Airlines fight UK quarantine law

British carriers have taken legal action against the new quarantine law for travellers, which could thwart the sector’s recovery.

British Airways’s owner International Airlines Group (IAG) has begun the first stage of legal action against the government, says Gwyn Topham in The Guardian. It had “protested in vain” against the new mandatory 14-day quarantine policy affecting all new arrivals into the UK, which came into effect this week. IAG deems the quarantine “illogical”, noting that the regulations will not only come too late to stop the transmission of coronavirus, but are also more severe than for those infected with the disease. The rules are also likely to kill off any “nascent recovery” in the airline industry.

The measures are certainly bad news for British Airways (BA), say Siddharth Vikram Philip and Thomas Penny on Bloomberg. With European countries starting to remove restrictions, BA had been hoping that it would be able to “salvage” something from the summer, “when tens of millions” take their holiday. However, it now warns that the quarantine would “torpedo” plans to resume about 40% of its scheduled flights in July and force it to continue burning £20m a day. EasyJet’s plan to resume some scheduled flights from 15 June, as well as Ryanair’s plan to restart flying on 1 July, may also be affected.

It’s too late now

This isn’t the first clash between BA and the government since the crisis began, says Bethan Staton in the Financial Times. CEO Willie Walsh has also complained that IAG, which has had to take on an extra £800m in short-term debt, has not been properly consulted. What’s more, BA isn’t the only airline angry about the measures, with Ryanair, which is supporting the legal action along with easyJet, calling the policy “pointless posturing”. Travel restrictions made sense previously, with Britain being “almost alone” in allowing new arrivals from anywhere in the world, says The Times. Indeed, the evidence suggests that those countries with the strictest travel restrictions “have been the most successful in fighting the infection”. However, at this stage such a policy risks piling “further misery” on the “devastated domestic tourist industry”. Already the government is talking about “air bridges”, allowing travel to and from virus-free countries. What’s more, a “surge” last week in holiday bookings for July and August suggests that many Britons “have little intention of complying” with the ban, especially since it is impossible to enforce.

Still, persuading the government to relax, or even scrap, travel restrictions may not be enough to save the airlines, says Ed Cropley on Breakingviews: tourists “may not want to travel”. Despite the recent surge in interest, global air traffic is still down 73% from January’s levels, with the number of kilometres flown by paying passengers, the industry’s key metric, down a “whopping” 94% year-on-year. Even with the “silver lining” of state support and lower oil prices, airlines may take “months or even years” to achieve a full recovery.

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