Airlines have welcomed the Government’s scrapping of the amber travel list but said the changes do not go far enough.
Thomas Cook has described the streamlining of the traffic light system as “a shot in the arm for the travel industry” while airline bosses have urged ministers to go further by eliminating testing for vaccinated travellers.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that countries will be placed on one of two lists – a red list and ‘the rest of the world’ – from October 4.
From the end of October, fully vaccinated travellers returning from non-red list countries will also be able to replace day two PCR tests with cheaper lateral flows and no longer need to take pre-departure tests.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said this was a “welcome step forward” but called for an end to the testing of vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries after arriving back in the UK.
“Removing the pre-departure test coupled with the disbanding of the traffic light system will inject some much needed confidence into travel once again,” he said.
“However, vaccinated travellers and those from low risk countries will still have to do an unnecessary test after arriving in the UK, making travel less affordable for all.
“Since July 1 there has been no testing at all for vaccinated travellers within the rest of Europe, and this is why the UK will continue to fall further behind the rest of Europe if this remains.”
British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle also welcomed the changes and urged ministers to scrap “all testing for fully vaccinated passengers as soon as possible”.
Stewart Wingate, Gatwick Airport chief executive, said passenger locator forms should also be discarded.
He said: “Fully vaccinated passengers now have a larger choice of destinations and can book with more confidence in the months before Christmas and beyond…
“We also welcome the news that day two PCR tests will be replaced with the quicker and more affordable lateral flow tests, which will allow us to start catching up with our competitors in Europe and the US – where passenger numbers are already approaching pre-pandemic levels.
“However, we hope that the remaining constraints including the passenger locator form can be removed soon and we continue to call for the slot rules to be reinstated.”
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss added that Boris Johnson should go further by negotiating the removal of transatlantic restrictions for UK citizens travelling to the US.
He said: “We urge the UK Government to use the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit to the USA to work with the Biden administration to remove transatlantic restrictions for UK citizens, just as the UK has done for US travellers, helping loved ones to reunite safely and businesses to restore ties with our largest trading partner.”
Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye added: “This simplification of the travel rules is very welcome for businesses and families across the country but the decision to require fully vaccinated passengers to take more costly private lateral flow tests is an unnecessary barrier to travel, which keeps the UK out of step with the rest of the EU.”
Thomas Cook chief executive Alan French said October half-term bookings were up 200% compared to August and he expects this figure to rise as a result of the simpler system.
He said: “The news today is a shot in the arm for both the travel industry and families up and down the country who are crying out for some much-needed late summer sun.
“Based on our bookings already today, I would expect this weekend to be the biggest of the year so far as people take advantage of the great deals on offer, the new easier rules on testing and the simplified system for international travel.”
Managing director of TUI UK Andrew Flintham said he has already seen “an uptick in bookings for Turkey in October” and expects customer confidence to have been boosted further by the new rules.
He added though that “fully vaccinated customers (in the UK) still have more travel restrictions in place than many other countries around the world, so as an industry we will not see the return of operations as we would like”.
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee also urged Westminster to “follow the example of the devolved governments and maintain meaningful support for airports, such as employment support and business rates relief”.