England’s travel green list sends Madeira flight bookings soaring

Portugal is only major European ‘sun and sand’ destination on list of countries for quarantine-free travel

Notorious crosswinds can make for some nauseating landings and the relatively short runway is not for the faint-hearted.

Yet after months of lockdown it seems that not even the reputation of its international airport is deterring people in England from looking to Madeira, which has had the biggest jump in popularity among destinations on the government quarantine-free travel “green list”.

Daily booking volumes recorded by Skyscanner for flights to the Atlantic archipelago jumped by 625% on Friday after Portugal became the only major European “sun and sand” destination for which self-isolation would not be necessary on a return for people in England.

With the country now hoping to welcome tourists back from next week, the Portuguese government is expected to outline its plan for the reactivation of the sector on Thursday.

Other figures provided to the Guardian by Skyscanner for economy-class return flights from the UK showed that planned travel to Gibraltar went up by 335%.

The other major choice was Israel, for which the daily booking volume was up by 290%. The green light for quarantine-free travel to the country with the world’s highest vaccination rate is also being seen as a lifeline for the airline industry.

From June, Virgin Atlantic plans to restart its daily flights between London Heathrow and Tel Aviv, which are running four times weekly at the moment.

At the weekend, bookings from the UK to Tel Aviv were up by nearly 250% week on week, with June the most popular month to travel. The lowest lead-in fare in economy was £269 at the time of writing.

Strict restrictions have proved highly effective in Portugal, which is at the end of a staggered exit from the lockdown that was imposed in January. At the end of April, Manuel Lobo Antunes, Portugal’s ambassador to the UK, told Sky News the country was hopeful that “from the middle of May, regular mobility between the UK and Portugal and vice versa can be established”.

Among the other countries and territories on the green list, Iceland was expected to emerge as a destination for which operators were likely to lay on new flights.

Somewhat less prominent, however, were the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.

Carol George, who rents out a self-catering property, Peak View, nestled in lush green countryside near to the south coast of St Helena, told the Guardian she had yet to receive booking inquiries from the UK.

“At the moment arrivees would be required to quarantine for 14 days in any case and we only have flights once every 6 weeks or so at the moment, which might not work for tourists who can’t be away from work for such a lengthy period of time,” she said. “However, for any retirees with more time on their hands, this would be the perfect place to visit.”

As British airline stocks lost ground on Monday following the limited reopening of travel, watchers of the sector predicted that the top four destinations for British travellers – Spain, France, Italy and the US – would make the green list by June.

“We expect the number of countries on the green list to grow next month to include many of our popular summer destinations,” the easyJet chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said in a statement. The British Airways owner, IAG, easyJet, Jet2 and TUI were all down 2-3% as they traded for the first time since Friday.

The UK government has said it will review the list every three weeks – giving two more chances for other major summer holiday destinations to make it before peak season starts in July.

Stephen Furlong, an analyst at Davy Group, said that while the initial green list was “a bit of a damp squib”, airlines were preparing for a late summer.

“Rather than, you know, May to September, I think we’re probably talking about July to October,” he said, representing a shift in the peak season to accommodate the expected loosening in Covid-19 restrictions.


Ben Quinn, Hilary Osborne and Sam Jones

The GuardianTramp

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