By Bev Fearis, published 10/06/20
The corporate travel industry is urging the Government to use business travellers to trial a scheme that could sidestep the controversial blanket 14-day quarantine, which came into force this week.
The Business Travel Association (BTA) says a pilot travel corridors scheme, which would include on-the-spot COVID-19 tests on arrival at UK airports, could get business travellers in the air again within seven days.
It is proposing the scheme could initially run at any UK airport for arrivals from Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, the three most in-demand short-haul destinations for business travel.
Tests would cost around £150, booked in advance and paid for by the traveller or their employer, and results would be provided within an hour.
The BTA has lined up one test provider, DiamondAir, and is talking to another. It says discussions with airports have also been positive.
BTA CEO Clive Wratten said: “Our pilot travel corridors scheme can give confidence to the business community that there is a tangible, safe and immediate alternative to the quarantine stranglehold, and one which could enable travel to resume without further delay. It’s vital that we make this possible now and in doing so reignite the British economy.
“Without this scheme and under current quarantine measures, large numbers of jobs across the business travel supply chain are at risk of being lost forever.”
The proposals have been laid out to key Government Ministers in a letter from Wratten and over 20 CEOs from across the sector.
Meanwhile, American Express Global Business Travel met with the Department for Transport last week and has been asked to provide data on the top 10 business travel routes from the UK, based on customer demand. The data will help the Government prioritise its negotiations for travel corridors.
As well as London to Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, the list is believed to include London to Brussels, Dublin, Madrid, New York and Zurich.
The TMC’s Chief Commercial Officer Drew Crawley said Europe would be the easiest place to start because borders are already open.
“I think it will be harder for international long haul travel,” he said. “We are talking to our customers to see where they want to travel to and will be providing the data to the DfT later this week.”
He said the current quarantine, due to be reviewed by the Government on June 29, has ‘holes all over it’ and should be removed altogether.
“In the interim, this testing scheme could be something to get the economy moving again,” he added.
Crawley said using business travellers for a pilot makes sense because the volumes aren’t massive and their data is already held to help with tracking and tracing.
“I’ve spoken to many customers and they are all doing internal surveys asking their colleagues if they want to travel or not. There are none saying that they will not be travelling again,” he commented.
“There are clearly certain individuals who will be more risk averse than others, but I believe that once people see there are fine-tuned protocols in place and there is clear information, they will be confident to travel again.”
He said initiatives by the ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART), now adopted by 21 countries, were helping to reassure travellers to travel again. But he warned that customers were keen to make sure that any of the COVID-19 measures put into place, such as mandatory masks and social distancing, were constantly reviewed and not made permanent.
The UK’s quarantine has been met with fierce opposition from the wider travel industry.
A group of more than 500 hotels and travel companies, including the Dorchester Collection and RF Hotels, have launched a Quash Quarantine campaign and claimed this week they have been given ‘private assurance’ from the Government that quarantine-free travel will be available between the UK and several other countries from the end of June.
Rival airlines British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet have joined forces to prepare legal action. They began the process last week by sending a ‘pre-action protocol’ letter, which is the first stage required when taking legal action against the Government.