The UK is pressing ahead with a two-week quarantine on international arrivals, a move British Airways and other carriers say will devastate tourism and wreck any chance the summer holiday season could spark a recovery from a virus-induced slump.
BA, EasyJet and Ryanair have threatened to sue the government over the policy, which takes effect Monday, saying the restrictions will be ineffective at curtailing Covid-19 while threatening to destroy thousands of jobs. The airlines fear the move will make lockdown-weary customers put off bookings just as carriers add capacity.
“With the uncertainty over the rules, even those people who would have thought about going away on holiday in July or August are now holding off from making bookings since nobody really knows how long the rules will last,” said John Strickland, director of JLS Consulting in London, who has held senior positions at BA and KLM.
“Being locked down at home for two weeks after a holiday is something that a lot of people can’t really afford to do.”
With virus infection levels on the decline in most European countries, governments have been easing travel restrictions, and beaches are opening in places like Greece, Spain and Portugal. Airlines are trying to salvage the summer season when tens of millions of people generally travel.
The UK is one of the world’s top 10 tourist destinations and attracted more than 35 million visitors last year who spent more than US$50 billion.
The quarantine would torpedo BA’s plans to resume about 40% of its scheduled flights in July and force it to continue burning US$25 million a day, the carrier said. EasyJet is planning to resume some of its schedule flights from June 15, while Ryanair plans to restart flying July 1.
In a “pre-action” letter to the Home Office, IAG - the owner of British Airways – wrote that the quarantine is stricter than the one applied to people infected with Covid-19, and exemptions for people living in Ireland and workers who commute from France and Germany will make it ineffective. Ryanair and EasyJet also signed the letter.
“In our view, the government has failed to identify a valid justification for the blanket nature of the regulations, more especially given the extremely severe nature of the self-isolation provisions that apply,” it said.
The Home Office declined to comment on the potential legal action, but James Slack, spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, told reporters last week the government wants to work with the airline industry as the UK moves through the pandemic.
The government defended the measure, saying it’s a key part of the strategy to avoid a second wave of infections that could overwhelm the health care system and further devastate the economy.
Britain has recorded 40,542 deaths, 10% of the global total, though the number of cases and fatalities is gradually declining, with 77 deaths reported on Sunday.
“The science is clear that if we limit the risk of new cases being brought in from abroad, we can help stop a devastating second wave,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement. “We all want to return to normal as quickly as possible, but this cannot be at the expense of lives.”
Patel announced the quarantine plan on May 22, just as the U. began to ease domestic lockdown measures, and it was met with opposition from the industry and lawmakers in Johnson’s own Conservative Party, who warned it would stifle economic recovery by signaling Britain is not “open for business.”
More than 500 tourism and hospitality companies, with combined sales of 10 billion pounds, have come together under the title “Quash Quarantine” and are deciding how best to combat the rules.
They are watching the airlines’ legal action “with keen interest,” according to leader George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of tour operator Red Savannah.
Jacques Gounon, president of channel tunnel operator Getlink, also wrote to Johnson on Saturday to complain the UK had failed to consult on the new rules or give enough notice of them being introduced. They put an unreasonable bureaucratic burden on staff and could pose a “serious risk” to the link’s efficiency, he wrote.
Under the new rules, travelers will have to give an address where they will be self-isolating before departing for Britain and foreign nationals who refuse to say where they’ll be staying could be refused entry. Officials will conduct spot checks to ensure compliance, and can impose a £ 1,000 fine on people found breaking the rules.
The threat to summer business is compounding the fallout from the virtual shutdown in global air travel that has forced BA to seek deep cost cuts.
The airline warned its pilots union it would dismiss all of its 4,300 pilots and rehire them on individual contracts unless an agreement can be reached on new employment terms, the Balpa union said on Saturday.
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