Fury as Shapps throws ‘bucket of cold water’ on airlines

Simon FoyWed, 10 February 2021, 2:55 pm

Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps

The airline industry has lashed out at Grant Shapps for wrecking hopes of a travel recovery after the Transport Secretary told Britons not to book holidays.

Pilots’ union Balpa said the UK aviation industry was “essentially shut down” and could not survive through never-ending uncertainty and changing restrictions.

Brian Strutton, its general secretary, said: “Airlines are drowning, but rather than throwing us a life raft, the Transport Secretary has just thrown a bucket of cold water at us.

“We accept that the Government has to make difficult decisions in the interests of public health and to end the pandemic. But if the effect of government action is to shut down this whole sector then it stands to reason the Government must compensate for lost business – the UK aviation sector cannot survive another summer with hardly any flying.”

Mr Shapps sparked fury after telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday that no one should be booking domestic or international holidays.

His comments came despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock in recent weeks promising a “great British summer” due to the speed of the rolling out of vaccines.

A spokesman for Ryanair said people should feel free to book summer holidays safe in the knowledge that if Covid restrictions change, they can rearrange these bookings without any change fees.

But they added that the UK’s successful vaccine programme “eliminates the need for these draconian travel restrictions from May onwards”.

“If all over-50s are vaccinated by May as predicted by Boris Johnson, then the risks of [the] Covid virus are severely diminished and this must give rise to the removal of travel restrictions on UK citizens, particularly on short-haul flights both within the UK and to/from Europe.”

After almost a year of deeply depressed demand, the airline industry has pinned its hopes on a rapid inoculation programme spurring a dramatic recovery in air travel just in time for the crucial summer season.

Last week, Tui said it planned to operate at 80pc of capacity during the peak season as it forecast a summer holiday rebound and higher prices.

There are also growing concerns within the sector that a prolonged shutdown could lead to another round of sweeping job cuts as companies move to reduce costs.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “Without an injection of confidence, we will see some airlines collapse, thousands of small firms in the sector disappear and tens of thousands of job losses by Easter.

“The Government is causing maximum distress amid the airline and travel sector with the lack of clear guidance on re-opening. Once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated twice, there is no reason to stop people travelling across the UK or overseas.”