Airlines, Airports Sue UK Government Over Covid Travel Rules

 - June 17, 2021, 9:27 AM
Manchester Airport Group and Ryanair are suing the UK government, alleging that its Covid travel restrictions are unjustifiably disrupting the air travel business. (Photo: Manchester Airport Group)

Several airlines and a major airport group have jointly launched a legal challenge against the UK government’s Covid travel restrictions. Demanding full transparency over the basis for the regulations, low-cost carrier Ryanair and the Manchester Airport Group initiated the high-court case seeking a full judicial review of the policy. They say several other unnamed UK carriers back the review.

Lawyers will argue that the UK’s so-called traffic light system, under which visitors stand subject to Covid testing and quarantine requirements based on whether the UK has categorized their country of origin as green, amber, or red in terms of risk, is unscientific and causing unjustified harm to the air transport sector. The companies behind the case are especially aggrieved by the amber risk category, which includes countries such as the U.S. and most European states.

In theory, UK nationals can travel to amber countries, but at the same time, their government continues to insist trips should only be for essential purposes, a caveat that critics say is confusing to the point of being meaningless. At the same time, all arrivals in the UK from those countries must take Covid tests before departure and then two more after their arrival, as part of a ten-day quarantine requirement that constitutes a costly and burdensome disincentive to make trips. The requirement stands even for fully vaccinate travelers.

By contrast, the European Union’s 27 member states are preparing to lift most Covid restrictions for vaccinated foreign visitors starting July 1. On Monday, the UK government delayed the planned lifting of remaining domestic Covid restrictions planned for June 21, arguing that rising cases of the so-called Delta variant justify extended control measures.

Court papers for the legal challenge name UK transport secretary Grant Shapps and health secretary Matt Hancock as defendants. According to the plaintiffs, they want the government to explain how it makes decisions on categorizing countries by risk and to publish the supporting data, as well as justify recent decisions to change the categories at very short notice.

“This go-stop-go-stop policy is causing untold damage to the aviation industry and frustrating and upsetting millions of British families when they see their holiday plans and family visits disrupted by the government’s mismanagement of international travel,” said Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary. “We call on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to explain the scientific basis behind this system that the government seems to make up as they go along and to establish a data-driven transparent model that could restore confidence in air travel ahead of the very crucial peak summer months.”

Manchester Airports Group, which runs Manchester, London Stansted, and East Midlands airports in the UK, says that government policy is making the travel business unsustainable. “The government is not being open and we simply cannot understand how it is making decisions that are fundamental to our ability to plan and to give customers the confidence to book travel ahead,” commented CEO Charlie Cornish. “For most countries, the traffic light seems to be stuck on amber for no obvious reason, despite having [Covid] prevalence rates much lower than the UK.”

The UK government did not issue an immediate response to the announcement of the legal proceedings.