJet’s tickets.
He said: ‘EasyJet was founded to make travel accessible for all and so we continue to engage with Government to ensure that the cost of the required testing is driven down so that it doesn’t risk turning back the clock and make travel too costly for some.’