24 JANUARY 2022


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Article from BTNews 24 JANUARY 2022

COMMENT: Dear Secretary of State *

Sunday 23 January 2022.

Here is a letter to the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid from a number of British airline CEOs, calling for a return to restriction-free international travel.

This is written in the light of various statements by the World Health Organisation that blanket travel restrictions are wholly ineffective in dealing with Covid variants.

As leaders of UK-based airlines, we are writing to urge you to immediately restore restriction-free international travel, at the very least for the fully vaccinated.  International travel is one of the few areas where there is no return to normal yet.  Evidence shows that travel restrictions have not been effective in preventing the spread of Omicron or its impact on the NHS.

As you have said, Omicron is now in retreat across the UK. Recent research by Edge Health and Oxera – on behalf of Airlines UK and Manchester Airports Group – demonstrates the limited effect of travel restrictions in reducing Omicron’s spread, but also how travel measures are unlikely ever to make a meaningful difference to future variants. In part this reflects the success of the UK’s booster rollout, but also the failure of travel restrictions to limit the spread of Omicron and their ineffectiveness over time, as the World Health Organisation highlighted again this week.

Last summer saw restriction-free travel across Europe for the fully vaccinated, with no signs this led to worse outcomes than the UK experienced. A number of countries are already moving back to this position, including Germany, Spain and Switzerland, who now require no testing for the fully vaccinated. It is time for passengers and businesses who rely upon the UK’s air connectivity to fully benefit from the same vaccine dividend that has enabled our domestic economy to reopen.   

The damaging impact of travel restrictions must be weighed against the marginal public health benefits. Travel restrictions have caused significant damage to our economy and wider society. The UK suffered a 71% collapse in the number of international departures in 2021 compared to 2019. The complicated, costly and unstable travel rules have seen UK passenger numbers and international connectivity recover slower than our European neighbours (Eurocontrol data shows we are 15%, 18% and 20% behind Germany, France and the Netherlands, respectively).

This has meant fewer business trips and less investment in our economy, fewer chances for holidays and to reunite with friends and family abroad, and fewer international visitors. VisitBritain estimate nearly £50bn in tourism spend from overseas has been lost since the pandemic began – all resulting in less tax revenue to fund public services including the NHS. The recovery of the UK’s aviation industry is vital; not just to the more than half a million people working in it, but to everyone who lives and works in the UK.

We are calling on you to apply the lessons learned about the effectiveness of travel measures, and capitalise on the success of the UK’s booster programme, by supporting the following measures to finally return air travel to near normality:

  • Deliver restriction-free travel, at the very least, for fully vaccinated travellers now;
  • Implement a clear protocol for managing future variants that brings stability back into international travel and promotes traveller confidence, through the targeted and transparent use of a Red List, and without recourse to knee-jerk universal testing or hotel quarantine;
  • Rule out border closures and flight bans in response to future Variants of Concern.

These measures would send the strongest possible signal that the UK has turned a corner, is truly looking to live alongside the virus, and is mobilising its world-beating aviation sector to turbo-boost our recovery and deliver Global Britain.

Yours sincerely,

Sean Doyle, CEO, British Airways
Andrew Flintham, Managing Director, Tui UK & Ireland
Steve Heapy, CEO, Jet2.com
Jonathan Hinkles, CEO, Loganair
Johan Lundgren, CEO, easyJet
Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic
Eddie Wilson, CEO, Ryanair

The letter was sent and coordinated by Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK, the British licensed air carriers' official body.

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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

Barry Graham, Washington

It doesn't say anything about masks, or are they history now as they are elsewhere in the UK, good riddance?

An airline employee , West London

I work for one of the airlines represented in this letter and fully support our CEO. But does Government listen to aviation? Not much in the last two years.