Budget airlines scheduling thousands of flights while the Foreign Office continues to ban all but essential overseas travel are adding to confusion over cancellations and refunds.
Consumer group Which? hit out as Ryanair announced a return to flying for the summer from today (Wednesday) after more than three months of Covid-19 shutdown.
The no-frills giant will run more than 1,000 daily flights across 200 airports in Europe, restoring almost 90% of its pre-Covid-19 route network, albeit with lower frequencies.
Group chief executive Michael O’Leary declared: “It’s time for Europe to go back flying again, it’s time to reboot Europe’s tourism industry.”
EasyJet will also resume flying today across half of its network, building up to almost 75% by August, although with fewer frequencies.
Wizz Air is also operating from a number of regional airports.
The restart of flights comes ahead of a government announcement now expected on Thursday on the creation of travel corridors to a list of low risk countries from July 6, enabling travellers to avoid the UK’s 14-day quarantine on international arrivals.
O’Leary said: “We welcome this week’s decision by the UK government to replace its failed ‘form filling’ quarantine with air bridges to most of Europe.
“We also call on the Irish government to scrap its equally useless form filling exercise at airports, which does not deliver any quarantine benefit whatsoever, particularly when there is very little follow up and no control on the accuracy of the implementation of these forms.
“Ireland’s tourism industry, which supports 100,000 jobs, in July and August is heavily dependent on welcoming UK and European visitors, and this useless form filling will deter visitors, and damage Irish tourism and jobs.”
He added: “We have been back flying approximately 250 flights daily for the last 10 days of June to bring our aircraft, our crews and our maintenance teams back into service.
“Starting today, we are operating 1,000 daily flights across our entire European network, which is approximately 40% of our normal July capacity.
“We expect in July to carry more than 4.5 million customers, many of them families taking well earned Mediterranean holidays after the severe challenges of the Covid-19 lockdown, home schooling, etc.
But Which? Travel editor Rory Boland, hit back, saying: “Airlines are restarting thousands more flights, despite the fact that many passengers won’t fly because the FCO’s advice against non-essential travel remains in place.
“These passengers won’t be given a refund, and even if they rebook could well have to pay more because fares have increased.
“Some customers are being told their original flight has been abandoned and they’ve been transferred to a new airport or a different flight at a different time, because the airline has reduced its service. This still counts as a cancellation, so passengers don’t have to accept it if they don’t want to and have the right to a full refund instead.
“Meanwhile, thousands of passengers are still waiting for refunds for flights cancelled during the UK’s lockdown.
“The regulator cannot continue to turn a blind eye and must urgently use its powers to hold airlines to account, rather than letting them return to normal and get away with their actions.”
Meanwhile, the EU opened up borders to enable travellers from 15 ‘low risk’ countries including Algeria, Japan, China, Rwanda, Thailand, Morocco and Tunisia to fly freely into Europe.
This raised a question over potential loopholes that could allow travellers from the 15 countries to use the government’s planned travel corridors to enter the UK without the need to quarantine.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency and a spokesman for the Quash Quarantine campaign group of 500 travel and hospitality businesses, said: “The policy of travel corridors is going to have holes in it as you cannot create a watertight system unless you stop all travel.
“Europe is in effect dictating to us. Unless the UK closes itself off from the rest of Europe, it is going to be impossible to keep these visitors out. We are connected to Europe and if Europe opens up, we open up too because of the nature of the transport links including ferry and rail.”
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