Hopes of a summer holiday have been revived after the Government announced it is considering 'air bridges' as a way of kickstarting international travel. So what is an air bridge? When will they come in? And where are the likely candidates?
The importance of bilateral travel agreements - or 'air bridges' - has never been so pertinent as pressure grows on the Government ahead of the introduction of its quarantine measures today.
Number 10 has previously issued a statement saying: "The Government will continue to look at further options as we move forward and these will include air bridges – agreements between countries who both have low transmission rates to recognise each other’s departure screening measures for passengers and removing the need for quarantine measures for incoming passengers."
Last week, Priti Patel built on this assertion, writing in an article for the Telegraph: "We are working with the transport industry to see how we can introduce agreements with other countries when safe to do so, so we can go abroad and tourists can come here."
As of June 8, anyone arriving in the UK will have to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of symptoms.
Travellers, including people returning home to the UK, will submit the address that they will be staying at on arrival at UK airports and ports. Police will then be given powers to spot-check homes and issue £1,000 fines for anyone not observing the rules.
It is now over two months since the Foreign Office warned British nationals not to travel abroad unless it is essential, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
International summer holidays were beginning to look like they would be off the cards, after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “summer is essentially cancelled" and the two-week quarantine loomed. However, as the UK’s lockdown measures ease, and countries across the European Union, such as Italy, open their borders, there have been glimmers of hope that a summer holiday abroad could still happen in 2020.
So what is an air bridge? When could they come in? And where will we be able to travel to?
What is an “air bridge”
We have heard about travel “bubbles” – agreements between a closed bloc of countries, such as the Baltics, or Australia and New Zealand, and we have heard about travel “corridors” – overland routes into certain countries, like Croatia, through border agreements. But what is an “air bridge”?
It seems like an air bridge will effectively mean a bilateral travel link between the UK and another country, allowing quarantine immunity. The agreement would, we can only assume, by necessity involve a lifting of the FCO travel advisory for that destination.
When does the quarantine start, and are any countries exempt?
Anyone (including Britons coming back in the UK) will be subject to a 14-day quarantine when arriving in the UK by plane, ferry or train. This will come into force as of June 8.
Only people travelling from the common travel areas (CTA) including Ireland, Guernsey, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man will be exempt, along with a very limited group of up to 30 professions or jobs, including freight drivers and medical professionals.
Originally, it was hinted that France could be exempted from a 14-day quarantine, but the government later confirmed that was not the case.
However, one of the latest “air bridge” announcemenmts gives hope that people arriving from certain countries (including, once again, France), plus Britons returning from holiday, may not have to follow the strict quarantine measure; it has been suggested that anyone who breaks the quarantine could be subject to a fine of £1,000.
The first suggestion of "‘air bridges", made by Grant Shapps, sparked cautious optimism across the travel industry, including from travel trade association ABTA. AITO, the Association of Independent Tour Operators, however, issued a more critical response to the announcement: “Our fingers have been badly burnt by earlier off-the-cuff comments by Mr Shapps, and this Government, unfortunately, has a record of making grand statements only to retract or change them substantially a day or so later,” said director of AITO, Noel Josephides.
- Nick Trend: Half-baked 'air bridges' scheme has only brought more confusion for British holidaymakers
When will the air bridges be introduced?
We do not know. The 14-day quarantine will be introduced on June 8, and a number of airlines and holiday companies have been looking at June or July as a date for when operations could resume. But to put a date on when a first UK air bridge would launch – and with which country – is a matter of educated guesswork.
The Government has said it will review the quarantine policy every three weeks, with June 29 the first likely opportunity to introduce bilateral agreements.
One early air bridge could be with the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands have been selected for a pilot scheme in collaboration with the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), which will involve visitors downloading a health passport – called the Hi+ Card – and a track-and-trace app on arrival. A Canary Islands tourism chief told the Telegraph that the Canaries are working hard to reopen this summer, and that they hope to open up to the UK as soon as possible. Due to the low infection rate on the Canaries, it could be a prime candidate for an air bridge.
Another possibility is Portugal. Speaking to the BBC, Augusto Santos Silva said he was hopeful an ‘air bridge’ between the UK and Portugal could be agreed by the end of June.
Wondering where else we might be forming an air bridge with? See this article for the chances of the UK forming a travel agreement with France, Italy, Spain, Greece or Portugal.