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Relax travel restrictions faster, says British Airways boss

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British Airways
British Airways

The boss of British Airways has called on Boris Johnson to relax border restrictions more quickly despite the threat of the Indian coronavirus variant.

Sean Doyle also attacked “excessive” warnings by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, not to travel to “amber” countries such as Spain, France or Greece.

He urged the Prime Minister to publish a list of countries that are in line to go on the Government’s green list so Britons can book holidays now and avoid paying inflated prices with last-minute decisions.

Mr Doyle said tests should be dropped for vaccinated passengers arriving from low-risk countries and urged Mr Johnson to put the United States on the green list.

His comments came as Ryanair posted a record annual loss of €810m (£700m), compared with a €1bn pre-tax profit a year earlier.

Mr Doyle was speaking alongside Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye as holidaymakers jetted off for the first time in more than four months.

The BA chief said: “We need the Government to start progressively assigning green status to many more low-risk countries.”

Mr Holland-Kaye added: “In Europe, many countries are seeing reduced infection rates as their vaccination levels rise. Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, France and Germany are making tremendous progress. We expect them to be added to the green list soon and certainly in time for the summer holiday season.

“This is now becoming urgent. Companies rely on the profits they make in the summer to see them through the rest of the year. If there is no getaway in July and August, many companies will not make it to next year.”

Sean Doyle 
Sean Doyle

The pair spoke amid growing concern about the impact of the Indian variant on the spread of the virus after it emerged that 20,000 people entered the UK from India before the country was added to Britain’s red list on April 23.

Outbreaks in the north-west of England and Scotland of the more virulent strain are now threatening the final easing of restrictions on June 21. A government review on social distancing could now be shelved over concerns about the new variant.

Mr Doyle said: “We're mindful of the clarity being sought right now about the Indian variant. And we're not here today to advocate for a wholesale return to unrestricted travel.”

However, he took exception at remarks by Mr Hancock over the weekend that families should “certainly not” go to holiday destinations on the amber list.

“We were also surprised to hear the Government advising people not to go to countries on the amber list,” Mr Doyle said. “We believe the advice not to travel to these destinations for leisure, on top of the robust controls, is excessive, and we'd like to see a change in approach.”

Meanwhile, Mr Doyle compared Britain’s arrivals policy with countries on the Continent, where many arrivals will soon be spared the cost of PCR tests of between £40 and £60 per person.

“The UK Government is also allowing Britons to travel abroad and use their NHS vaccination data to provide proof of vaccination, enabling them to secure frictionless entry from green list countries.

“We need to see the same process set up and match for people coming into the UK. With the government moving away from the strict testing requirements for fully vaccinated people travelling from green list countries.

“The EU is already pushing ahead with a digital green certificate, and crucially is offering this to non-EU passengers from the start. So the UK needs to keep pace with you or otherwise we run the risk of missing out.”

Mr Holland-Kaye said that passengers flying to Portugal, one of just 12 countries on the Government’s green list, on Monday had to pay highly inflated ticket prices.

“Delaying a meaningful restart, even by a few months, puts up to half a million UK jobs at risk. It's not a choice between public health and the economy," he said.

“We are calling on the Government to help people to plan ahead by publishing a list of countries expected to be on the green list for the summer, so passengers are not faced with high prices and limited choices for last-minute bookings.”

Ryanair

Michael O'Leary, boss of Ryanair, said the airline was only likely to break even this year after posting a record loss in for the year to Mar 31.

He warned fares would rise over the next year with the number of seats available set to contract by a quarter.

"There's no doubt in my mind that prices will rise, particularly during the peaks of the bank holiday weekends, the school holiday travel period."