The U.K. government told Britons to hold off on planning foreign holidays this summer, deflating the hopes of an airline industry desperate to get flying again before another high season slips by.
While confirming that restaurants, pubs and shops in England will reopen next week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it’s not yet clear that non-essential international travel can resume safely as planned on May 17.
The move extends the uncertainty facing an airline industry reeling from over a year of Covid-19 restrictions that have shaken balance sheets and forced carriers to raise cash to stay afloat.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Johnson said he was hopeful that foreign travel could resume by the target date, if virus surges in other countries can be contained.
“But I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or to underestimate the difficulties we’re seeing in some of the destination countries people might want to go to,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to see the virus being re-imported into this country from abroad.”
When the U.K. does reopen, a “traffic-light” system will be used to classify countries into green, amber and red based on factors such as virus infection rates and vaccination levels. More details will be set forth when Johnson’s task force on global travel publishes its report later this week.
Category decisions for specific destinations will be made based on data and evidence “closer to the time,” the government said.
Travelers from green countries will still have to take virus tests before departing and after arriving, Johnson’s office said. Quarantine and self-isolation rules will apply to passengers entering the country from places on the red and amber lists.
“Today’s announcement does not provide the clarity we were seeking on the roadmap back towards normality,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive officer of Airlines UK, a trade group including British Airways, Ryanair Holdings Plc, EasyJet Plc and tour operator TUI AG’s airline unit. “We await further details but the measures indicated, including the potential for multiple tests for travelers even from ‘green countries,’ will prevent meaningful travel even to low-risk destinations.”
British Airways is still optimistic about travel reopening on May 17, CEO Sean Doyle said Tuesday. He spoke on a joint call with the heads of London Heathrow airport and rival Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., advocating for a re-opening of trans-Atlantic flights, the world’s biggest market for premium travel and a crucial segment for both carriers.
“We are asking the government to continue to work on bilateral arrangements with countries and governments that have also rolled out world-leading vaccination programs,” Doyle told reporters. “Don’t…