Travel rules shake-up sparks half-term booking frenzy
The shake-up of foreign travel has sparked a half-term booking frenzy with demand for holidays soaring by 200% and airlines offering deals ‘far lower’ than before the pandemic.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Friday that the traffic light system is to be replaced from October 4 by a single, reduced, ‘red list’ of destinations, from where travellers arriving in England will have to quarantine in a Government-supervised hotel.
People who are fully vaccinated will no longer need a pre-departure test before returning from non-red list destinations, and from the end of October they will be able to replace the day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test.
The news sparked an instant booking frenzy – and online travel agency Skyscanner has revealed that airlines are offering incredible deals to Britons eager to go abroad.
An economy return flight to Italy for a single adult in October is priced at just £9, while the same trip to previously-red list Turkey is £66 before dropping to £44 in December.
A return trip to Croatia, Spain or Portugal in October is also priced at just £10, the travel agency revealed.
Gavin Harris, Skyscanner’s Commercial Director, told MailOnline: ‘At the moment, prices are generally very low compared to the last ‘normal’ year for travel which was 2019, so any temporary rises in price are likely still good deals.
‘What we expect to see is that travel providers will be move capacity to serve the popular routes and compete for bookings with continued low prices and perks for travellers.’
It comes as airlines revealed they had seen a huge surge in bookings after Mr Shapps announcement.
Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, said bookings had spiked ‘by more than 250%’.
He said Turkey is proving ‘exceptionally popular’, adding: ‘Thanks to the certainty that yesterday’s announcement has given customers, destinations right across the board are selling well, whether it’s for late summer sun, winter or next summer. As you might expect, half term dates have also seen a surge in bookings for families.’
Alan French, chief executive of travel firm Thomas Cook, said October half-term bookings were up 200% compared with August and he expected this figure to increase as a result of the changed system.
Andrew Flintham, managing director of holiday company TUI UK, said he had already seen ‘an uptick in bookings for Turkey in October’ and expected a boost in customer confidence with the new rules.
The deals available on travel agency Skyscanner
The following flights are return, economy flights available now on Skyscanner for a single adult.
Skyscanner said it saw a 133% spike in traffic in the 30 minutes following Mr Shapps’s announcement, while there had been ‘huge increases’ in searches for destinations such as Turkey and the Maldives in anticipation of Friday’s news.
Under the changed travel system for England, unvaccinated passengers from non-red list countries will have to take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on days two and eight after returning.
However, travellers who have a valid vaccination certificate from 17 additional countries and territories, including Japan and Singapore, will be treated as if they had been jabbed in the UK.
Meanwhile, eight countries, including Turkey, Pakistan and the Maldives, are being removed from the red list with effect from 4am on Wednesday.
Travellers from Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya will also no longer be required to hotel quarantine from that date.
Mr Shapps said the measures were intended to strike the ‘right balance’, simplifying the system while managing the public health risk ‘as No.1 priority’.
The unvaccinated face even tougher rules under the new regime in a bid by ministers to encourage more people to get jabbed.
Even when returning from countries on the ‘go’ list, they will have to isolate at home for ten days and take PCR tests on days two and eight.
They will still have the option of taking an extra post-arrival PCR test on the fifth day to be released from self-isolation early.
Reacting, Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: ‘By reducing the number of red-list destinations and scrapping PCR testing, ministers have paved the way for people to get away this October half-term and into the winter following 18 months of uncertainty.’
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, added: ‘This simplification of the travel rules is very welcome for businesses and families across the country but the decision to require fully vaccinated passengers to take more costly private lateral flow tests is an unnecessary barrier to travel, which keeps the UK out of step with the rest of the EU.’
The shake-up will apply to England only, with Scotland last night saying it would not follow suit.
Holyrood said it had ‘concerns at the impact on public health’ of the changes and would not be adopting them. Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet said whether they will fall in line.
In a further boost for families, the new regime will carry over the current rules on children. It means under-18s will be treated as though they are fully jabbed, even if they are not.
However, returning holidaymakers will still be required to fill in a passenger locator form before travelling back to England.
What are the new travel rules from October 4 and how do they compare to the current traffic light system?
As of October 4, the Government’s travel traffic light system is being replaced with a simplified two-tier ‘go/no-go’ scheme.
There will be a ‘red list’ of banned countries and a ‘rest of the world’ list for everywhere else.
Travel to and from nations in the ‘rest of the world’ list will be easier but there will be different rules depending on vaccination status.
This is how the new system will work:
Travel from the ‘rest of the world’ if you are fully vaccinated
Travellers must book and pay for a day two coronavirus test to be taken after arriving back in England.
They do not need to take a pre-departure test before coming back to the country or take a day eight test. There is no quarantine requirement – assuming the day two test is negative.
Travel from the ‘rest of the world’ if you are not fully vaccinated
Travellers must take a pre-departure coronavirus test before coming back to England.
They must also book and pay for a day two and day eight test.
After arriving in England they must quarantine at home for 10 days.
Travel from red list countries
Normal travel from these countries remains banned and only UK nationals can return from them.
Travellers must take a pre-departure test. They must also book and pay for a Government-backed quarantine hotel package.
The stay in hotel quarantine will cost more than £2,000 and will involve two tests.
The ‘red list’ rules apply regardless of vaccination status.
WHAT IS CURRENTLY IN PLACE?
RED: Travel to the UK from a red list country is banned for non-UK nationals. Britons returning to the UK must take a pre-departure test and book a ten-day stay in hotel quarantine including tests at a cost of £1,750. Countries include Brazil, Turkey, Bangladesh and South Africa.
AMBER: A pre-departure test is required before heading to Britain while non-vaccinated people have to quarantine for ten days at home and book tests on day two and day 8. They can also pay for a day 5 test under the ‘test to release’ scheme. The fully-vaccinated do not have to isolate but they do have to book a day 2 test. Countries include Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
GREEN WATCHLIST: This is a category for countries which are at risk of losing their green status (see below). Countries include Barbados, Croatia and Israel.
GREEN: Returning travellers must take a pre-departure test and book a day two test as well. Quarantine is not required for anyone unless the test is positive. Countries include Bulgaria, Canada , Iceland and Malta.
They will need to prove they have ordered a day two lateral flow test and input their order number into the form. Free NHS lateral flow tests will not be available.
Announcing the move last night, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘Today’s changes mean a simpler, more straightforward system.’
The shake-up means that the amber list is officially dead, with those countries joining ‘green’ nations in the new ‘rest of the world’ category.
The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK also welcomed the changes, with chief executive Dale Keller saying: ‘Greater freedom of movement for many vaccinated passengers, without the anxiety of pre-departure tests and the high cost of PCR testing on arrival, will help restore traveller confidence and set the aviation, travel and tourism sectors on what is still a long road to recovery.’
Mr Keller said moving to a binary system and creating a ‘two-tier entry regime’ based on vaccination status will help bring ‘greater clarity to entry requirements’.
He said the announcement is a ‘step towards properly rebalancing international travel risk’ in the UK but warned the existing rules had ‘decimated’ passenger numbers which means firms must now try to ‘claw back lost ground’.
British Airways chief executive and chairman Sean Doyle urged the Government to go further and sweep away all testing requirements for fully-vaccinated travellers.
Huw Merriman, the Tory chairman of the Transport Select Committee, also welcomed the overhaul of the ‘cumbersome’ existing rules.
‘The need for caution is clear but with 80 per cent of our country now vaccinated, UK travel needs a shot in the arm and this could be it,’ he said.
‘It’s a relief to see the Government move on these issues and this announcement, timed ahead of October half-term, could have an immediate impact on the UK’s travel industry.’
Mr Shapps said the new system was ‘proportionate’ and ‘reflects the new landscape’ of the numbers of those who are fully-vaccinated.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Today we have simplified the travel rules to make them easier to understand and follow, opening up tourism and reducing the costs to go abroad.
‘As global vaccination efforts continue to accelerate and more people gain protection from this dreadful disease, it is right that our rules and regulations keep pace.’
British Airways chief executive and chairman Sean Doyle welcomed the changes but urged ministers to go further.
He said: ‘We welcome the simplification of the traffic light system, and the changes to the testing requirements allowing UK travellers to benefit from our world-leading vaccination programme and finally giving customers and business the confidence to book the journeys they’ve been waiting for.
‘Based on the scientific evidence, with fewer than one per cent of people returning from low-risk countries testing positive for Covid (lower than the UK’s rate), we urge ministers to keep this policy under review, eliminating all testing for fully vaccinated travellers as soon as possible in the future, in line with most other European countries.’
Stewart Wingate, chief executive of Gatwick Airport, said the changes were a ‘significant and welcome step towards recovery’ and a boost for travellers seeking to get away this winter.
He said: ‘Fully vaccinated passengers now have a larger choice of destinations and can book with more confidence in the months before Christmas and beyond – free from the need to arrange pre-departure tests before coming back into the UK.’
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, said: ‘This is a welcome step forward for our customers and a move that will make it significantly easier for the fully vaccinated to travel to Europe, opening up flying again for many more UK consumers.
‘Removing the pre-departure test coupled with the disbanding of the traffic light system will inject some much needed confidence into travel once again.
‘However, vaccinated travellers and those from low-risk countries will still have to do an unnecessary test after arriving in the UK, making travel less affordable for all.’
Karen Dee, Airport Operators Association chief executive, said: ‘The easing of travel restrictions is a good step forward. By reducing complexity and the cost of testing, this should encourage more people to travel this winter and allow airports to see a further uplift in passenger numbers.
‘However, this last formal checkpoint of the Global Travel Taskforce should have been the time to return to restriction-free travel at a time when nearly all of the population has been vaccinated. Instead, we continue to have a more onerous approach to travel than our European competitors.’
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