10 MAY 2021


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Article from BTNews 10 MAY 2021

COMMENT: Willie Walsh & Grant Shapps

The former boss of BA owner IAG and now director general of IATA has issued one of the shortest press releases on record in response to the UK Government announcement of countries on the ‘Traffic Light’ scheme! See Green list press conference in this week's BTN. 

“It is very disappointing and frankly not worth commenting on,” Willie Walsh is quoted in an official IATA statement.

The big question is whether he would have used such words if he had still been in charge of British Airways, offering something more conciliatory, recognising the awkward position the British Government finds itself.  IATA of course represents not just the British airlines but the worldwide member carriers that fly into UK airports.

The reaction to the Downing Street early Friday evening press conference has been mixed, some blunt, as with Walsh, others offering an understanding of the situation.  The fact that Paul Lincoln, head of Border Control, appeared next to Grant Shapps, transport minister, was a recognition that long waits at Heathrow and other points of entry was a very serious problem that needs sorting out.  Brits will wait with some degree of patience in the immigration areas, but foreign nationals, who have a choice, will quicky find alternative business and holiday locations.  In an age of technology bad news spreads fast.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye summed it up:

“Grant Shapps has made a positive start to reunite families, boost international trade and allow overseas holidays. As further progress is made with the vaccine rollout at home and abroad, we should see a significant extension of the 'green' list in early June and a change to the testing requirements so that fully vaccinated people can travel without restrictions. The Government should help people plan ahead by publishing a list of countries expected to be on the green list for the summer holidays so that passengers are not faced with high prices for last-minute bookings.

“The Government also needs to urgently address the unacceptable situation at the border, where passengers can wait for longer than their flight to the UK.”

Tim Alderslade, representing the British airlines plainly voiced his members collective views:

“This is a missed opportunity and with so few countries making it onto the green list it represents a reopening of air travel in name only.  
“By contrast the EU has said vaccinated people will be able to travel without restrictions which leaves the UK at risk of falling behind and not opening up international travel to key markets across Europe as well as the United States.”

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA, was diplomatic with his remarks but with an underlining tone.

“Although it was good to hear the minister say he wants people to be able to travel this summer, this is a slower and more cautious approach than previously outlined by the Government and will delay the industry’s recovery. We understand that public health is the Government’s priority, and it was always expected that the return to international travel would be gradual, but the Government must use the next review to open up travel to more destinations, using the traffic light system to manage risk.

Dale Keller, CEO of The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (the 70 strong foreign airlines trade group), could be more outspoken.

“This tepid reopening marks an important first phase, but the very limited number of countries initially allocated as ‘green for go’ from 17 May will leave a lot of people disappointed and aircraft and jobs grounded. The majority of countries remain in the amber category with arrival restrictions unchanged from today regardless of vaccination status, so there is little prospect of business or leisure traffic building significantly on these routes in the first phase. Governments clearly still have much more to achieve in this regard.”

Next Monday (17 May) is when this latest ‘Traffic Light’ initiative becomes law and whilst holiday companies and airlines are suggesting a surge of interest this can only be suggestive based only on recent bookings.  People are holding back.

On 21 June the present travel rules are supposed to be removed, but with hesitation, and the country list reviewed every three weeks.  Centered on the prime minister’s positive views on where the United Kingdom is on dealing with the pandemic the next thing for government is to announce a date when Mr Shapps can again appear and this time give us real positive news for the summer holiday season.  The country, the travel industry, and the rest of the world wants to know.

Sad to say the press conference was something of a charade or perhaps even fiction. The ‘green’ list countries depend on the entry regulations at the other end. We are not there yet!

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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

James Jones, Golders Green London

I rushed home via the Tube to hear but my former MP had to say, and was disappointed. We as a family are not booking an overseas holiday as of present. Too many challenges!