Airlines have given a mixed reaction to Britain’s plans to remove quarantine requirements for in-bound visitors from the EU and the US.
The UK is set to bring in the exemption next week. However, arrivals will still need to do the usual pre-departure test and take a PCR test on day two of returning to England.
The announcement boosted airline stocks – Ryanair, EasyJet, Wizz Air and Aer Lingus owner IAG all rising strongly – but elicited a mixed response from the airlines themselves.
Hungarian low fares carrier Wizz Air said it expected capacity to ramp up to between 90% and 100% of pre-pandemic levels this month and next as summer demand for European travel grows. The airline said its business could get an extra boost from the further easing of UK Covid restrictions.
The UK accounts for about 15%-20% of Wizz’s business. For its first quarter – the three months to the end of June – Wizz flew only 33% of its pre-Covid passenger capacity and reported an underlying net loss of nearly €119m.
However, larger rivals Ryanair and EasyJet were less enthusiastic.
Ryanair said it welcomed any progress to the UK government’s “shambolic” travel policies, but said the pending move was not enough when the majority of the UK and the EU’s adult population was now fully vaccinated.
"This constant go-stop-go-stop approach is only damaging customer confidence and the UK is now lagging behind the rest of Europe on international travel and connectivity," Ryanair said.
"We call on Boris Johnson’s government to scrap the shambolic traffic light system and allow all vaccinated citizens and children under 12 to travel freely without any restrictions," it said.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said while welcome, the UK’s new quarantine rules are “too late” to make any real change this year. Mr Lundgren said the remaining need for expensive testing requirements will still prevent a full reopening of air travel this summer.
"Even if they can avoid the quarantine, you're still going to have the very expensive PCR testing that's going to make this out of reach for many, many people," he said.
"It's the right thing, it should be done, but like I said it is a little bit too late."
Meanwhile, new figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show only a very slight improvement in international and domestic air travel, with passenger demand down more than 60% last month versus June 2019 levels.
“We are seeing movement in the right direction, particularly in some key domestic markets," said IATA boss Willie Walsh.
"But the situation for international travel is nowhere near where we need to be. June should be the start of peak season, but airlines were carrying just 20% of 2019 levels. That’s not a recovery, it’s a continuing crisis caused by government inaction,” he said.
• Additional reporting Reuters