Boss of British Airways owner heard ‘nothing positive’ in PM’s quarantine plan

(Gareth Fuller/PA)

The head of the owner of British Airways has said the company will need to review its plans to resume flights after the prime minister proposed quarantining people flying into the UK.

In an address to the nation on Sunday, Boris Johnson said it will “soon be the time” to bring in a quarantine period for air passengers to stave off Covid-19 infections from abroad.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA’s parent company, International Airlines Group, said there was “nothing positive” in the address.

Giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee about the demand for air travel, Mr Walsh said: “The announcements yesterday of a 14-day period (for people) coming into the UK, it’s definitely going to make it worse.

“There’s nothing positive in anything that I heard the prime minister say yesterday.

“We had been planning to resume – on a pretty significant basis – our flying in July.

“I think we’d have to review that based on what the prime minister said."

Willie Walsh said BA’s capacity to operate will be ‘pretty minimal’ in the event of an imposed quarantine period for air passengers Credit: Niall Carson/PA

Mr Walsh told the committee that British Airways’ capacity to operate will be “pretty minimal” in the event of an imposed quarantine.

He added: “Despite the fact that there had been some rumours about this quarantine period, I don’t think anybody believed that the UK government would actually implement it if they were serious about getting the economy moving again.”

The news comes after it was confirmed that Heathrow’s passenger numbers fell by 97% in April compared with the same month in 2019.

The airport announced that it was used by just 206,000 travellers last month, which is “the same number it would typically serve in just one day”.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a collapse in demand for flights.

Many of the passengers who did travel through Heathrow last month were on board the 218 chartered repatriation flights that landed at the west London airport.

Boris Johnson addressed the nation on Sunday.

The prime minister proposed the quarantine in the address on Sunday and said it would be effective due to a decrease in the number of infections in the UK.

Addressing the nation on Sunday night, Mr Johnson said: “To prevent reinfection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time, with transmission significantly lower, to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air.”

Mr Walsh told the committee that the two-week quarantine for air passengers was a “surprise” as similar quarantines are not in place for other forms of international travel.

He said: “I don’t understand that but maybe the prime minister will be able to clarify the science behind that. It seems strange to me.”

Mr Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed that quarantine measures would not apply between France and the UK “at this stage”, according to a joint statement issued after the address.

The prime minister did not mention arrivals by sea, and did not make clear whether it would include passengers on internal UK flights or on flights from the Republic of Ireland.

However, the Times has previously reported that travellers from Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man will be exempt from the quarantine.

It has also been reported that the plan is to impose a quarantine of 14 days, and Airlines UK said it had been told by the Government that it will be in place by the end of the month or early June.

A Government official said quarantine is “a few weeks away from happening yet”, adding: “What the scientific advice tells you is that when domestic transmission is high, imported cases represent a small amount of the overall total and make no significant difference to the epidemic.

“However, this can change when the domestic transmission rate of infection is low and people are arriving from countries with a higher rate of infection.”

The official said industry and business will be listened to but the “purpose is to stop disease being imported into the UK”.

Heathrow has seen a dramatic fall in passenger numbers. Credit: PA

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab moved to clarify who would need to quarantine themselves upon arrival in the UK.

"It will be anyone coming into this country from abroad and we will work these measures up so they won't kick in until the end of the month," Mr Raab told ITV News.

"Anyone coming into this country will be subject to and expected to take 14 days self-isolation.

"There will be some exceptions, we will working through some of those, for example, there will bespoke arrangements for people coming from Calais because the short straights are vitally important for freight and supply chains."

Meanwhile, IAG has insisted it is not “picking on” the airline after announcing it will shed up to 12,000 jobs.

Mr Walsh told MPs that restructuring will be carried out across the group, which owns other carriers such as Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling.

It announced last month that up to 12,000 British Airways workers will be made redundant, which is equivalent to more than a quarter of the workforce.

Mr Walsh insisted the timing of the announcement about the reduction in staffing at British Airways was due to the UK’s labour laws.

He said: “The labour legislation in Ireland and Spain – the two other major countries in which we operate – it’s different. We’re required to do it in a different way.

“We are embarking on a restructuring and I’ve made it clear that this is group-wide restructuring. It’s not specific to British Airways.

“It’s group-wide restructuring in the face of the greatest crisis that the airline industry and the airlines within IAG have faced.”

He added: “We are not picking on British Airways.

“We’re not doing anything that we don’t think is absolutely necessary to secure the survival of British Airways and we’re doing exactly the same with the other airlines in the group.”

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