Concern For UK Airports: Travel Restrictions Could Force Mothballing

Travel companies, airlines, and airport operators are worried that some airports may need to be mothballed following the United Kingdoms’ latest measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Starting at 04:00 GMT on Monday 18 January, any passengers aged 11 and over must show proof of a negative PCR test taken no longer than 72 hours before departure.

UK Quarantine Heathrow
New UK COVID-19 rules start on Monday.Photo: Getty Images

Travelers will also have to fill out a contact form about where they will be staying and how they can be reached during a ten-day mandatory quarantine period. The only people who will be exempt from isolating themselves are visitors from the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. Visitors from the Falkland Islands, Ascension Island, and St Helena are also exempt.

Passengers arriving from abroad can lessen the quarantine period if they take another PCR test five days after their arrival and the test comes back negative. The rule change decision concerns two new strains of the deadly virus that have surfaced in Brazil and South Africa.

Airports may need to close

With the introduction of the new rules, the travel industry is warning that many businesses will not survive unless they get more support from the British government. Before Monday’s new rules, people arriving from low-risk countries like New Zealand and Sri Lanka did not need to quarantine.

When speaking about how the new rules may affect airports, Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said airports might have to temporarily close to save costs.

When speaking to UK tabloid newspaper Metro, the transport sector expert said:

“The closure of travel corridors is understandable from a public health perspective, but this adds to the current near-complete shutdown of the UK’s airports, which are vital for our post-pandemic prosperity. This is making a devastating situation for UK airports and communities relying on the jobs and economic benefits that aviation brings, worse.”

UK Quarantine Heathrow
Passengers on international flights to the UK must now have a negative PCR test. Photo: Getty Images

Ms. Dee called on the government to develop a plan to help support the airports while also claiming that a business rate support scheme in place last year is no longer open for new applications.

“Airports are currently keeping their infrastructure open to support vital and critical services, such as post, freight, emergency services, military, and Coastguard flights, as well as to help keep the lights in the UK on through supporting flights to offshore oil, gas and wind operations,” Dee added in the report.

“Airports are doing so while running on empty – there is only so long they can run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future. Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relief from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year.”

The aviation industry needs help

In response to the UK government’s announcement, the General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), Brian Strutton, said the following, as per Metro’s report:

“This is yet another huge blow to the travel industry and UK aviation with no indication from the Government of any support or a plan to help the sector through this crisis. “These are dire times, and we need a clear plan of action and a proper package of support, or the UK aviation industry will not be there to support the post-COVID-19 recovery.”

Before the announcement, tour operators saw an uptick in vacation bookings for later in the year, with people believing that an overseas vacation would be possible with coronavirus vaccinations now underway.

UK Holiday airlines cancel flights

Even before the latest measures, UK holiday airline Jet2 announced that it was canceling all vacation flights until at least March 25, citing uncertainty over the ongoing global pandemic. Luton-based easyJet made a similar move on Thursday when it canceled holiday flights until March 24.

Jet2 Holidays Boeing 737
easyJet and Jet2 have canceled holiday flights until late March. Photo: Getty Images

While we are all sat around yearning to get away, it seems as though the pandemic will determine when and where we can fly. Let’s hope that these new strains of the virus are susceptible to the current vaccines and that once enough people are vaccinated, we can start to relax the rules.

What do you think about the new rules and how they will affect airports? Do you think that we may see airports shutting down for a while? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.