As easyJet reveals plans to launch domestic routes in Britain shorter than 200 miles, other aviation powers are taking legal action in a desperate attempt to restart summer flying at scale.
Ryanair and Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which also owns London Stansted and East Midlands airports, have launched a legal challenge against the government to reveal the basis for decisions on the “traffic light” allocation of nations.
The court papers name the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, as defendants.
The aim is to increase pressure on reopening many more countries to international travel over the next few weeks.
Low-risk countries are placed on the “green list,” which currently has only two viable destinations: Gibraltar and Iceland.
The vast majority of popular holiday locations, including Spain, France, Italy, Greece and the US are on the “amber list,” requiring 10 days of self-isolation as well as multiple tests for inbound travellers.
On 3 June, the travel industry was expecting a cautious extension of the green list – but instead the only mainstream destination, Portugal, was moved abruptly from green to amber.
Assurances that a “green watchlist” would allow a managed return from countries perceived as higher risk were forgotten, and holidaymakers were given four days to rush home and avoid quarantine.
There is bemusement about the continued absence of Malta from the green list, despite its very successful vaccination programme and low case rates.
Several Greek islands, as well as the Balearic islands of Spain, appear to meet the government’s criteria – which also include the prevalence of “variants of concern” and genomic sequencing capabilities.
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of MAG, said: “The whole travel sector recognises the critical importance of protecting public health, and we have facilitated every measure the government has required in response to Covid-19.
“That is why we originally welcomed the Global Travel Taskforce’s traffic light system, which the government said would be based on a ‘a clear and consistent evidence-based approach to facilitate the safe, sustainable and robust return of international travel.’
“However, recent developments suggest that the government is now unwilling to open up international travel by putting low risk countries on the green list.
“For most countries, the traffic light seems to be stuck on amber for no obvious reason, despite having prevalence rates much lower than the UK.
“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 giving customers the confidence to book travel ahead.
“These issues must be resolved urgently – and ahead of the review point later this month – to allow everyone to understand how the system operates, and to create the opportunity for international travel to resume to the fullest extent possible over the summer.”
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, told The Independent: “The airline industry has been highly critical of the Johnson government in their slowness to lock down a year ago, and now in their timid and very fearful reopening – none of which is based on any medical science that we can establish.
“There is no justifiable reason for removing the freedom to travel short-haul between the UK and Europe.”
When announcing the tougher travel restrictions, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We must continue to take a cautious approach to reopening international travel in a way that protects public health and the vaccine rollout.”
Since the delay in domestic unlocking in England was announced, businesses have increased calls for sector-specific financial support to recognise that the travel industry has nothing to sell for the summer.
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the challenging times facing all sectors of transport as a result of Covid-19, which is why we have put in place a world-leading support package, including around £7bn of support benefiting the air transport sector, as well as schemes to raise capital, flexibilities with tax bills and the extended furlough scheme.”
The government must respond by Monday 28 June.