The head of global airline industry body IATA blames overly risk-averse governments for prolonging the COVID-19 crisis for the travel sector but expects the outlook to brighten in the second half of the year.

IATA Director General Willie Walsh, the former boss of British Airways owner IAG (ICAG.L), expects positive data on vaccine effectiveness to convince governments to start rolling back restrictions.

“There is some good evidence there to be optimistic that, going into the second half of this year, we will see a better environment that will allow more people to travel,” he told Reuters on Friday.

Most international air travel remains depressed almost 18 months into the pandemic because of continuing restrictions.

Walsh, who took the top job at IATA in April, said that governments are being too risk-averse and need to change rules to reflect data showing that vaccinated travel or travel with testing poses little risk to a country’s infection rate.

“The crisis in the airline industry, which was initially caused by a health pandemic, is now really a crisis caused by restrictions being imposed by government,” Walsh said.

He singled out Britain in particular, citing rules that require people entering the UK from nearly all countries to take at least two coronavirus tests and enter quarantine. Walsh also hit out at what he said was “incredible farcical confusion” created by mixed political messages on travel.

Many countries on Britain’s “amber list” for medium-risk travel have very, very low transmission rates, said Walsh.

“If I was vaccinated, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly to these countries,” he said of places such as the United States, Spain, France and Italy, which were top destinations for Britons before the pandemic.

Britain and the United States both have high vaccination levels, which Walsh said gives him confidence that a travel corridor could be opened between the countries in June.

“I think there’s a good reason to be optimistic that we should be able to see the UK and U.S. open transatlantic flying again,” he said.

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The UK has introduced a ‘traffic light’ system for travel. Photo: Getty Images

The UK has introduced a ‘traffic light’ system for travel. Photo: Getty Images

Heathrow’s chief has said the UK government should significantly expand the list of countries that are on the ‘green list’ where passengers can travel freely, as it continues to take a hit from the pandemic.

“The government’s green list is very welcome, but they need to expand it massively in the next few weeks to include other low risk markets such as the United States, and remove the need for fully vaccinated passengers to take two expensive PCR tests,” said Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye.

The airport group also said fully vaccinated people should be allowed to travel without any restrictions.

The UK has introduced a ‘traffic light’ system for travel, where countries are divided into green, amber and red. From 17 May, Britons traveling to green list nations don’t need to quarantine when they return to the UK unless the COVID-19 test they take on or before day two after their return is positive.

In contrast, those who return from red list countries must pay £1,075 ($1,519) and quarantine in a hotel. Those coming back from amber nations must quarantine at home. It is also illegal to travel to these places for leisure.

READ MORE: EasyJet urges UK government to put Europe on ‘green list’

So far, there are only 12 countries marked ‘green’, including Portugal, Iceland and Australia. The list will be reviewed and possibly more countries added next month.

Heathrow said the green list is “overly cautious” and 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.”

Heathrow also announced it lost 6.2 million passengers in April, down 92.1%, compared to pre-pandemic 2019 figures.

It said fewer passenger flights are also hurting the UK’s supply chain and British exporters, with a 12% drop in the cargo that travelled through the airport, compared to April 2019.

“Reopening critical trading routes such as the United States will enable exporters to reconnect with key global networks and unlock billions of pounds worth of trade and exports,” it said in a statement.

Last month, EasyJet’s (EZJ.L) CEO urged the UK to put most of Europe on its ‘green list’.

The company conducted a study which it said found that travel to and from popular European destinations including Spain and Greece would increase COVID hospitalisations would not affect the UK’s case rate.

‘Green list’ countries



Falkland Islands

Faroe Islands



Israel and Jerusalem

New Zealand

Portugal (including the Azores and Madeira)


South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands

St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha

Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?

Aircraft operated by Emirates, at Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates.

Christopher Pike | Bloomberg | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The chief executive of Dubai Airports panned a decision by authorities in the United Kingdom to keep the UAE on its international travel “red” list, as new data from the group shows passenger traffic through the airport fell 67.8% in the first quarter.  

“I think the approach is wrong,” Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths told Dubai Eye Radio on Thursday, expressing frustration at the rule, which bans air travel or forces a costly quarantine on arrival for thousands of Brits in the Emirates who want to go home.   

U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps indicated the UAE could stay on the list due to its status as an international transit hub, despite falling cases and the world’s second-fastest vaccination rate. 

“I can’t be too honest with you about my thoughts about those comments,” Griffiths said when asked to respond. “We’ve made very strong representations to the British government about the credibility of the numbers here and the way we’re handling everything.”  

Griffiths called for “a far more proactive relationship” to address the confusion surrounding the ruling, as public frustration grows. The UAE remains on the U.K. red list, even though Abu Dhabi has the U.K. on its own “green” list of travel countries. 

“There are countries on the (United Kingdom) green list that we believe haven’t taken anything like the care and the number of measures that we’ve put in place here in Dubai to keep everyone safe,” Griffiths said. “It’s just not practical in terms of how we’re going to get back to life as we once knew it.” 

Spokespersons for the U.K.’s Foreign Office and Transport Ministry were not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC. Last week, Shapps said: “We’re not restricting the UAE due to the level of coronavirus in the UAE. The issue is one of transit.”

The U.K. Foreign Office currently “advises against all but essential travel to the whole of the United Arab Emirates based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks.”

A health worker checks a man’s temperature before receiving a dose of vaccine against the coronavirus at a vaccination center set up at the Dubai International Financial Center in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, on February 3, 2021. The United Arab Emirates has suffered a spike in cases after the holiday period.

Photo by KARIM SAHIB | AFP via Getty Images

The UAE has administered more than 9.9 million vaccine doses out of its population of roughly 10 million people, only behind Israel in the global vaccination race. Residents in Dubai can choose from the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, U.K.-developed AstraZeneca, the American-German made Pfizer jab or Russia’s Sputnik V, while residents of Abu Dhabi could access only Sinopharm until Pfizer was introduced in the capital emirate last week. 

Some in the medical community have cast doubt on the efficacy of the Sinopharm shot, due to conflicting

Sean Doyle, the recently appointed chief executive of British Airways has warned in an opinion piece in the Sun on Sunday that there could be more job losses on the horizon unless travel restrictions are significantly eased in time for the summer.

Last year, the Heathrow-based airline shed more than 10,000 jobs in its response to the pandemic, drawing ire from its own employees, trade unions and lawmakers.

Photo Credit: British Airways

The British government is set to lift a blanket ban on non-essential international travel on May 17 but only a handful of countries are likely to make the so-called ‘Green List’ with the fewest restrictions. Even then, Doyle worries that many families could be priced out of a holiday because of expensive PCR testing rules.

“British people should be benefiting from the world-leading vaccination programme that is not only stopping us getting seriously ill but is reducing the spread of the virus,” Doyle argues.

“If you’ve been vaccinated and you are coming back home from a low-risk ‘green’ country where there’s also a high rate of vaccination and a low rate of infection, you shouldn’t have to take an expensive test as the Government demands,” he continues.

British Airways has managed to reduce the cost of a post-arrival PCR test to just £60, although even that could be too expensive for many travellers. Instead, Doyle wants vaccinated travellers to be fully exempted from testing rules, while those still waiting or unable to have the jab should be allowed to take a single cheap rapid test.

“For people who haven’t been vaccinated, the science shows that a single rapid Covid test can detect almost all cases,” Doyle claims.

“Health Secretary Matt Hancock says these affordable tests, which are being used in care homes and schools and give results in 30 minutes, are “extremely accurate”.”

Doyle also hits out at the lack of progress on vaccination passports, saying that the airline industry has already developed the mobile apps to make them a reality but is still waiting for governments to find ways to link the apps with health records that prove vaccination status.

Ministers have been warned that unless they approve vaccination passports (that would also show proof of testing status) in time for the summer then arriving passengers trying to enter the UK could face six or seven-hour queues at the border.

The government, however, are fearful that relaxing existing travel restrictions too soon could lead to a spike in infections and the importation of vaccine-resistant virus variants.

There are now 40 countries on the UK’s ‘Red List’ from which travellers must spend 10-days in an approved quarantine hotel. Only British and Irish nationals, as well as those with residence rights in the UK, are allowed to travel from these countries and in some cases direct flights have also been suspended.

Doyle would rather see a “risk-based approach” that “rewards Britons for their efforts” by opening up much of Europe and the United States as soon as possible. If