Heathrow boss urges travel rules rethink ahead of Christmas

Heathrow airport’s boss has added his voice to those in the travel industry calling for UK nationals returning from red list countries to be able to isolate at home.

John Holland-Kaye said families should be able to reunite for Christmas.

The government has hinted over the past few days that a rule change is coming.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he doesn’t want the red list and hotel quarantine in place “for a moment longer than necessary”.

He said a time would come, “probably no more than days or a short number of weeks away”, where the government would want to review and potentially remove countries from the red list.

Heathrow said that travel restrictions, which have been re-imposed in response to the spread of the Omicron variant, had “further dampen[ed] passenger confidence”.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: “By allowing Brits to isolate at home, ministers can make sure they are reunited with their loved ones this Christmas.

“It would send a strong signal that restrictions on travel will be removed as soon as safely possible to give passengers the confidence to book for 2022, opening up thousands of new jobs for local people at Heathrow.”

‘Less need’
Speaking in the House of Commons on Thursday Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that “very soon”, if Omicron became the dominant variant, there would be “less need to have any kind of travel restrictions at all”.

On Thursday Mr Shapps said red-listing was initially meant to slow things down, but that as the variant spread, the government accepted “the inevitability that in the end it gets everywhere, exactly as Delta did”.

The Transport Secretary said the UK’s Health Security Agency had been asked to produce recommendations.

He said it did not stand to reason that the red list helped once the Omicron variant was already established in this country.

The Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and the Transport Secretary have all made clear hints this week that the further spread of Omicron – including within the UK – could prompt changes around the Red List.

A decision has not been taken yet. Current measures are expected to be examined again next week.

Ministers have said the temporary measure was designed to help reduce Omicron being brought into the country. Unlike the broader-brush testing rules introduced since, businesses supported it because it was targeted. However many would now like to see home isolation replace hotels, especially as Christmas approaches.

The hotel quarantine system was mostly wound down when the Red list was empty. Capacity has been a challenge since it was re-activated at short notice.

Brits trying to get home have told us about the stress and additional cost they’ve endured because the rooms weren’t available on the date of their flight.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, said: “Omicron will soon be the dominant variant in the UK and we know there are many cases now independent of international travel.