Top executives of major UK airlines have written to prime minister Boris Johnson to request financial support for aviation and the easing of COVID-19 testing requirements for travelers.  

Following the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the UK reintroduced pre-departure tests for travelers arriving into the country, as well as requiring a PCR test within two days of arrival. The measures apply to all arrivals, even those who are fully vaccinated. 

The executives, from airlines including British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair, and Virgin Atlantic, said while they recognised the need to contain the new COVID-19 variant, they felt the travel industry had been singled out with “disproportionate restrictions”. 

“Further, pre-departure and upon-arrival testing clearly add very little value to our Covid protection, but unnecessarily disrupt Christmas for families as well as businesses while severely damaging the UK travel industry,” they state in the letter, published by industry lobby group Airlines UK on December 13, 2021.  

The airlines also state that the latest travel restrictions have damaged customers’ willingness to book travel and warn they risk “killing off” the travel industry. They called for an urgent meeting with the government,  

“We urgently request you meet with us, to understand the problems that we and our customers are now facing because of these measures, which the Transport Secretary himself admitted risked ‘killing off’ the travel industry. We urge you to act now to prevent this from happening.” 

Emirates airline has previously warned that December is a crucial time for bookings and any curbs due to the new variant could bring “significant” problems for the aviation industry, which was starting to show signs of recovery from the pandemic.  

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Emirates airline president Tim Clark fears Omicron could seriously harm the aviation business if it impacts December and winter  
 

The UK airlines said the Christmas and New Year booking season can account for up to 30% of ticket sales and that the UK government needed to take steps to prevent the “permanent scarring” of the aviation industry. They said emergency testing for fully vaccinated passengers should be removed during the next formal review of COVID-19 measures on December 20, 2021.  

“A package of bespoke economic support measures should be provided immediately to bridge the sector through this crisis,” they also said, noting that the industry supports over 500,000 direct jobs throughout the UK.  

The letter is signed by: 

  • Andrew Flintham, Managing Director, Tui UK & Ireland 
  • Eddie Wilson, CEO, Ryanair 
  • Johan Lundgren, CEO, easyJet 
  • Jonathan Hinkles, CEO, Loganair 
  • Sean Doyle, CEO, British Airways 
  • Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic 
  • Steve Heapy, CEO, Jet2.com 
  • Tim Alderslade, CEO, Airlines UK 
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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says that nations must rescind travel bans that were introduced in response to the Omicron variant.