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An aerial view of London Stansted Airport (Photo: London Stansted Airport)

Ryanair and Major Airport Owners Take U.K. Government to Court over Travel Restrictions

Ryanair and the owner of their largest UK airport base have begun legal proceedings to challenge the UK government’s ‘traffic light system’ of international travel. The Irish-based carrier and Manchester Airports Group (MAG), owners of London Stansted, East Midlands and Manchester airports are seeking clarity on how the UK government is categorizing countries into the ‘green’, ‘amber’ and ‘red’ lists.

The ‘traffic light’ system was adopted on 17 May as a means of reopening international travel to UK citizens and residents. Each level has a range of measures travellers need to abide by when returning from an overseas destination. This ranges from a series of PCR tests only for ‘green list’ countries through to a 10-day hotel quarantine at the traveller’s expense for ‘red list’ arrivals.

“The current opaque way that decisions are being made is undermining consumer confidence in the traffic-light system and makes it impossible for airports, airlines and other travel companies to plan for the recovery of international travel or work with the government on future reviews,” the two companies said in a statement cited in the Financial Times.

“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,” said Charlie Cornish MAG’s chief executive.

Mr Cornish further added: “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.”

However, at the first review in early June, Portugal which had been on the initial green list was moved to amber with only a few days’ notice. This created a level of chaos for those UK citizens and residents in Portugal and a scramble to return home before the measures took place who were then faced with a mandatory 10-day self-isolation. Noticeable in the UK Government’s provision for returning travellers was no consideration for vaccination status leading to widespread criticism.

Ryanair Group chief executive Michael O’Leary has been especially critical of the UK government’s application of restrictions calling it a “shambles” resulting in “untold damage to the aviation industry and frustrating and upsetting millions of British families”. In defence, the Department of Transport has said that “our traffic-light system cautiously manages the risk of new variants, and we have provided £7 billion ($9.76 billion)to help support the industry during the pandemic.”

The UK government will reassess the countries on the various lists on 24 June with Reuters reporting that this may include a revision of restrictions for returning citizens who are fully vaccinated. With over 50 per cent of the UK adult population now having received both jabs a spokesperson said “we have commenced work to consider the role of vaccinations in shaping a different set of health and testing measures for inbound travel.”


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John is currently the course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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