Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
Did you begin Friday with something of a spring in your step? Many travellers found themselves in the unusual position of looking forward to a 5pm press conference conducted by the transport secretary. It was not quite the sweet anticipation that comes with a long-planned journey. But Grant Shapps would confirm that venturing abroad to see much-missed loved ones, or simply for the sheer joy of escape, will no longer be illegal from 17 May. (From England at least; Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will probably sign up in the next few days.)
The minister would also reveal a modest list of “green list” countries from which a traveller can return to the UK with only a few hoops to jump through: testing before departure, booking a post-arrival PCR test and completing a passenger locator form.
Yes, I am thankful for small mercies – which shows just how low our travel expectations have sunk.
A planned trip abroad was once a pleasurable prospect. Currently, though, any such journey is burdened with hassle and unease. A tangle of terms and conditions applies, including the non-zero possibility that you could find your location suddenly switched from green to red list without passing amber. Go directly to Isolation Row for 11 nights in a budget hotel and a massive credit card bill.
Plenty of us have found our wanderlust intensified as lockdown after lockdown has dragged on. We will gladly tolerate uncertainty for sunshine and adventure. Yet a holiday abroad has switched from an exciting aspiration to an extreme sport where it often feels the odds are stacked against you.
That applies whether you are a desperate tourist or a travel firm anxious to recoup some of your prodigious losses over the past 14 months. On Friday morning, British Airways’ parent company, IAG, revealed it lost cash at a rate of £120 per second during the first three months of the year.
The current 19-week ban on international travel is merely one of many conflicting travel laws. Fourteen months ago, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, the government lifted targeted quarantine. Eleven months ago, as infection rates dropped, ministers deemed blanket quarantine essential – but only 33 days later decided it wasn’t essential at all.
After so many stumbles, what ministers plan for early summer 2021 is basically a test flight for the bold and the desperate. But by the start of July, I expect the European locations on which so many of our holiday dreams depend – Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and Greece – to go green.
Many people feel that even giving overseas travellers an inch is dangerous.
“Covid is out of control globally” Alan Kerr tweeted to me on Friday afternoon. “There must be no foreign travel and borders must be closed.”
The travel industry’s ease at bringing humanity together caused the rapid spread of coronavirus. Thankfully, though, the UK and other countries are healing. We deserve to be reconnected, and the world needs what travellers provide. Venturing abroad does more than provide indulgence and enrichment for the traveller. International tourism creates millions of jobs and transfers wealth from richer countries to poorer nations.
The race to the sun is about to begin. And not a moment too soon.