‘Excessive’ travel rules have suppressed demand, air industry boss tells MPs

Willie Walsh said testing requirements ‘continue to discourage people, principally because of the cost’.

Neil Lancefield
Wednesday 17 November 2021 11:14
Willie Walsh said the UK’s testing and quarantine requirements for travellers has been ‘excessive for too long’ (PA)
Willie Walsh said the UK’s testing and quarantine requirements for travellers has been ‘excessive for too long’ (PA)

The UK’s international travel rules have “suppressed demand” and caused “great confusion”, according to the former boss of British Airways’ parent company.

Ex-IAG chief executive Willie Walsh told MPs that the UK’s coronavirus testing and quarantine requirements had been “excessive for too long”.

Giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee he said the rules “continue to discourage people, principally because of the cost of testing”.

The recovery is definitely being hampered

Willie Walsh

Even fully vaccinated travellers must pay for a lateral flow test after they arrive.

Mr Walsh, director-general of airline trade body the International Air Transport Association, said: “There’s no justification for the continued use of these tests based on the data.

“The recovery is definitely being hampered by the bureaucracy associated with UK travel, where a lot of other countries have simplified their procedures.

“Where we see restrictions relaxed or removed, there’s an immediate response in terms of passenger demand, and that’s been witnessed right across the world.”

Asked by committee chairman Huw Merriman if the UK’s regulations are solely responsible for its aviation sector lagging behind European competitors, Mr Walsh replied: “I think it’s a fair comment. It’s definitely suppressed demand. It’s caused great confusion for customers.”

Mr Walsh said the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic has been slower than countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Turkey.

International Airlines Group chief executive Willie Walsh (Niall Carson/PA)

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, told the committee that the UK is “clearly lagging behind”.

He said: “We had that lost summer with heavy restrictions when Europe was surging ahead and unlocking quicker than the UK.”

Karen Dee, boss of the Airport Operators Association, said the UK’s system is “still much more restrictive than it is in Europe”.

She went on: “We still have a testing requirement, a PLF (passenger locator form) requirement, that is more stringent and more onerous on passengers.

“That is certainly impacting on travel.

“I think we are optimistic for the rest of winter, but let’s not forget that winter is normally a loss-making system.

“So in contrast, over the summer when European airports were perhaps back up to 60-70%, sometimes higher, most UK airports struggled to get above the low double digit percentages.”

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