Joanna Kolatsis is a lawyer with over 20 years of experience advising the aviation and travel industry and the founding director of Themis Advisory, a strategic advisory consultancy providing pragmatic legal and business solutions for the modern business world. Here, she examines the impact of travel corridors on UK’s aviation industry.

    It would not be an exaggeration to say the entire world has been watching the Covid-19 pandemic unfolding on a daily basis since late January 2020 when it became apparent that the virus had shifted from its origins in Asia. But no industry has taken centre stage to this crisis like the aviation and travel sector. The industry was devastated as we watched country by country lock down, and international travel restrictions saw entire routes wiped out overnight.

    Unfortunately, it is apparent that the sector remains likely to be a long-term victim of the pandemic. The inconsistent approaches across the globe as the pandemic began to take hold, coupled with the inability to re-open destinations in a safe and consistent manner, are doing little to instill confidence in the travelling public. Industry experts agree that while the sector will bounce back, it will take time to rebuild while consumers are dealing with the devastating economic impact the pandemic is inevitably going to have on the world economy, much less travel arrangements.

    But during all of this, the UK has faced much criticism for its inefficient handling of the pandemic as a whole. The UK experienced one of the worst infection and death rates across the European region and, as a result, found itself on the periphery of travel exemption lists around the world. Much debate has taken place as to the lack of immediate action by the UK Government that may have stemmed the rate of infection and avoided the UK being maligned internationally due to its late efforts.

    Joanna Kolatsis
    Joanna Kolatsis

    Momentum began to build when the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) issued guidance on 17 March against all non-essential international travel for UK citizens for an initial period of 30 days. This triggered a mass of flight and travel cancellations overnight with consumers clamoring for refunds, and many still waiting. While the FCO guidance remained under constant review, it was not lifted until 3 July when the FCO amended its advisory to allow for travel to certain exempted destinations (the full list can be found on the gov.uk website).

    The UK eventually followed the path of many other jurisdictions and went into lockdown on 23 March. However, at that time there were no restrictions on travellers entering the UK; a move which was heavily criticised. It took over two months for the government to announce that as of 8 June, any travellers coming into the UK would have to quarantine for a period of 14 days. Many were left questioning the wisdom of this decision when no restrictions were in place at a time when the infection and death rates in the UK were at their highest.

    Industry bodies joined forces, along with key airline stakeholders, to lobby the government over the 14-day quarantine period. The main concern was that the decision to impose the quarantine at a time when the industry was preparing to resume services, and many months after other countries had taken such early and decisive action, appeared to have no benefit whatsoever. There were extremely limited exemptions to quarantine announced which did nothing to benefit the majority of the travelling public.

    Throughout this period, UK Government sources began to make references to potential ‘air bridges’ or ‘air corridors’ that would allow travel to resume at the appropriate time. In an attempt to minimise the impact of the quarantine, ‘travel corridors’ were finally implemented on 10 July. The concept of the travel corridors was to provide for seamless travel between the UK and other destinations where quarantine arrangements would not be implemented for travellers entering the UK. Countries that were not included in the list of travel corridors were up in arms as there was no discernible criteria published that would allow for them to be considered for future inclusion on the list. The travel corridors can be found at gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-travel-corridors.

    While the concept of travel corridors may have been a step in the right direction for the potential resumption of international travel, the reality is that as one of the worst affected countries, UK citizens are not yet able to travel to the majority of destinations without restriction.

    The revised FCO travel advisory list published on 3 July was inevitably confused with the quarantine exemption list produced by the UK Department for Transport on 10 July. It is important to highlight that the FCO list is entirely separate to the travel corridors list and should not be confused with each other.

    The travel corridors list is under regular review, but it is apparent that it is not the silver bullet the aviation and what the travel sector had been hoping for in order to re-start international travel in a meaningful way. With talk of a ‘second wave’ and infection rate spikes in various countries, confusion reigns supreme among the public as to whether they should or shouldn’t start to travel again for fear of FCO travel advisory changes or the travel corridors list being changed at a moment’s notice. Despite the heroic lobbying efforts of industry and trade groups, it is painfully apparent that we have a long way to go before the UK sector is given the boost it desperately needs to get leisure and business travel up and running again. But industry leaders continue to work tirelessly to ensure that when the time comes, they are ready and able to meet consumer travel demands that will inevitably return.