UK travel rules risk making vacations ‘only for the wealthy’

Under the “traffic signal” framework unveiled by the government on Friday, even Brits who travel to “green” countries deemed to be low risk must take a coronavirus polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test when they return to the United Kingdom. Each test costs around £120 ($165), adding £480 ($660) to the travel bill for a family of four.

Travel from the United Kingdom has been banned for months except for people with a “reasonable excuse.” But foreign trips could resume as soon as May 17 under the government’s roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions introduced in January.

“The insistence on expensive and unnecessary PCR testing rather than rapid testing — even for low-risk countries — will pose an unsustainable burden on passengers, making travel unviable and unaffordable for many people,” said Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, which represents carriers including British Airways (ICAGY), EasyJet (ESYJY) and Virgin Atlantic.

“It is also a further setback for an industry on its knees,” he added.

EasyJet (ESYJY), the biggest UK airline, called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider the plan, which also requires people to quarantine at home for 10 days upon return from an “amber” country, or spend 10 days in a hotel if they’ve been to a “red” destination. Travelers to destinations that fall into either category will need to take two PCR tests following their return to the United Kingdom.
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“This risks reversing the clock and making flying only for the wealthy,” EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said in a statement. “It is hugely frustrating that the taskforce has not delivered what the Prime Minister said they should achieve in making this flexible and affordable.”

Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said that travel to and from “green” countries should be unrestricted without testing.

The testing and quarantine requirements could deter many Brits from traveling abroad, meaning a second consecutive summer without the quick and easy budget getaways to countries including Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece that have largely replaced domestic holidays in recent decades.

The UK government won’t confirm the restart date for foreign travel, or announce which countries fall into which risk category, until early May.

Travel companies said the timetable doesn’t provide enough clarity for their businesses or consumers. Jet2, which sells packaged holidays and operates tours, said Friday it would extend its suspension of flights until June 23 because of continued uncertainty.

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“We still do not know when we can start to fly, where we can fly to and the availability and cost of testing. Rather than answering questions, the framework leaves everyone asking more,” CEO Steve Heapy said in a statement.

The UK government said that foreign travel restrictions would be reviewed on June 28, “to take account of the domestic and international health picture, and to see whether current measures could be rolled back.” Subsequent reviews will take place no later than July 31 and October 1.

“The framework announced today will help allow us to reopen travel safely and sustainably, ensure we protect our hard-won achievements on the vaccine roll out, and offer peace of mind to both passengers and industry as we begin to take trips abroad once again,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement.

— Chris Liakos contributed reporting.

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