LONDON – Airlines, travel companies, and MPs have all responded furiously to the sudden announcement from 10 Downing Street that the UK will place a ban on holidays from November 5 to December 2, with warnings that this will “crucify the travel industry”.

As part of the country’s second lockdown, all domestic and international travel has been banned unless for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions. The statement from the government said “There is no exemption for staying away from home on holiday. This means people cannot travel internationally or within the UK.”

The government also stated that “Overnight stays away from primary residences will not be allowed, except for specific exemptions including for work”.

Heathrow, Terminal 5A, check-in hall, COVID-19 signage, 20th May 2020.

Lockdowns and No Testing Regime

Many travel business leaders remain furious that they were not consulted about these changes nor pre-warned about this move that will leave the industry with further increasing financial implications. This announcement is expected to trigger a spike in demand for refunds similar to that seen when the country first entered lockdown in March. The increase in refunds is expected to further add pressure to the already struggling companies.

Chief Executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, Julia Lo Bue-Said, said, “The ban on international and domestic travel as a result of the new lockdown measures will crucify the travel industry. Many of our travel agency members will not last the year without a financial support package from the government.”

It was also added that the UK travel industry have been “crying out” for a testing regime to be implemented. However, instead, “we have an increase in Covid cases, an ineffective yo-yo quarantine system, and a lack of travel corridors”.

Photo: Briish Airways

Policy U-Turns

The bodies representing the UK’s airlines and airports issued a joint statement that condemned what they called “a 180-degree reversal of policy since the government added the Canaries to the travel corridors list just last week.”

Chief Executive of Airlines UK, Tim Alderslade, and Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, Karen Dee, have said that “Aviation has been devastated by the pandemic” and that the industry has never been given the opportunity to recover.

It was also added that “Hundreds of thousands of jobs and our economic recovery are on the line”. The ban on travel will mean that airlines and airports are closed businesses and will “require financial support now” (like those seen in other sectors) alongside a comprehensive restart package.

easyJet procession. Photo: easyJet.

Recent Surge in Bookings

The news comes of the travel ban follows last week’s announcement that popular winter destinations in the Canary Islands were removed from the government’s “no-go” list only last weekend.

Multiple airlines and holiday companies reported a surge in bookings for holidays in the Canaries during November. However, any trip that was due to depart after Wednesday 4 November and before December 3 will no longer go ahead.

Chief Executive of easyJet Holidays, Garry Wilson, said the industry needs a standard scheme of testing across Europe and this is a key element as “it will provide more certainty for customers and get them traveling with confidence again.” The government claims that it is “working at pace” with the travel industry on a test-and-release plan to allow the current 14-day quarantine to be roughly halved. The Global Travel Taskforce is due to report back imminently.

The Conservative chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation, Henry Smith, condemned the travel ban calling it “another serious blow to the already beleaguered aviation, travel and tourism industries, its employees and the communities who rely on them”. Mr. Smith is the MP for Crawley, where thousands of people rely on Gatwick (LGW) for their jobs and livelihoods.

Mr. Smith, a prominent Brexiteer, said. “We can’t have a global Britain without a thriving aviation sector and the consequences of failing to act to protect them are simply unthinkable”. Despite this, the government claims it has supported 55,800 passenger air travel employees under the job retention scheme and the aviation sector has been able to benefit from £1.8bn in support.

Despite only initially lasting a month, cabinet ministers have hinted that the restrictions may last longer should the spread of Coronavirus not be brought under control.

Photo: Ryanair

Mismanaged Air Travel

Low-cost carrier easyJet [U2] has outlined plans to review its schedule in the next month. The company’s CEO, Johan Lundgren, said the government’s “sudden announcement” means it will operate its planned schedules until Thursday and will be reviewing its flying program over the lockdown. Lundgren added that “It is likely that much of the UK touching schedule will be canceled during lockdown with our planned flying set to resume in early December”.

Rival low-cost carrier Ryanair [FR], has hit out at the European government’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic after the first set of restrictions contributed to a €197m (US$229m) loss for the six months to September. The airline’s passenger numbers also fell by 80% over this period to 17 million.

The airline said, “The group expects to carry approximately 38 million passengers in FY21 (full-year 2021), although this guidance could be further revised downwards if EU governments continue to mismanage air travel and impose more uncoordinated travel restrictions or lockdowns this winter.”

Holiday carrier Jet2 [LS] have said it will continue to operate its planned schedule until November 4 and would still continue to accept bookings. “Following the UK government announcement about additional restrictions in England, we are working with the government to obtain much-needed clarity about what it means for those wishing to holiday overseas,” the airline said.

TUI UK [BY] has announced that “holidays departing from airports in England from November 5 to December 2 are unable to go ahead”. The carrier did also hint at some uncertainties in the UK market and stated that it would update travelers from Scotland and Wales “as soon as we know more.”

Photo: TUI

What Do the New Restrictions Mean?

Consumer advice company Which? have created a Q&A which aims to answer the most common questions that consumers may have following the government’s announcement. However, it is always best to check with your airline before you travel as this may vary on a case by case basis.

If you are in England and have a package holiday booked between the dates of the lockdown, your carrier will be cancelled and you’ll receive a refund for this. However, passengers with flight only-bookings may not be offered a refund if their flight is still operated. However, if you cancel your flight or holiday, you will forfeit the right to a refund.

Airline’s phone lines will be busy over this time. You can read the full article by Which?

Featured image: LHR