International flights to and from UK airports plunged by 71% this year compared to 2019 amid calls to revitalise travel industry by scrapping PCR tests for arrivals
Travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic caused a 71% reduction in the number of international flights to and from UK airports this year.
Aviation analytics firm Cirium said around 406,060 international flights served UK airports during 2021 up to December 22, compared with 1,399,170 in the pre-pandemic period of 2019.
The recovery of international travel from the virus crisis has been limited due to testing and quarantine requirements, and fears of countries being added to the red list which involved mandatory hotel quarantine.
The rules for people arriving in the UK have changed throughout the year.
Currently, fully vaccinated travellers must take a pre-departure test, and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival test.
Those who are not fully vaccinated must self-isolate for 10 days after they arrive.
Ryanair operated with most UK flights – around 101,420.
EasyJet was in second place with 82,850, while British Airways was third with 77,460.
Ryanair operated with most UK flights – around 101,420 – followed by EasyJet then by BA
The rules for people arriving in the UK have changed throughout the year amid confusion
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue operated a total of 2,410 flights by the end of 2021
The most popular international route from the UK in 2021 was London Heathrow to New York’s JFK, despite the US only reopening its borders in November.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue operated a total of 2,410 flights on the route by the end of the year.
The busiest international routes were within the Common Travel Area, which includes the UK, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
Arrivals into the UK on those routes did not face testing or quarantine requirements.
The number of domestic flights within the UK was down nearly 60% compared with 2019.
The busiest route was in Cornwall, between Land’s End and St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly, which saw 2,330 flights.
The terrible news comes just a day after travel and tourism experts called for the Government to remove prohibitive tests to enter the UK, branding them ‘rapidly out of date’ and with ‘no justification’.
Currently people have to take a COVID-19 test 2 days before travel to England and an often expensive PCR test on day 2 or before.
Travel experts united today to ask why testing was still happening amid no other restrictions
Currently two often expensive tests are required for entry to the UK by tourists and residents
But these regulations were imposed in an attempt to try and restrict the Omicron coronavirus strain, a variant which is now running rampant throughout the country.
Boris Johnson‘s government have imposed no Covid restrictions, despite cases per day of upwards of 100,000.
It has prompted baffled travel experts to question why transport tests designed to restrict it were still in place and damaging the industry.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told MailOnline: ‘The evidence is not there now for such restrictions to be in place coming into the UK.
‘The rules are lacking evidence, there is no justification for a pre-departure test to the UK anymore. No-one needs to monitor Omicron coming in – it’s already here.
‘The PM needs to remove the pre-departure test as a minimum and turn the day 2 into an easier lateral flow test.
‘Omicron is less dangerous than Delta – so why are the rules more severe than they were in Delta times?
‘The rules in place have rapidly become out of date and they need to be removed urgently – there is no justification for them.’
Kurt Janson, director of the Tourism Alliance, said the testing requirements were damaging the industry.
He said: ‘They certainly make it difficult for it for the international travel sector whether it be inbound or outbound to function in a reasonable manner.
‘It is something that needs to be resolved. From the inboard tourism perspective there is £30bn the UK earns – that’s been down 80% over the past year.
‘Resolving the restrictions on international travel needs to be done. The government has got a tourism recovery plan and the target is to get figures back to 2019 levels by 2023.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, questioned the tests
Coronavirus figures showed that the virus variant is now widespread throughout the UK
‘Considering we have one of the highest rates of Omicron in the world, what is the point of getting people to get a day two test?
‘There is a rational in other countries where Omicron is at low levels, but for people travelling to the UK there is a real question mark over what benefits it brings this country.’
A spokesperson for ABTA, the travel association, also questioned why tests were still in place.
‘The Government has always been clear that once the Omicron variant is widespread across the UK there would be little rationale for retaining any restrictions on international travel.
‘It’s vitally important therefore that the additional testing requirements that were introduced are removed as quickly as possible, in line with scientific and medical advice, particularly as we are fast approaching the key booking season for next summer.
‘With average annual revenue across the travel industry down by nearly 80% on pre-crisis levels – even before Omicron emerged – the Government must also urgently consider the case for furlough and other income support, especially if travel restrictions are going to be maintained for any significant period.’
Thousands of holidays for Britons during the festive period – including cruises and Austrian skiing trips – have been cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions imposed by destinations.
‘We don’t anticipate any measures being scrapped until at least the end of January. Even with the promise of a review every three weeks by the Department for Transport, there have been suggestions they’ll be in place for two or three months,’ one senior aviation insider told The Times.
The introduction of the tests earlier this month was described as a ‘devastating blow’ to the travel industry, with aviation officials saying the rapid change in entry requirements has made it ‘impossible’ for the industry to plan ahead.
t is understood travel testing will be looked at by the Government again on January 5 and could be scaled back, depending on the data.