Airline and holiday firms hit out at UK’s ‘utterly confusing’ travel advice

Bosses of easyJet, British Airways, Ryanair, Jet2, Tui UK and others write to Boris Johnson over situation

Airline and holiday firm bosses have joined in attacking the UK government’s “utterly confusing” advice on foreign travel, accusing ministers of “moving the goalposts” and lacking transparency over decisions on safe destinations.

The UK was being left behind Europe and throwing away the success of its coronavirus vaccination programme, they said, warning that another lost summer would have “grave consequences” for the industry.

The bosses of easyJet, British Airways, Ryanair, Jet2, Tui UK and others have written to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, to register their dismay at ministers’ comments suggesting travel was dangerous, urging the government to “stick to the framework” of the traffic light system instead of telling people to not visit amber-listed countries.

The letter says: “The government now appears not to want a meaningful restart to international travel this summer, and it is impossible for any business or consumers to plan under this scenario, such that we are genuinely fearful that some UK businesses may fail.”

Speaking earlier, the chief executive of easyJet, Johan Lundgren, said that there was no transparency on the parameters of the green list, compared with other European countries: “The government has made this into a guessing game, not led by data and science. It’s made it tremendously difficult for operators to plan.”

He contrasted it with conversations with European governments: “It’s how can we make it happen? That’s the attitude I’m seeing over there.”

The confusion was exacerbated by Foreign Office advice that was not aligned with the traffic light system, the travel firms said. The chief executive of Jet2holidays, Steve Heapy, said it was frustrating: “To have two separate lists is utterly confusing … we have to make decisions based on conflicting information.

“If one department in my business said one thing and another said another, I’d get them in my office and bang their bloody heads together – and that’s what needs to happen. It’s simple – customers want to know: can I travel or can’t I travel? And give me one answer.”

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Andrew Flintham, the managing director for Tui UK, said many customers had “been caught in the moral confusion over whether you should or shouldn’t go”. He added: “If you contrast that with our Dutch, Belgium or German business, the Europeans are looking at us slightly incredulous – we’ve got such a strong position, the best vaccine programme, and are not taking advantages from it.”

Lundgren downplayed fears of the spread of the India variant of Covid-19 stopping holidaymakers from going abroad this summer, saying the evidence was that vaccines were effective enough.

However, he said: “I don’t think that UK aviation as an industry can go through another lost summer without grave consequences. In that case, the government needs to be ready and prepared to step up – it is its restrictions that have made it impossible to operate for players in this industry.”

The global airlines body Iata later joined the criticism. Its director general, Willie Walsh, said: “The situation in the UK has been completely farcical, given the uncertainty that politicians created after these lists were published.”

He added: “I personally wouldn’t hesitate to travel and the UK government needs to re-evaluate based on its own data.”

The government has said it will review the countries on the green list on 7 June, three weeks after international leisure travel was legalised again, and review the working of the traffic light system on 28 June.

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, defended the government’s caution on reopening. Speaking to the Commons transport select committee, he said the “vaccine dividend means we can come out of our houses. It’s not the case you can travel freely abroad. We’ve got to follow the science. We’ve been round this circle before.”

Shapps said he had asked the joint biosecurity centre to consider whether island destinations – such as Spain’s Balearics or Canary Islands, or the Greek islands – could be green-listed even if the mainland was not. He said while it was “technically possible” there were concerns over genome sequencing and quality of data.

He added: “If you send even vaccinated people to other countries you are exposing them to risks they don’t have in the UK – and if they bring that back it’s all our risk.”


Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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