British Airways presses Johnson govt for clear plan to reopen travel
British Airways called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to set a firm plan for resuming international flights, including timelines and conditions that the airline can use to plan ahead for the summer season.
IAG SA’s flagship airline is seeing a “great demand to travel and a real desire to allow British people to travel,” said Sean Doyle, BA’s chief executive officer. “But we do see the need for rapid action and for global coordination.”
The UK declared most international travel off-limits in December in response to a rapidly spreading strain of coronavirus. Since then, the country has rolled out vaccinations at one of the fastest rates in the world.
With infection rates falling, Johnson said in February that the country could reopen international travel from May 17 at the earliest. That’s raised expectations, and Doyle’s comments are intended to gain more certainty from the government on April 12, when a task-force report on the plan is due. The CEO wants enough clarity to start rebuilding BA’s flight schedule, which has been decimated by the pandemic for almost a year.
“We’ve got planning windows which run into months, not weeks,” Doyle said. “We know that people want to travel, we know countries want to accept travelers, and we believe that with testing, with vaccination and technology, we can enable that in a way that’s seen as frictionless and will allow the industry to get back on its feet again.”
The summer months are crucial for airlines across Europe, when revenue typically bulges from people going on annual holidays. The UK is the region’s second-biggest source of travelers after Germany, and countries within the European Union like Greece and Spain are making plans to welcome British visitors. EU officials in Brussels, meanwhile, are racing to create a unified policy.
Airlines are hoping to get passengers on planes again as soon as possible after the winter resurgence in virus cases forced them into a fresh wave of borrowing, aircraft sales and state support.
Doyle is calling for the task force to allow the use of digital health passports to verify vaccination or negative test results. It has partnered with several apps, including VeriFly and the International Air Transport Association’s Travel Pass, and is planning its own solution in coming days, Doyle said.
While London-based BA’s lifeblood is long-distance flying, short and medium-haul flying will take on greater importance this year since it will start earlier. Bloomberg reported on Friday that the airline may use twin-aisle planes on short trips to Greece or Spain.
Greece is seeking to allow all vaccinated travelers, those who test negative for the virus, and those who have antibodies to enter the country beginning May 14, with Spain planning to follow. Cyprus has said it will let in Britons who have had two Covid-19 jabs at the start of May.
BA is looking at offering services to new destinations this summer, both on long-haul and short-haul routes, Doyle said. He said he sees opportunities to add routes in Europe and Asia, without elaborating.