Britain’s beleaguered aviation industry has issued a fresh plea for state help as the government set out plans to quarantine travellers from 33 countries in hotels and tightened COVID testing rules for all arrivals.
Travel shares fell after the announcement from Health Secretary Matt Hancock dampened hopes for a return to normality in time for the summer holiday season.
The airline Jet2 said it was extending the suspension of its flights, caused by coronavirus restrictions, to 14 April.
Hours earlier, holiday giant TUI said it had taken more than 2.8 million bookings for this year’s summer period, despite official advice that it was too soon to plan getaways over the summer.
Details of the quarantine policy, first flagged last month, represent the latest blow to a travel industry crushed by restrictions of varying severity since the onset of the pandemic last year.
It argues that it now needs targeted help, in addition to the furlough scheme in place across the economy, in order to survive.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, and Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said in a joint statement that the new restrictions added “a further barrier to viable air travel” and deepened the worsening gloom for this year’s prospects.
They called for regular reviews to ensure rules could be eased as soon as it is safe to do so, and for international travel to form part of the prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown.
The statement added: “Airports and airlines are battling to survive with almost zero revenue and a huge cost base, and practically every week a further blow lands.
“Aviation-specific financial support is urgently needed to ensure our sector can get through the year.
“UK aviation can be the conduit to the government’s global Britain and levelling-up agendas but only if we have viable and competitive sector still standing come the end of the pandemic.”
The call was backed by the CBI, whose chief UK policy director Matthew Fell, said: “Further, immediate support is now essential to protect companies and jobs in the aviation sector and its supply chains in the difficult months ahead.
“The UK’s world-class aviation sector – which underpins so much of our economic activity – must be supported so that it can play its full part in the country’s recovery.”
The new rules mean that from 15 February, travellers arriving from “red list” countries will have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days at a cost of £1,750.
Breaches will be punished with fines of up to £10,000 with a further fine and possible jail sentence of up to 10 years for anyone lying about having travelled to one of those ‘high-risk’ nations.
Meanwhile, those arriving from all countries will now have to take a PCR test on days two and eight of their 10-day self-isolation period – in addition to a negative test required before departure.
Spot checks to ensure they adhere to the rules have been stepped up.
Jet2 tweeted that “due to the ongoing uncertainty and travel restrictions” caused by the pandemic it would extend its suspension of flights.
Its shares fell nearly 4% and there were similar declines for easyJet, Ryanair and TUI while International Airlines Group, owner of British Airways, shed just over 3%.
Josh Mahony, senior market analyst at IG, said markets were reacting both to the details of the quarantine policy and the additional hurdles put in place for all arrivals.
“With travellers now needing a total of three tests either side of their arrival into the UK, airlines will worry that this could decimate what little demand there currently is to go abroad,” he said.