UK Virus Surge Leads To New Travel Restrictions

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has introduced new travel restrictions just days before Christmas. The restrictions, which apply to London and other parts of the UK, essentially bans all international travel with limited exceptions. The decision comes after a new, faster-spreading strain of COVID-19 causes a surge in cases across England.

BA Cityflyer, Southampton, Weekend Flights
International flights are off the cards in light of the new COVID-19 strain. Photo: Getty Images

New curbs

Regions across the whole of the country are transitioning through several different measures amid the pandemic. Even within the UK, there are significant restrictions in place to stop people traveling to other areas. For instance, there will be a ban on travel between Scotland and the rest of the kingdom throughout the festive period

One of the other considerable shakeups this week has been the introduction of the tier 4 lockdown across several regions in England. Yesterday, PM Boris Johnson officially announced the restrictions for London and Southeast England. The new rules are similar to the “stay-at-home” restrictions first introduced in March, with people being asked not to leave their house for anything except essential purposes. These restrictions are expected to be reviewed on December 30th. However, it won’t be a surprise to see an extension if the government feels it is necessary.

Notably, international travel is effectively banned apart from some exceptions. Leisure travel abroad is forbidden for most people under this form of lockdown. However, some people may be permitted for certain reasons such as if their work requires.

The following regions fall into this tier:

  • London

    • All 32 London boroughs plus City of London

    South East

    • Kent and Medway
    • Buckinghamshire
    • Berkshire (Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead and West Berkshire)
    • Surrey (excluding Waverley)
    • Hastings and Rother
    • Havant, Gosport and Portsmouth

    East of England

    • Hertfordshire
    • Essex (excluding Tendring, Uttlesford and Colchester)
    • Central Bedfordshire, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton
    • Peterborough
Gatwick, London, British Airways, Easyjet
Airlines in the United Kingdom were already frustrated about the strict measures in place that are putting a huge dent in travel, and the latest developments will make the situation even worse for them. Photo: Getty Images

The requirements

It should be noted that those living in tiers that permit travel can still travel to airports in tier 4 to head overseas. So, airports such as Heathrow would still be busier than what they were during the nationwide lockdown in England introduced last month. Also, as with the national lockdown, people can still enter the country.

“If you live in a Tier 4 area, you can only travel internationally – or within the UK – where you first have a legally permitted reason to leave home. In addition, you should consider the public health advice in the country you are visiting,” the UK government shares on its website.

“If you live outside a Tier 4 area you may still transit into or through a Tier 4 area to travel abroad if you need to, but you should carefully consider whether you need to do so. In addition, you should follow the public health advice in the country you’re visiting.”

Heathrow pilots mask
There are different rules in place from region to region, so travelers will have to keep checking the latest requirements as the measures are continuing to change. Photo: Getty Images

Disrupting plans

As a result of the restrictions, airlines are having to review their operations. For instance, TUI has decided to cancel all of its flights from Luton Airport up until December 30th. The airline nonetheless has put measures in place for their customers to handle the implications with their booking.

“Following the UK government’s decision to introduce new restrictions for tier 4 in England we will be cancelling our flights departing from Luton airport from 20th-30th December. We will be in direct contact with these customers to offer them a full refund or the option to amend their booking.” TUI said, as reported by Travel Weekly.

“Any customers that live in tier 4 and are due to depart in the next 14 days will be entitled to cancel and receive a full refund or amend for free to any holiday that’s currently on sale. Customers with a holiday that is due to depart in the next 14 days and is no longer able to operate will be contacted by a member of our team and will receive a full refund or the option to amend for free to any holiday that’s currently on sale.”

TUI Boeing 767 Landing
TUI has had to take some significant steps to curb the impact of the government’s decisions. Photo Getty Images

A helping hand

easyJet doesn’t have plans to change its flights in the short-term. However, the operator has a comprehensive list of options for its passengers amid the challenging conditions. It will also contact any customers if there are eventually any changes to the schedule.

Customers of the low cost-carrier that can’t travel even if their flight is going ahead have three options. These options are available for both scheduled and canceled flights. Travelers can either switch to another easyJet flight for free. Here, passengers have the opportunity to choose a different arrival and departure airport within the same nation as the original booking.

Alternatively, customers can opt for a voucher for the full value of their ticket. This voucher is valid for 12 months from the date of issue and offers the flexibility to book travel anywhere across the carrier’s network. Nonetheless, easyJet passengers can request a full refund.

Easyjet tails
Just like most other airlines, several of easyJet’s planes have been on the ground due to the serious downturn in passenger activity. Photo: Getty Images

Across the Irish Sea

According to The Irish Times, Ryanair and Aer Lingus will refund passengers whose flights are banned under the associated restrictions. Ireland is banning travelers from Britain amid the rise of the more infectious strain of coronavirus.

Not everyone is on the same page

However, not all carriers have the option for a full refund in these circumstances. Notably, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic aren’t going for this approach.

BA is currently offering passengers the option to rearrange their trips. Alternatively, they can receive a voucher for the value of their flight. Additionally, Virgin Atlantic is allowing travelers to rebook their trips for another date up until December 2022. The aviation industry could be going through another period of disruptions amid the rise of many new travel bans. So, many customers could raise the pressure on airlines regarding refunds over the next few months

Virgin Atlantic, Relaunch, New Routes
Virgin Atlantic has been under scrutiny for its refund approach this year. Photo: Getty Images

Domestic concerns

Considering the high caseload in recent days is attributed to a new strain of COVID-19, the UK has closed internal borders. Scotland has announced that it will implement a strict travel ban on travelers from the rest of the UK soon, which will likely disrupt flight schedules. Travel into and out of Tier 4 areas is also not permitted, further cutting down flights. Wales and Northern Ireland have implemented similar restrictions.

The decision to close borders does signal the urgency of the situation with the new strain of the virus.

Domestic flights will be impacted in the coming days due to the border closures. Photo: Getty Images

More travel bans?

While yesterday’s announcement only affects certain regions of the UK, foreign countries could be looking to restrict travel too. Virus mutations are quite common. However, news that this strain is more infectious has led to some concern. The Netherlands has already banned flights from the UK until January 1st, and more countries could follow suit in the coming days. Additionally, according to Sky News, France recently announced that it is suspending traffic from the UK for at least 48 hours.

It should be noted that there is currently nothing to indicate the vaccines are not effective against the new strain of COVID-19.

KLM boeing 787
Some European counties such as the Netherlands have recently banned flights from the UK due to the new virus strain. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

The saga continues

Altogether, the uncertain situation continues to evolve across all regions in the United Kingdom. Different areas will enter and leave certain lockdowns as the virus continues to rock society. Along with this, the government doesn’t give much notice about the changes. Therefore, it’s advisable to keep checking updates from carriers to be in the loop of their policies during this unprecedented time. If you are being impacted by the changing conditions and want to enquire about how to rebook, claim a voucher, or request a refund, check your airline’s policies on its website or contact it directly.

The new restrictions will impact holiday travel plans for thousands as airlines are expected to cut capacity in the coming days. Until vaccines reach enough of the population, we will likely continue to see changing travel rules in the coming months.

What are your thoughts about the current travel restrictions across the United Kingdom and Europe? How have your travel plans been impacted by the latest announcements? How will the situation develop over the next few months Let us know what you think of the conditions in the comment section.