EDITORIAL: UK government backed itself into an air travel legal challenge

Credit: Heathrow Airport

The UK government has said throughout the pandemic that it was working in partnership with the air transport industry on when and how to re-open international travel. But airlines and airports appear to have reached the end of their patience with talks that are leading nowhere, and some are looking to a legal remedy. 

The government is now facing a judicial review over its traffic light restrictions, showing just how frustrated the industry is with erratic pandemic decision-making.

In mid-May, UK airlines and airports were deeply disappointed with the announcement of just 12 countries on the green list, having waited months for some sign that a summer vacation season could begin. Portugal was almost the only feasible, desirable vacation destination, but then it got downgraded to amber in June, making it a leisure travel no-go and causing chaos for airlines, airports and UK citizens. 

With no transparency on how it is making its international travel decisions, the UK government has set itself up to be accused of following a hunch rather than relying on scientific data.

Manchester Airports Group consequently launched a legal challenge, calling for greater transparency into how the countries are allocated red, amber or green status. Other airport groups, in Scotland and England, as well as British Airways parent IAG, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, are supporting that challenge. They are right to do so.

Minimizing its citizens’ safety risk in a pandemic is, of course, an important government responsibility, one that Downing Street is upholding through its strong vaccination program and other measures. But ensuring personal freedom of movement is also an important responsibility in a democracy. Lengthy and severe restrictions such as the UK has imposed cannot continue without very clear scientific data to support them. 

Court action should always be a last resort, but if the UK government is not listening to its air transport industry experts and ignoring scientific data in favor of easier political solutions, then it should be prepared to defend its decisions in a public court of law.

Victoria Moores

Victoria Moores joined Air Transport World as our London-based European Editor/Bureau Chief on 18 June 2012. Victoria has nearly 20 years’ aviation industry experience, spanning airline ground operations, analytical, journalism and communications roles.