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British Airlines Demand End of COVID-19 Testing and Emergency Financial Support to Survive Winter

British Airlines Demand End of COVID-19 Testing and Emergency Financial Support to Survive Winter

british airways. Photo Credit: Arie Wubben via Unsplash

Chief executives of Britain’s biggest airlines sent a joint letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday demanding the government remove emergency COVID-19 travel testing rules and provide the sector with a bespoke package of financial support to survive the winter.

The British government removed most travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers in November but ministers quickly clamped down on international travel as soon as the Omicron variant was detected in South Africa.

In the last few weeks, travel has become steadily more difficult as stringent restrictions like hotel quarantine, self-isolation and post-arrival PCR testing has been reintroduced. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps promised not to bring back pre-departure testing because the measure could decimate the industry but days later did exactly that.

Despite acknowledging that the new slew of restrictions could put significant pressure on the aviation and travel industries, the British government has not offered any additional financial support.

Airlines had been looking forward to making up for lost earnings over the summer with plans to fill planes to once shut off destinations like the United States and South Africa. They now claim confidence has been battered by the constantly changing rules that are often introduced with little to no warning.

“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.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has suggested that travel restrictions might be lifted as the Omicron variant takes over from the Delta strain but so far the government has failed to provide a timeline for when those restrictions might be eased.

The World Health Organisation has repeatedly called on the British government to end blanket travel bans but those calls have fallen on deaf ears. Since the WHO levelled criticism at the UK, the government slapped Nigeria with a travel ban.

The travel restrictions are due to be reviewed on December 20 and at that point the airline chief executives want testing rules to be dropped and a “package of bespoke economic support measures” to be provided immediately “to bridge the sector 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.

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