Aviation leaders urged the government to change its approach to international travel after the latest red-amber-green review saw just seven countries added to the UK’s green list and none move from red to amber.
Airlines UK, which represents easyJet, Ryanair, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Tui, insisted: “This cycle needs to change.”
British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle, said: “It cannot be right that although 77% of us have been fully vaccinated we have a much more costly, prohibitive and restrictive testing regime than everyone else.”
The government announced the addition of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Switzerland, and the Azores to the green list from 4am on Monday, with Thailand and Montenegro moving from amber to red.
Media reports that Turkey would be moved from the red list to amber and some Caribbean destinations including Jamaica and St Lucia would move to red proved to be mere speculation.
BA boss Doyle argued: “We urgently need to end the uncertainty caused by the constant threat of changes to countries’ traffic light status. Our ‘green’ list is much smaller than that of the US and EU.”
He added: “Data suggests just four out of every 1,000 travellers tests positive for Coronavirus on their return to the UK, less than the overall rate at home.”
In a statement, Airlines UK said: “The UK remains an outlier despite nearly 80% of over 16s being fully vaccinated, with only a small number of ‘green’ destinations making international travel more expensive, burdensome and uncertain compared to our neighbours.
“Too many families have to look over their shoulders for rule changes and pay through the nose for tests – with no sign from government that this will change.
“It’s time for a more proportionate system where tests are dropped for the fully vaccinated and from destinations where Covid risks are low.”
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: “Whilst all extensions of the green list are welcome, the continuing overly cautious approach to international travel only serves to reinforce how long the road to recovery for our airports remains.
“After another summer of historically low passenger numbers which has left us lagging behind our European neighbours, we urge the government to be much more ambitious in opening up international travel, reduce the cost of testing and replace expensive PCR tests with more rapid and affordable test for low-risk nations.
“Aviation remains a long way off a full recovery and with over half of all aviation employees remaining on furlough, it is vital that the government provide ongoing financial and employment support to avoid further job losses as a direct result of their overly cautious and damaging approach to international travel.”
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, said: “Today’s announcement will have a positive impact on the options available to those looking to go on holiday in the remaining days of the summer season.
“But in reality, these changes will make little difference to the overall recovery of the UK travel industry, which is already recovering at less than half the pace of the rest of Europe. Europe’s stronger recovery has been driven by the removal of testing requirements on vaccinated travellers.
“Unless the UK also removes the need for people with full immunity to take these tests, we will continue to squander the advantage our world-leading vaccination programme was supposed to deliver, while passengers on the continent travel restriction-free to low-risk destinations.”
Cornish added: “Government cannot wait until the October 1 to make changes to the travel regime and must press ahead with an overhaul of its traffic light system immediately. We must arrive at a simpler, more affordable and sustainable travel framework to enable the best possible winter season and give customers the confidence to book ahead for 2022.”
Business travel leaders voiced disappointment at the lack of progress on reopening routes to the US, but welcomed the green list additions.
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “It’s heartening to see the government sticking by its commitment to updating the traffic light list. Switzerland is an essential business travel route. Its addition to the green list can add £3.5 million to UK GDP per week.”
But Wratten said: “Going forward, it is essential we remove testing for vaccinated travellers from green and amber list countries as we move away from this system.”
He added: “Disappointingly, there has been no update from the Transatlantic Taskforce. It is essential to the business world that this corridor is opened up safely without delay.”
American Express Global Business Travel chief commercial officer Andrew Crawley agreed, noting: “With Canada expected to open its borders to fully vaccinated UK travellers in early September, the addition of Canada to the green list is a strong step forward for the return of transatlantic travel.
“The US now remains the sole obstacle to the full return of commerce across one of the busiest trade routes in the world.
“It’s time for the Biden administration to lift 212(f)” – the US regulation which bars entry to UK and EU arrivals.”