Airlines and travel groups criticise UK's 'disproportionate' PCR test rules

Key figures in the industry accuse Boris Johnson of going back on his word

Passengers wait around in the terminal building at Gatwick Airport after drones flying illegally over the airfield forced the clossure of the airport, in Gatwick, Britain, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
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Airline bosses in Britain have criticised the government’s new travel rules to tackle the Omicron surge and accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of breaking a pledge he made to the industry.

The latest Covid-19 variant prompted ministers to reimpose testing rules and bring back the red list which makes hotel quarantine mandatory for arrivals from 11 nations.

After months of pressure from figures in the ailing sector to scrap costly PCR tests in favour of cheaper lateral flow tests, the government agreed to do so in October in time for the midterm school holidays. But after Omicron was detected in the UK, the decision was reversed meaning post-arrival PCR tests are now mandatory for all travellers – and self-isolation is required until a negative result comes back. The rule applies to all travellers, regardless of their vaccination status.

Everyone entering the UK must show a negative Covid-19 test result, either from a lateral flow or PCR test, and those coming from one of the 11 African nations on the red list must quarantine in a hotel at a cost of £2,285.

The UK’s largest airlines and travel companies criticised the restrictions, which some called “haphazard and disproportionate”.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, the chief executives of seven companies – including Ryanair and British Airways – accused him of breaking his promises to scrap PCR tests. Bosses of Tui UK, easyJet, Loganair, Virgin Atlantic, Jet2 and trade group Airlines UK also put their names on the letter.

The industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Reuters

“As leaders of UK airlines, we are deeply concerned about the haphazard and disproportionate approach by government to travel restrictions following the emergence of the Omicron variant”, they said.

They added that the timing of the restrictions, so close to Christmas, had “undermined customer sentiment”.

“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,” they wrote.

“Instead, the layering of additional travel restrictions, introduced at short notice without consultation or discernible strategy, have disrupted Christmas plans and undermined customer sentiment just before the crucial Christmas and New Year booking season – up to 30 per cent of tickets are sold.”

In the letter, the leaders demanded that “all emergency testing for fully vaccinated passengers should be removed at the formal review on December 20” and a “package of bespoke economic support measures should be provided immediately to bridge the sector through this crisis”.

They requested an “urgent” meeting with Mr Johnson to discuss the challenges facing the industry, which has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The group referred to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’s admission that the new round of restrictions could “kill off” the travel industry.

“We urge you to act now to prevent this from happening,” they said.

The public letter came as ministers are set to consider whether to replace hotel quarantine with self-isolation at home for fully vaccinated travellers.

Mr Shapps is said to have convinced his Cabinet colleagues to scrap hotel quarantine for the red list in favour of testing and isolation at home for fully vaccinated travellers, the Daily Mail reported.

Updated: December 13, 2021, 10:39 AM