UK’s amber list travel advice is confusing, says easyJet chief

Airline’s CEO says health data proves majority of European countries should be moved to green list

EasyJet has criticised the government’s “confusing” approach over travel to amber countries, as the airline claimed health data proves the majority of European destinations should be moved to the green list.

Johan Lundgren, easyJet chief executive, said that while other European stateswere lifting restrictions, the UK was out of step, failing to add countries to the green list and advising holidaymakers not to go to those designated as amber risk.

“The messaging has been very confusing to say the least,” said Lundgren. “Restrictions are being unwound in countries clearly regarded as low risk. No doubt the UK government is taking a much more cautious approach and we don’t believe this is backed up by the latest data. Greece and Spain in our view, supported by the latest data, could be safely added to the green list. The majority of countries in Europe should be on the green list.”

The ban on foreign holidays was lifted on Monday, allowing restriction-free travel to a dozen countries on the government’s green list, with Portugal the only major European destination. However, Boris Johnson has said that holidays should not be taken in those countries designated amber – about 170 destinations – which require isolation for 10 days after returning.

Lundgren said it was never the case that under the traffic-light system an amber designation meant people should not travel there.

He said the airline had an obligation to customers “who want to see families, multiple people who travel for business – and we have people who want to go on holiday, that is the number one priority people have coming out of this.

“The traffic light system was there to make sure that there was a safe and sustainable plan to restart travel, and that’s why different restrictions were applied. Now there is different advice. We fly to amber countries, there are restrictions in place to make it safe to do so, and there is demand to do so,” he said.

“People should be free to travel without any guilt but the messaging has been confusing about that. Amber has turned into red. If there are countries the government doesn’t want people to go to then it should put them on the red list.

EasyJet has said it can get almost its entire fleet in the air to take holidaymakers to green list destinations this summer – if the designation of safe travel areas is expanded - as the airline reported a £700m loss and 90% plunge in passenger numbers in the six months to the end of March. EasyJet operates 318 aircraft.

The budget airline said based on current restrictions, it expected to fly about only 15% of its 2019 capacity between April and June, but added that there had been strong demand for more than 105,000 new seats made available for the summer, primarily in Portugal, after the government’s announcement of green list countries this month.

Lundgren said: “We were prepared, we made sure that the fleet was in flight-ready mode and the crew trained so we could start flying when restrictions were removed.”

He said easyJet could ramp up capacity whenever new countries were added: “The demand is absolutely there. There is no doubt.”

Meanwhile, he said, the airline aimed to maximise its capacity in Europe. “Half of our traffic is outside of the UK, and we are very pleased to Europe is unlocking travel with no restrictions in many cases if you are vaccinated. We are prepared to lead in the recovery when it now comes.”

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EasyJet passenger numbers plunged 89.4% year on year in the six months to the end of March, from 38.6 million to 4.1 million. The carrier flew only 14% of its 2019 flight schedule for the same period.

Total revenues plunged by 90% to £240m, from £2.4bn a year earlier, as easyJet reported a headline loss before tax of £701m. The company had guided analysts to a loss of between £690m to £730m.

EasyJet has instituted a cost-cutting programme to mitigate some of the financial toll Covid is having on its business, which aims to deliver £500m in savings this year.


Mark Sweney and Gwyn Topham

The GuardianTramp

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