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What Ryanair’s lawsuit over travel ‘traffic light’ system means for holidaymakers

Budget airline demands more transparency about how the government decides if countries are safe to visit during Covid crisis

Ryanair and the UK’s largest airport group are suing the government over an alleged lack of transparency in the country’s travel “traffic light” system that is claimed to have hobbled the aviation industry.

The budget carrier and Manchester Airports Group (MAG) “argue that ministers have not been clear” about how they decide which countries are safe travel destinations, “undermining consumer confidence to book summer holidays” as the Covid-19 crisis continues, reports The Guardian

The High Court challenge is due to be filed as early as today - less than two weeks after the government’s first review of the traffic-lights lists, which saw tourism hotspot Portugal suddenly moved from green to amber.

Ryanair and MAG - which also runs Stansted and East Midlands airports - are demanding that the government reveals the Covid prevalence thresholds used to determine whether destinations are classed as red, amber or green, “as well as any criteria or additional information that informs the government’s decision-making”, says the newspaper.

Announcing the lawsuit, Ryanair Group CEO Michael O'Leary, said: “I've never come across a more incompetent f****** front bench of ministers.”

O'Leary told The Telegraph that he had “no faith” in Boris Johnson's government after ministers “completely mismanaged the original lockdowns last year and the reopening now”.

The legal challenge, he explained, was a bid to force the government to “be more transparent” about the traffic lights system and “publish what exactly the thresholds are at which international travel … will be allowed to restart”, or to “get some injunctive relief against the government generally on the back of vaccines that says the longer lockdown is restricting people’s freedom of movement”.

What happens next?

According to The Telegraph, “further airlines and travel industry operators” will be revealed as signatories to the legal challenge when the court papers are filed. And The Guardian says that both Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will be named as defendants.

Responding to the lawsuit announcement, a government spokesperson said they could not comment on legal proceedings, but recognised that the travel sector was going through a “challenging period”. 

“Our traffic light system cautiously manages the risk of new variants, and we have provided £7bn to help support for the industry during the pandemic,” said the spokesperson. 

That funding boost has failed to appease industry bosses, however.  

The chief executives of Jet2 and easyJet Holidays have criticised the government for not putting destinations such as Majorca on the green list of countries that Brits may visit without being required to self-isolate after returning home. Jet2 boss Steve Heapy told the BBC that he was “bewildered” as to why destinations with low infection rates had not been included. 

But despite the growing chorus of criticism, pundits say the government is unlikely to add more countries to the green list before the end of this summer.

The Telegraph’s home affairs editor Charles Hymas reports that “Toni Mayor, the head of the Hosbec association of Valencia region hoteliers, said he did not expect to see UK tourism take off until August, following a meeting with Hugh Elliott, the UK ambassador” to Spain. And Turkish tourists chiefs “received a similar message” after meeting with UK foreign office officials, who signalled that travel restrictions out of the UK would not be lifted until the beginning of August, Hymas writes. 

In the meantime, says the Daily Mail, July, which is usually the busiest and most profitable month of the summer season, looks set to be a “blow-out” for the travel industry.

What does it mean for holidaymakers?

As the government green list dwindles, many Brits are writing off their plans for a foreign holiday for a second consecutive year. 

Some holidaymakers are still hoping to get away, however, but will have to be quick to book flights to countries that can be visited without having to quarantine afterwards. 

Newly published data from price comparison site Skyscanner reveal that “the number of seats sold for flights to Gibraltar increased by 115% in the first week of this month compared with the previous week”, reports The Times. Sales of flights to Iceland also rose, by 40%.

Any good news for would-be travellers?

Ministers are reportedly considering plans to allow quarantine-free re-entry into England from amber-list countries for British travellers who have had two doses of a Covid vaccine. Those not fully vaccinated would still face the same restrictions to travel. 

Health Secretary Hancock is said to be “open” to the change, as an incentive to get more UK citizens vaccinated, The Telegraph reports.

If the idea was put into place, it “would effectively turn amber countries green for the vaccinated, opening up the possibility of quarantine-free travel to most major holiday destinations in Europe and the US”, says the paper. 


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