Former British Airways boss Willie Walsh has dubbed countries’ tighter quarantine and testing rules as a “knee-jerk decision”, after concerns over the new Omicron Covid variant.
Walsh, who used to head the airline group International Airlines Group, said the new rules imposed “a massive financial damage to the tourism and airline industry.”
“It’s clear that these measures have been completely ineffective in the past but impose huge hardship on people who are trying to connect with families and friends, and clearly massive financial damage to the tourism and airline industry,” Walsh said, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I’m very disappointed to see this knee-jerk reaction by governments to the latest development,” Walsh, who currently heads airline trade body the International Air Transport Association, said.
The ex-airline boss argued that “sensible testing regimes which have been proven to be effective” could be introduced so people could continue travelling abroad safely.
From the early hours of Tuesday, double-jabbed arrivals into the UK will need to self-isolate until they receive a negative PCR test result on the second day after they arrive. These tests must be bought from the private sector, at a typical cost of around £55.
Tighter international travel rules come as the sector has already warned of depleted numbers over the festive period.
Trade body UKinbound said its members – made up of tour operators, accommodation providers and attraction members based in the UK – are expecting international visitors to be down 75 per cent in November and December, compared to 2019.
In a recent survey of members, carried out before the latest measures, 89 per cent of respondents said November/December international visitor numbers would be lower than 2019 levels.
“Public health is a priority, and we therefore understand the decision to implement new restrictions, however their return is a significant blow for inbound tourism businesses,” UKinbound CEO Joss Croft, said.
“It is vital that restrictions are kept under regular review but with these further barriers to business and recovery, the Government must urgently look at providing the industry with emergency tailored support.”
Border restrictions have “not stopped previous waves of virus, so there is no reason to suggest they will now,” pilots have also said.
British Airline Pilots Association general secretary Martin Chalk said he hopes the government will lift restrictions “if this variant is no more a threat than the Delta variant.”
“The latest changes have shattered the fledgling confidence in air travel including for Christmas and new year bookings.”
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said there was no reason to cancel flights because of the variant and said flights for the next few weeks were heavily booked.
“We are not cancelling any flights…I don’t see that (Omicron) as a justifiable reason to prevent people who are vaccinated or have negative PCRs” from travelling, he said.
“We frankly don’t think there is risk to air travel within Europe from those people,” he said.