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British Airways’ first A350-1000 in London (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

British Airways, Ryanair, easyJet Take Legal Action Against U.K. Quarantine Legislation

The British government’s new COVID-19 quarantine policy, effective from June 8, has sprung escalating tensions between some of the country’s largest airlines and the government itself. British Airlines, specifically, launched legal action in a bid to block the planned 14-day self-isolation plan for arrivals beginning Monday.

In addition to a 14-day quarantine upon entry to the country, travelers have to provide their itinerary, contact details and the address where they will self-isolate by completing a public health passenger locator form, which must be submitted on arrival in the country.

International Airlines Group (IAG) — the parent company of British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, LEVEL and Vueling — sent a letter to the British Home Office on June 5 to express why it is opposed to the plan. Low-cost airline giants Ireland-based Ryanair and U.K.-based easyJet also signed the pre-action protocol letter, which is considered as the first phase of the legal procedures.

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, previously criticized the plan, calling it “nonsense” and “useless.”

“This is a country that can’t even do testing and tracing, never mind following up on people on where they are spending their 14-day isolation,” said O’Leary at a Financial Times Boardroom event. Ryanair also announced it would support any legal action launched by IAG against the quarantine, which it claims would be ineffective.

According to the letter, the airlines believe that restrictions are unnecessary and the government could not justify the regulations, particularly self-isolation rules. In the letter, IAG lays out a claim that the quarantine measures are more severe than the ones that are already applied to the people who are confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus. IAG, the world’s third-largest airline group, further argued that the fact that measures will be applied to the people who travel from countries with lower infection rates than the U.K. doesn’t make sense from the standpoint of protecting public health.

“We think it’s irrational, we think it’s disproportionate and we are giving consideration to a legal challenge to this legislation, so we’re reviewing that with the lawyers. I suspect there are other airlines who are doing so, because it’s important to point out there was no consultation with the industry prior to enacting this legislation and we do believe it is an irrational piece of legislation,” IAG Cheif Executive Officer William Walsh said in an interview with Sky News. According to the executive, the new rules would torpedo the airline group’s chances of having its subsidiaries flying in July, when it had originally planned to resume flights.

The legislation appears to be heightening tensions between the airlines and the government as parties do not step back from their positions. While the British government says the measures are needed to control the pandemic and hinder any possible second wave, the airlines and travel companies against the rules due to financial concerns.

“The introduction of mandatory 14-day self-isolation for every single traveler entering the UK will reduce customer demand significantly and prevent a resumption of services at scale,” a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said at a meeting with British Home Secretary Priti Patel and Aviation Minister Kelly Tolhurst last week.

While most airlines and travel companies were present at the meeting held to discuss the quarantine rules, British Airways, the strongest opponent of the legislation, declined to attend it as it thinks that the meeting was unprofessional and a waste of time.

British Airways is under a huge financial pressure caused by the groundings and slump in demand for air travel caused by novel coronavirus pandemic. The company says its cash reserves are being depleted by approximately 1 million pounds ($1.27 million) per hour.

Although British Airways planned a substantial resumption of flights in July and has recently unveiled 29 additional long haul destinations where it will resume flying, it says that demand for air travel will not recover for three years.

The airline appears to fear that quarantine legislation will endanger the prospect of a gradual recovery in air travel and put its survival at stake. While the airline is battling with the officials over quarantine legislation, it is said to be considering taking dramatic internal steps to save cash and protect its business. Last week pilots working for the British airlines were told that if they did not accept any changes to working terms and conditions, they could potentially lose their current job and be re-hired on a different contract.

Failure to provide contact details or not complying with self-isolation policy might result in refusal to entry to the country or a fine up to 1,000 pounds. Anyone giving inaccurate contact detail declaration or not updating the contact detail form when they change their place of self-isolation will be fined up to 3,200 pounds.

The U.K. government’s quarantine rules will apply to all visitors including the UK residents. Travelers from Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands; pilots and crew traveling to the U.K. in the course of their work; civil aviation inspectors engaged on inspection duties; members of diplomatic missions in the U.K. and many other certain individuals are exempt from the 14-day self-isolation. However, they still need to follow the same rules as people who live in the U.K.

Bulent Imat
Bulent Imat
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