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Travel industry hopes air bridges are a ticket to survival

Vinjeru Mkandawire
·3 min read
Beach
Beach

From the beaches of Malaga to faraway Greek islands and retreats in the South of France, hopes are rising that holidays and business trips to Europe could be back this summer and revive the travel industry in the process. 

The anticipated introduction of "air bridges" - or "travel corridors" as the Government prefers to call them - will enable trips to destinations including France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Germany without the need to quarantine for 14 days on their return.

Details of the plans, seen as a vital move for airlines, airports and holiday operators, are set to be unveiled at the weekend. They will take into account virus infection rates in other countries, the availability of test and trace systems and social distancing rules. 

“We have been calling for travel corridors to be in place instead of the quarantine measures for a while,” says Paul Charles, spokesperson for Quash Quarantine, a lobby group of more than 500 travel, hospitality and hotel businesses including tour operator Abercrombie and Kent, restaurant and bar chain TGI Fridays and luxury resort Club Med.

“The new measures cannot come soon enough. For each day of quarantine, hundreds of people in the travel sector are losing their jobs to the uncertainty,” he says. “We need the government urgently to create certainty to reassure travellers and enable people to book with confidence.”

Stark figures warned that the scale of job losses in Britain’s aviation sector could hit 124,000 in the coming months. Research by the New Economics Foundation found that at least 70,000 people could be laid off, including 39,000 directly employed in aviation, with the remainder spread across the industry’s supply chains.  

Ministers are also looking to open travel corridors with more European countries including Denmark, Norway, Finland and Holland, along with Caribbean islands with few infections. 

The plans could be extended to British territories such as Gibraltar, Bermuda, Montserrat and the Falklands Islands. Air bridges could also be arranged with countries further afield including Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong before the end of summer. 

Travel restrictions to European destinations
Travel restrictions to European destinations

However, the idea has come under fire from budget airline Ryanair, which called air bridges "more idiotic rubbish" from ministers.

"The UK Government must now scrap its useless and ineffective form filling quarantine from the end of June, since they are unable to even contact these people who have filled in these forms correctly," a spokesman said.

For corporate travel, the plans represent the first step of a long journey back to normality. “It is a positive step but clearly there is a huge way to go,” says Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association.

“What is important for us to understand is the criteria around those air bridges. If we see masses of exemptions and restrictions like we have with the quarantine then any complexity is going to make it a slower progress for airlines and the whole travel industry to get back on its feet,” he says.

Getting air bridges up and running would restore business travel to about 30pc of previous levels, the trade body says, following the sector's collapse as countries around the world imposed lockdowns. 

“That is the initial takeup we might see between now and the end of the year. But it will be difficult for this industry to recover. Things are going to take some time,” Wratten adds.

A potential obstacle would be any focus on leisure routes. “We need the UK economy to start getting back on its feet again and if we don’t open travel corridors to destinations that are business-focused, that is a real pitfall for us.”