Airlines and travel firms have urged the government to move quickly to open up travel to more European destinations and the US, as thousands of people flew abroad after Britain’s ban on foreign holidays was lifted on Monday.
British Airways and Heathrow criticised the limited green list of 12 countries where quarantine-free travel is permitted, and called on the government to publish an “expected list” of destinations under consideration for summer travel to allow customers to plan.
The Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said France, Greece and Spain should be included, and that he was “surprised and disappointed” that the Caribbean had not made it to the green list.
“This is now getting urgent … if there is no getaway in July and August, many companies will not make it to next year,” he said.
“It’s not a choice between public health and the economy. We can do both, applying the government’s risk-based approach.”
The BA chief executive, Sean Doyle, said: “It’s clear to us that America should be on the green list.”
The easyJet chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said: “The latest data suggests that most of Europe could actually already from right now go on to that green list of categories.”
So far, of big holiday destinations from the UK, only Portugal is on the green list. Airlines are selling flights to other European countries in expectation that they will be added by summer – although ministers were explicit at the weekend that people should not travel to countries on the amber list.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, warned that the amber list – including Spain, France, Italy and Greece – featured “places that you shouldn’t go to unless you have an absolutely compelling reason”.
Boris Johnson signalled on Friday that the list would not be expanded soon, with concern over new Covid variants, particularly from India.
Medical experts also cautioned against travel. Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust charity, told the BBC: “I think travel should still be very cautious and only when absolutely essential.”
Passengers who travel to an amber country are required to quarantine at home for 10 days on their return, while those going to green list countries must take a test while abroad and again two days after return, as well as the other countries’ pre-departure requirements.
Holiday flights were departing from airports around the UK on Monday to Portugal, with 16 landing at Faro in the Algarve alone.
The Gatwick airport chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said the restart of leisure travel was a big relief. Although the Sussex airport still only expects less than 15% of pre-pandemic traffic by the end of May, he said: “It’s an important day for us, and important first step, and very much we’re looking forward to seeing more countries added to the green list in the weeks ahead.”
Passengers spoke of their delight at heading abroad. Keith and Janice Tomsett, aged 72 and 71, from West Chiltington in West Sussex, were flying from Gatwick on Monday morning to the Portuguese island of Madeira.
Keith Tomsett told the PA news agency: “We’ve gone through all the hoops, PCR testing … after 15 months of being locked up this is unbelievably good.”
At Heathrow, Erica Stolton, 29, was heading to Madrid to introduce her baby to her family. She told Reuters: “It feels absolutely magical. It’s been really hard, the situation with this pandemic.”
The government has said it will next update the lists on 7 June.
BA’s Doyle said he believed that there was momentum in the US, as well as the UK, to open a transatlantic travel corridor: “They have an airline segment where the domestic market has been operating close to normal levels and the economy is opening up … They’re coming from a position where momentum is building and international travel is clearly in their sights.”
He denied airlines were pushing unduly in the face of health concerns: “We haven’t been pushing for unfettered opening of travel … Our first call really is to use the data to get more countries into green. It’s important that we have a framework to plan against.
“We have an opportunity to have friction-free travel for people who’ve been vaccinated, and then we can focus resources on other elements of risk. We’re trying to be constructive and pragmatic.”
Doyle said BA passengers who booked for amber destinations would have the flexibility to change their flights should they not move to the green list.
Meanwhile, the Department for Transport has launched a Covid charter for holidaymakers to keep them informed of their rights and responsibilities while travelling abroad – including underlining that they have a right to a full refund should a flight, ferry, cruise or package holiday be cancelled.
The aviation minister, Robert Courts, said: “If you are heading aboard this summer, you need to be aware that travel will be different, and prepare accordingly.”