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Save Our Summer: UK pilots and cabin crew issue travel sector rescue plea

Stock MarketsJun 23, 2021 11:02AM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An aircraft takes off at Heathrow Airport amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in London, Britain, February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo 2/2

By Alistair Smout and Gerhard Mey

LONDON, June 23 (Reuters) - British pilots, cabin crew, travel agents and other workers are urging politicians to save the summer holiday season by reopening routes abroad or risk destroying tens of thousands of jobs as companies fail.

Workers from the travel industry demonstrated across Britain on Wednesday. Protesters outside parliament held banners saying "Speak up for travel" as pilots and air stewardesses from British Airways, easyJet (LON:EZJ) and Virgin Atlantic lined up in full uniform, to highlight the threat to their jobs from the government's strict rules.

England is expected to re-open from a third COVID-19 lockdown in July but the travel sector remains effectively shut, with the government advising against travel except to a handful of destinations.

British government ministers are examining ways to re-open travel more broadly, and are considering plans to ditch quarantine requirements for vaccinated adults and their children to some destinations.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that whatever happens, it will be a difficult year for travel.

The industry says the rules need to be eased urgently to prevent more jobs being lost.

Brian Strutton, acting General Secretary of the British pilots union BALPA said it was make or break time for the sector.

"If we lose this summer as well, I don't know how some of the travel companies, some of the airlines, are going to be able to survive, because with no money coming in, how can they continue to run their operations?," he said in an interview.

To survive more than 15 months of travel restrictions, companies including British Airways, easyJet, TUI and Jet2, have taken on billions of pounds of debt.

"Airlines are at the absolute limit of what they can borrow and without a genuine reopening this summer they will require government support to survive," the chief executive of industry group Airlines UK Tim Alderslade said.

Airlines are also ramping up pressure on the government to ease its travel rules by joining legal action, led by Manchester Airports Group. England's High Court ruled the case an urgent matter this week.

RED TRAFFIC LIGHT

Under the government's traffic light system, only travellers to a small number of green-list countries can avoid quarantine.

Popular European holiday destinations for Britons, including France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United States, are rated amber and require returning passengers to take three expensive COVID-19 tests and isolate for 10 days on return.

The industry urged the government to expand the green list when the system is reviewed on June 28.

COVID-19 rules restricted the numbers permitted to attend the Westminster protest to a few hundred who held up placards with pictures of flip flops and planes saying "Give safe travel the green light". There were also events at Manchester, Heathrow and other airports.

At the Westminster protest, Kelly Cookes, leisure director at Advantage Travel told Sky News the industry's future was "hanging in the balance" and said she was expecting companies to fail without rule changes.

Another protester said that now was the time to help the family-owned businesses that help make up Britain's large and once vibrant travel industry.

"Look at our livelihoods, we've sold everything, we've borrowed money, we're in debt," he said to gathered crowds.

Airline bosses have said that they could be ready for a wider re-opening of travel within weeks should government rules change.

But even if Britain eases its rules, airlines and tour operators could still face a challenge as the spread of the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus has prompted other countries to place restrictions on British arrivals.

Save Our Summer: UK pilots and cabin crew issue travel sector rescue plea
 

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