Aviation leaders have welcomed confirmation of the government’s easing of travel restrictions as a “step forward” but said more needs to be done to ease international travel.
Under the changes, from October 4 a red list of countries will remain in place with anywhere not on the red list considered green.
Eight countries are to be removed from the red list from 4am September 22. They are: Turkey, the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya.
Also from October 4, pre-departure tests will no longer be required for fully-vaccinated travellers arriving into England from non-red list countries.
From “later in October”, the day 2 test for international arrivals can be conducted with a lateral flow test – ending the requirement for PCR tests.
The rules currently will apply only in England, though on Friday the Welsh government confirmed it would remove the same eight countries from its red list. As of 5.30pm on Friday, the Scottish and Northern Irish governments had not made any changes to their restrictions.
Gatwick airport chief executive Stewart Wingate described the announcement as a “significant and welcome step towards recovery”.
Wingate said: “Fully vaccinated passengers now have a larger choice of destinations and can book with more confidence in the months before Christmas and beyond – free from the need to arrange pre-departure tests before coming back into the UK.
“We know there is significant pent-up demand for travel and our staff, restaurants, cafes and bars are ready to welcome back passengers over the coming months.
“We also welcome the news that Day 2 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.”
He added: “However, we also 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 to incentivise airlines, increase competition and provide passengers with greater choice and flexibility.
“Gatwick is doing everything it can to make travel as easy as possible and only yesterday announced that it is further subsidising cut-price lateral flow tests for holiday-makers.”
Sean Doyle, British Airways chief executive, said: “We welcome the simplification of the traffic light system, and the changes to the testing requirements allowing UK travellers to benefit from our world-leading vaccination programme and finally giving customers and business the confidence to book the journeys they’ve been waiting for.
“Based on the scientific evidence, with fewer than 1% of people returning from low-risk countries testing positive for Covid (lower than the UK’s rate), we urge ministers to keep this policy under review, eliminating all testing for fully vaccinated travellers as soon as possible in the future, in line with most other European countries.”
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: “The easing of travel restrictions is a good step forward. By reducing complexity and the cost of testing, this should encourage more people to travel this winter and allow airports to see a further uplift in passenger numbers.
“However, this last formal checkpoint of the Global Travel Taskforce should have been the time to return to restriction-free travel at a time when nearly all of the population has been vaccinated. instead, we continue to have a more onerous approach to travel than our European competitors.
“Ultimately, we need to return to a situation similar to prior to the pandemic, in which people can travel without further tests or forms to fill out. The UK and devolved governments should aim for this as soon as is safely possible.
“Until a full recovery is possible, the UK government should follow the example of the devolved governments and maintain meaningful support for airports, such as employment support and business rates relief.”
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, said the changes “will make it easier and cheaper for people to travel abroad”.
He added: “For too long, the recovery of UK aviation has lagged behind the rest of Europe. The changes announced today will help to close that gap by encouraging more people to book foreign travel.
“But for as long as vaccinated travellers have to pay for tests, the recovery of one of the UK’s major industries will be held back. Government must now find a way to give people back the freedom to travel without the barrier of testing.”
Dale Keller, chief executive of BAR UK, said: “Greater freedom of movement for many vaccinated passengers, without the anxiety of pre-departure tests and the high cost of PCR testing on arrival, will help restore traveller confidence and set the aviation, travel and tourism sectors on what is still a long road to recovery.”
He added: “Moving from the established three traffic light system to a red list, and a two-tier entry regime for vaccinated or non-vaccinated passengers, brings greater clarity to entry requirements and recognises the vaccination status of an additional 17 countries.
“This is to be applauded, however the revised system can only work effectively – and without discrimination, when fully vaccinated status is recognised for all travellers to the UK. Testing requirements for many remains costly and excessive, and a significant number of inbound markets for the UK will still remain unfairly treated.”
“The UK’s complex and costly travel restrictions decimated passenger volumes over the summer while much of Europe capitalised on vaccination roll-out by rebuilding their connectivity. Today’s announcement is a step towards properly rebalancing international travel risk with the Government’s domestic Covid response, and will enable the UK to begin to claw back lost ground as airlines attempt to rebuild their operations.
“Over the coming weeks airlines will continue their engagement with the UK government on rapidly expanding international vaccination recognition so to develop strategies with the ambition of normalising travel as soon as feasible.”
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: “The overdue simplification of the government’s rules for international travel will deliver a significant boost to consumer confidence and UK economic recovery.
“However, to ensure that Britain’s global ambitions are met, the vaccination status of those travellers receiving a full dose in countries like India and Hong Kong must be recognised, ensuring they are able to take advantage of the simplified travel rules.
“Additionally, the red list should focus purely on variants of concern, in order to protect public health, therefore it’s imperative to rapidly and continuously remove countries that don’t pose a threat, in order to open travel back up to countries like South Africa.
He added: “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.
“The US already allows entry for travellers from Dubai, Turkey and much of South America for example. With the high rate of vaccination in the UK – 81% of UK adults have received both jabs – there is no reason to deny UK citizens from entering the US safely, and no reason to delay.”
Sir Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, said: “It’s critical that the travel sector and governments across the world continue to work together to rebuild traveller confidence and today’s announcements are a hugely important step towards that. Making international travel simpler and more affordable will not only benefit those desperate to reconnect with loved ones, but will be instrumental in the recovery of the economy.”
He added: “Since the UAE was moved to the UK’s Amber List, we’ve seen a huge surge in demand and Emirates quickly resumed operations across the UK with plans to operate 77 flights a week between the UK and Dubai by the end of October.
“We will continue to work with the UK to meet all of its criteria, and hope that those vaccinated in the UAE will soon be considered in the same manner as those vaccinated elsewhere.”
Wizz Air UK’s recently-appointed managing director Marion Geoffroy, said: “The decision to simplify the traffic light system and scrap expensive pre-departure testing is fantastic and welcome news for our industry and for passengers.
“As travel no becomes more accessible and affordable, we encourage customers to book now, whether it’s a last-minute September getaway, family holiday during October half-term or winter sun escape in November.”
Martin Chalk, acting general secretary of pilots union Balpa, said: “We welcome the changes, that we called for multiple times, as a first step to removing the shackles that have constrained aviation this summer. But there is still a way to go before UK aviation can truly take-off again and the industry remains precariously placed after a dire summer season.
“Gatwick still tops the list of airports in Europe worst affected by the crisis and our airlines are in a comparatively poor place compared to international competitors.”
He added: “With furlough ending it is going to be hard for cash strapped airlines to get back up and running as demand returns. That’s why aviation still needs bespoke investment from the government. We must ensure pilots have the appropriate training and are available to ramp up as demand returns.
“Aviation is only just emerging from lockdown. We need to be ready to make the most of the increased interest in international travel, to build back to being a world leading industry and help drive the UK’s economic recovery.”
Glyn Jones, chief executive of Southend airport, said: “The government travel update is welcome news, albeit too late to make any real difference to the industries peak summer period. Passenger confidence needs rebuilding and we hope that we are finally heading in the right direction.
“London Southend Airport has campaigned for clarity in travel requirements as well as subsidised testing costs. The removal of the traffic light system and lateral flow test acceptance is a big step to recovery for the aviation industry which has experienced significant disruption for the last 18 months.”