LONDON – Ryanair’s hilarious trolling of Boris Johnson not following lockdown rules back in 2020 highlights one thing. Disgruntlement within the industry.
Whilst the Prime Minister may have apologized for his actions in May 2020, it does not make a difference amongst the lives of those lost to COVID, as well as to other areas of the country he should be looking after better.
Not many carriers are as outspoken as Ryanair are when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions, particularly on travel at present.
It is only because of their reputation that they are doing things like this, and have been vocal on other issues such as EU Commission State Aid, ghost flights, and more.
This piece will look at some of the previous complaints made by Ryanair in regards to the UK’s government approach to COVID-19 as well as what others within the UK industry are saying as well.
Previous Ryanair Complaints
Back in November 2021, Ryanair went on the offensive against the UK Government via its half-year earnings report.
The carrier said that “H1 bookings were mostly “close-in” and required price stimulation, particularly to/from the UK where consumer confidence was undermined by the UK Govt.’s confusing and inconsistent traffic light system” (Ryanair, 2021).
The traffic light system is something else that has caused a lot of chaos for the travel sector. Whilst it has been refined in recent months, it is still a system that is producing a lot of problems.
In August 2021, there was a lot of disruption for “UK holidaymakers” seeing “their plans thrown into chaos amid suggestions a new category may be added to the travel traffic light system”, which was known as Amber-Plus (Gibbons, 2021).
This of course was definitely seen “as a deterrent to those planning on booking an overseas trip” (ibid), with those in the industry just calling for a more simplistic approach to traveling overseas, whether it be “a simple go and no-go lists, as [the] Americans have” (ibid).
Such messing around and useless changes are creating uncertainty in Europe, with The Guardian labeling this as “an atmosphere of distrust among hoteliers and travel suppliers” (Dunford, 2021) and had encouraged such companies to begin “turning away British tourists” due to such “dented confidence in the UK’s grip on the pandemic (Wood, 2021).
Such rules under the traffic light system have placed huge effect even to the present day where just “406,060 international flights served UK airports during 2021 up until 22nd December. This is compared to that of 1,399,170 flights in the pre-COVID-19 era” (Gurav, 2021).
This highlights that such a hindrance has reduced progress for the sector in the UK, which to the government’s fault, should not have been so strict in tightening things down in 2021.
In the case of Ryanair, no wonder they are tooting the horn.
Airlines operating in the UK have followed the rules to a tee, yet Boris can’t even follow his own from a domestic policy perspective.
Testing is “Testing” for Heathrow Airport
Earlier this week, a report was published by Heathrow Airport whereby it was revealed: “that at least 600,000 passengers canceled their travel plans to fly from the hub in December 2021” (Gurav, 2022).
“This is due to the increasing Omicron transmission that sparked travel restrictions” (ibid).
CEO of Heathrow Airport, John Holland-Kaye expressed his concerns by saying, “These figures have underlined the crisis in the industry and uncertainty facing travelers. A return to normal ‘could be years away.”
Mr. Holland-Kaye further stated that “There are currently travel restrictions, such as testing, on all Heathrow routes the aviation industry will only fully recover when these are all lifted and there is no risk that they will be re-imposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away” (ibid).
Holland-Kaye also called “for all testing of fully vaccinated passengers to be scrapped immediately” as a result of the 600,000 passengers lost (Prynn, 2022).
The Travel Sector Still Being Hit Hard
In a letter from Airlines UK last month, the association said that “travel has been singled out with the introduction of disproportionate restrictions” and has called for a further “package of bespoke economic support [package that] should be provided immediately to bridge the sector through this crisis” (Airlines UK, 2021).
PCR tests were still mentioned in this letter, with private COVID test providers charging up to £399 for a test, despite Sajid Javid saying that “he wants to ditch PCR tests for double vaccinated travelers entering the UK “as soon as I possibly can”” (Boscia, 2021).
“We still want to remain very cautious and there are some things, when it comes to travel, for example, there are some rules that are going to have to remain in place. The PCR test that is required when you return from certain countries – look I want to try and get rid of that as soon as I possibly can”, he said when speaking to Sky News (ibid).
Even with “Boris Johnson [announcing] that pre-departure tests for arrivals would be ditched as well as PCR tests two days after entering the UK”, with “travelers [being] instead able to take cheaper lateral flow tests”, it shows that things are not really changing on that front (Swinford, 2022).
All it would take would be for the private test companies to start charging more for lateral flow tests for the Day 2 arrivals, especially if you can’t access lateral flows via the NHS, which Boris Johnson is doing “amid concerns over their cost” (Quadri, 2022).
Is Omicron Really As Bad As What The Government Is Saying? What about protection?
Another point that the industry can definitely bring up is the first analysis from the World Health Organization surrounding hospitalization chances.
This “found that overall, people infected by Omicron had about a 20% reduced risk of needing any hospital care for their infections and a 40% lower risk of an overnight hospital stay, compared to those infected with Delta” (Goodman, 2021).
On top of this, “people who were re-infected — meaning they caught Omicron after recovering from a previous COVID-19 infection — had a 50-60% lower risk of needing hospital care, likely reflecting the benefits of having some prior immunity against the same family of viruses” (ibid).
It would, therefore, suggest the idea that restrictions should be eased to allow the travel sector to thrive again, especially as the chance of hospitalization or death is far lower.
Evidence would suggest that the vaccine is helping in this case, particularly with the booster.
In the United States, United Airlines’ CEO Scott Kirby in a letter to its employees stated that whilst 3,000 staff have tested positive, the carrier has gone “eight weeks without a COVID-related death in the workforce, which shows that the vaccination drive within the airline is working” (Field, 2022).
It may very well be the case that airlines, like what Air New Zealand is doing, for example, instigates a policy where from February 2022, it will be implementing a “no jab, no-fly regime” (Field, 2021).
However, a doctor in the UK brought up a significant point regarding protection against COVID with the booster jab, stating that it only offers four weeks’ worth of protection (Sky News via Twitter, 2022).
If that is the case, then doctors are slowly beginning to formulate the argument towards herd immunity, whereby following the opinion of some of those within the electorate that we just have to get on with this virus.
Bringing This All Together
Some may be lost with the point that this analysis is trying to make at this stage. And that is understandable.
We do, however, need to understand the content outside of the aviation industry to bring that data within.
It is clear that Ryanair’s transgressions at the UK Government are rightly justified, and that such rules not being followed by the people in power are going to anger the travel industry more. And it is already doing so.
All every one in the industry, including consumers, wants to do is get the sector back alive and functioning properly again.
As a personal opinion, it is getting ever the more frustrating that just as the industry begins to make some sort of progress, the government is trigger-happy with their decisions and chooses to restrict even tighter, putting thousands of people in the sector potentially out of work.
And that is something that needs to be sorted immediately.
If anything, Boris may not have enough time to fix the woes that the travel sector in the UK is suffering. If “it’s Goodnight Vienna”, it better be made sure that whoever replaces him, takes the travel sector more seriously (BBC Newsnight via Twitter, 2022).
All we can do, in the meantime, is sit back, watch and see whether the votes of no-confidence go in for Boris and whether he is ultimately ousted. If he isn’t, then this is going to be a continuation of unnecessary damage caused by a pandemic that is slowly becoming a bug or a cold for us to live with.
- Gurav, A. (2022), Over 600,000 Passengers Cancelled Their Travel Plans to Fly from Heathrow Airport in December 2021, AviationSource, https://aviationsourcenews.com/news/over-600000-passengers-cancelled-their-travel-plans-to-fly-from-heathrow-airport-in-december-2021/ [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Ryanair (2021), Ryanair Reports H1 Loss of 48m EUR as Traffic Rebounds at Lower Fares, https://corporate.ryanair.com/news/ryanair-reports-h1-loss-of-e48m-as-traffic-rebounds-at-lower-fares/?market=en [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Gurav, A. (2021), UK International Flights shows no sign of recovery, AviationSource, https://aviationsourcenews.com/analysis/uk-international-flights-show-no-sign-of-recovery/ [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Gibbons, B. (2021), Spain and Greece trips’ chaos warning but amber-plus branded an ’empty threat’, Wales Online, https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/uk-news/spain-greece-trips-chaos-warning-21203184 [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Wood, P. (2021), Travel restrictions: European hotels turning away UK tourists over traffic light list ‘chaos’, i News, https://inews.co.uk/news/travel-restrictions-europe-hotels-turn-away-uk-tourists-traffic-light-list-1133165 [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Dunford, J. (2021), Europe’s Distrust of the Traffic Light System Threatens UK Holidays, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2021/aug/02/europes-distrust-of-the-traffic-light-system-threatens-uk-holidays [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Prynn, J. (2022), End COVID Travel Testing for Vaccinated, says Heathrow Boss, Evening Standard, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/covid-travel-testing-vaccinated-heathrow-boss-omicron-restrictions-travel-b976036.html [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Airlines UK (2021), Airline CEO Letter to Prime Minister – COVID Travel Restrictions, https://airlinesuk.org/airline-ceo-letter-to-prime-minister-covid-travel-restrictions/ [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Boscia, S. (2021), Sajid Javid says he wants to drop PCR tests for travel ‘as soon as I possibly can’, City A.M., https://www.cityam.com/sajid-javid-says-he-wants-to-drop-pcr-tests-for-travel-as-soon-as-i-possibly-can/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Swinford, S. (2022), Sajid Javid warns lifting travel curbs could lead to COVID lockdowns, The Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/sajid-javid-warns-lifting-travel-curbs-could-lead-to-covid-lockdowns-zq7rrfrxt [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Quadri, S. (2022), Boris Johnson to ‘scrap free lateral flow tests within weeks’, Evening Standard, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/boris-johnson-scrap-free-lateral-flow-tests-nicola-sturgeon-wes-streeting-b975675.html [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Goodman, B. (2021), New Studies Suggest Omicron Infections Are Less Severe Than Delta Ones, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20211222/new-studies-omicron-infections-less-severe-delta [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Field, J. (2022), United Airlines Has 3,000 Staff That Are Positive for COVID, AviationSource, https://aviationsourcenews.com/airline/united-airlines-has-3000-staff-that-are-positive-for-covid/ [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Field, J. (2021), Air New Zealand To Implement ‘No Jab, No Fly’ Regime in 2022, AviationSource, https://aviationsourcenews.com/general-news/air-new-zealand-to-implement-no-jab-no-fly-regime-in-2022/ [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- BBC Newsnight via Twitter (2022), “‘It’s ‘Goodnight Vienna’. We can’t go on like this. It’s a joke. It’s a shambles. We are reaching a tipping point.’”, https://twitter.com/BBCNewsnight/status/1481034052287315973 [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Sky News via Twitter (2022), “The science isn’t strong enough”., https://twitter.com/SkyNews/status/1479532922952732672 [Last Accessed 12/1/22]
- Ryanair via Twitter (2022), Meme Tweets from Ryanair, https://twitter.com/Ryanair/status/1481238702013796352 – https://twitter.com/Ryanair/status/1480899323298816003 – https://twitter.com/Ryanair/status/1481201145347518468 [Last Accessed 12/1/22]