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UK ‘Traffic Light’ Travel System Review Provides Some Relief for Aviation Industry

A British Airways Boeing 777 at London Heathrow. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

This week provided some relief for the U.K.’s aviation industry with a revision of the government’s much-maligned “traffic light” system of country classification for international passengers returning into England. Germany, Austria and Norway were among seven countries added to the “green list,” over the course of the week, though travelers from the U.K. are subject to the arrival requirements of each respective country.

The main airline hub countries of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates moved from the “red list” to the “amber list.” This means that those arriving into the UK, regardless of vaccination status, no longer face a costly 10-day hotel quarantine. Instead, they will receive 10 days of self-isolation with two PCR tests to be undertaken on the second and eighth days. The provision for self-isolation and the eighth-day test is removed for those who meet the U.K. government’s definition of “fully vaccinated.”

Positive news was also forthcoming for travelers arriving into the U.K. from France, which was controversially placed into a new “amber-plus list” on July 16, three days before a previously announced relaxation of restrictions was due to come into effect. Those arriving from France after 4 a.m. on Aug. 8 will now face the less restricted “amber list” rules, which prompted a significant rise in bookings for the remainder of the summer holiday season.

However, this may prove to be too little too late with industry representatives continuing to speak out against the way in which the U.K. government has handled the international travel situation thus far.

International Air Transport Association Director General Willie Walsh told BBC earlier in the week that “a simpler [international travel] system is definitely what is required to avoid confusion in the case of consumers.” BBC News also reported that the Welsh government was critical of the “ad-hoc nature” of the U.K. government’s travel decisions following the latest changes.

Commenting on the three times-weekly review of the travel lists, Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing U.K.-registered carriers, said, “This is another missed opportunity and with the summer season nearing its conclusion means international travel has not had anything like the reopening it was hoping for. This puts us at odds with our European neighbours and clearly does not represent the liberation of aviation that the Prime Minister has spoken of.”

Alderslade stressed the need for the U.K to keep pace with its peers.

“Alongside the continuation of expensive testing and a much smaller than hoped for expansion of the green list – which makes less sense by the day given where we are with the vaccination program – this is yet another blow to the sector and families desperate to get away and means the U.K. continues to open up far slower than the rest of Europe,” he said.

The positive news of countries added to the “green” and “amber” lists was offset by the addition of Mexico to the “red list,” prompting a panic amongst the 6,000 U.K. holidaymakers currently traveling in the country. British Airways responded to the changes in the traffic light system by adding four extra flights from Mexico and waiving change fees for passengers seeking to return before the 4 a.m. Sunday deadline.

British Airways also restructured its schedule to ensure as many flights as possible would return to the U.K. prior to Mexico moving onto the red list. For those travellers in Cancun, the airline created an emergency “rescue fare” for the remaining seats at a cost of £257 ($356). After this time, those arriving from Mexico will face a mandatory 10-night quarantine in a managed hotel at a cost of £1,750. To add further to travelers’ woes, the fees for managed quarantine for those arriving from red list countries will rise to £2,285 beginning Aug. 12.

John Flett


  • 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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