It’s true, some airlines have been able to adapt relatively quickly and efficiently to new coronavirus-related challenges – most recently, Virgin, British Airways and Delta are now to all introduce testing requirements on all of their London routes (passengers travelling will be required to provide a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to departure) in response to New York Governor Ander Cuomo’s request to test passengers travelling from London to prevent transmission of the new Covid variant from the UK.
“I have the airlines flying into New York from the UK who have all agreed that they will test people before they get on the flight in the UK en route to New York,” Cuomo told news agency CNN. “If I see smoke, I’m going to douse water on that spot.”
British Airways cancels flights
But, on the most part, aviation operators are continuing to take a real hit. For example, BA has had to axe 15 of its long-haul routes for summer 2021, including flights to Bangkok, Sydney, Abu Dhabi, San Jose, Seychelles, Seol, Durban, Dammam, Osaka, Lima and Muskat, as well as some flights to North America.
“We are sorry that, like other airlines, due to the current coronavirus pandemic and global travel restrictions, we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule,” said a BA spokesperson.
Passengers who are booked onto any of the newly cancelled routes will be offered the opportunity to receive a flight voucher or refund, and BA is working to contact the relevant passengers.
WTTC warns against blanket travel bans
While the US is among those that have insisted upon stringent testing of passengers from the UK, other countries have been quick to shut their borders to the country entirely – a move that the World Travel & tourism Council (WTTC) insists is ‘disruptive and economically damaging’.
In a statement, WTTC President and CEO Gloria Guevara reasoned that blanket travel ban policies ‘could not be the answer’. “They have not worked in the past and they will not work now,” she said, adding: “If a comprehensive and quick turnaround testing regime were in place at airports across the country to test all travellers before they depart, it would ensure only those infected with Covid-19 are isolated and are prevented from travelling. There would be no need for countries to introduce damaging and counterproductive wholesale bans on UK travellers.”
Thankfully, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has in December unveiled key design elements of its IATA Travel Pass – so this prospect of airport testing that Guevara identifies may not be that far off.
For now, however, things are not so certain. Guevara therefore insisted that the travel and tourism sector would be ‘critical to powering the economic recovery’: “which is why it is absolutely crucial that action must be taken now to save it. If not, it will collapse, and millions of people will lose their jobs.”
CAA calls Ryanair’s UK presence into question
Unfortunately, however, the struggles of the aviation industry at this time extend beyond coronavirus-related issues. In recent news, Ryanair has culled around a dozen UK routes due to what it describes as ‘new regulatory barriers’ set out by the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA).
The CAA has insisted that for Ryanair – or indeed any airline – to fairly compete in the UK aviation market, it cannot rely heavily on using wet-leased, foreign-registered aircraft, as this ‘undermines the competitiveness of the UK aviation industry’ – and, currently, only one of Ryanair’s 470+ aircraft is registered in the UK.
“Only 10 days away from the end of the Brexit transition phase, the CAA’s director David Kendrick has inexplicably introduced new regulatory barriers in the way of Ryanair’s UK airline, forcing Ryanair UK to cancel 12 important routes from the UK’s regions at a time when they need reliable, low-fare connectivity more than ever before.”
Responding, however, the CAA said: “It is incorrect for the airline to state that the UK Civil Aviation Authority has changed its wet-leasing policy at short notice.
“It has been our long-standing position that a UK airline with a significant presence in the UK, such as Ryanair UK does, should not rely heavily on using wet-leased, foreign-registered aircraft to undertake their operations.
“Doing so undermines the competitiveness of the UK aviation industry and the effectiveness of the regulatory regime. This is a view shared by regulators around the world and has nothing to do with our preparations for the end of the transition period, which we have planned for extensively.”
Many other changes are expected to come with Brexit. Indeed, some even muse that the loss of the European Health Insurance Card could, in some ways, facilitate improved relationships between international travel insurers and European healthcare providers. This all remains to be seen.