International travel restart at risk due to ‘vague and costly’ plans, MPs warn

Joe Gammie, PA
·4-min read

The planned restart of international travel next month is in jeopardy with “vague and costly” proposals not enough to reboot the aviation and tourism sectors, a committee of MPs has warned.

The Transport Select Committee said that international travel has had its “wings clipped” by the “cautious” Government Global Travel Taskforce report.

The committee said the report gave “insufficient” detail to allow businesses and travellers to prepare for the safe resumption of international travel as planned on May 17.

It also said that, where detail was provided, the costs could be “disproportionate to the risk” and could add £500 for a family of four travelling to the “safest” parts of the globe where vaccine rollout is comparable to the UK.

The lack of clarity does not offer confidence to industry or consumers to plan, invest or recover from the pandemic and puts the planned restart of international travel at risk, the committee added.

Its chair, Huw Merriman, said the Government had failed to provide the certainty the industry craved.

He added: “The aviation and travel sectors were crying out for a functional report, setting out clear rules and offering certainty. This is not it.

“For UK citizens seeking to travel to the parts of the globe where the vaccine has been delivered as rapidly as the UK, the cost to families from testing could be greater than the cost of the flights.”

In its analysis, published on Thursday, the committee called for the Government to place destination countries into the traffic-light framework by May 1 and announce the details in a statement to Parliament.

Its also recommended explaining the criteria and mechanism by which countries will move between risk categories and offering an “affordable” testing regime by maximising the use of lateral flow tests and providing of “affordable” PCR tests.

The committee said the price of tests was a barrier to restarting international travel and suggested that some of the UK’s enhanced testing capacity could be reallocated for resuming travel.

It also called on the Government to act immediately to reduce queues and waiting times at the UK border.

This includes working with other countries to agree the mutual recognition of travel health certification, deploying more staff, processing passenger locator forms before they arrive in the UK and establishing a system based on an app to process health certification.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Merriman said: “This is a missed opportunity for the Government to capitalise on the UK’s world-leading vaccine dividend.

“How can it be right that hauliers, arriving from parts of the globe where the vaccine rollout is slow, are able to use cheaper lateral flow testing whilst a trip back from Israel requires a PCR test which is four times as expensive.

“This was an opportunity to provide a global lead with standardised rules on international health certification and promoting app-based technology, making the processes at borders more secure and less time consuming.

“The urgent situation facing the aviation and travel sectors warrants a clear action plan to green light our travel – and the Government must urgently set it out.”

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said while it is “understandable” that the Government cannot yet provide clarity on where people can go due to factors beyond its control such as changing infection rates in many countries “it needs to do a better job of fixing the issues it does control”.

He said consumers need “clarity on how the traffic light system will work and reassurance that last-minute changes won’t leave them facing thousand pound bills – as they did last summer”.

He added: “Test costs remain too high and risk pricing millions out of travel, while the problem of passengers queuing for several hours at border control at some UK airports has been going on for months.

“If people are to travel this summer, whether to see loved ones or on holiday, they need the Government to make sure it is affordable and safe.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “People in the UK have made immense sacrifices, both through lockdown and by coming forward in astonishing numbers for the vaccination and so it is only right that we don’t throw away the progress we’ve made through taking any unnecessary risks.

“That’s why the taskforce has set out a cautious, but deliberate path to unlocking international travel in a safe and sustainable way, from 17 May at the earliest.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported that a Government official told travel industry figures in a call on Wednesday that there is an aim to give people the ability to prove their vaccine status when international travel starts up again, where such a thing is required by other countries.