Hundreds of pilots, cabin crew and travel agents protest over coronavirus travel restrictions

People from across the travel industry are protesting over the lack of support and clarity from the government, ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

Hundreds of pilots, cabin crew and travel agents are protesting in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland as they accuse their respective governments of failing to restart travel by "undermining" the Covid-19 traffic light system.

Industry body Abta, which is leading the 'Travel Day of Action' on Wednesday, argues there are no major tourist destinations on the quarantine-free green list, and the government has urged people to avoid holidays to countries on the amber list, leaving the industry on its knees.

It estimates that 195,000 travel jobs have been lost during the coronavirus pandemic or are at risk.

About 800 people from the travel industry are gathering outside the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday.

Trade bodies from across the aviation and travel industries protest outside the Scottish Parliament. Credit: PA

More than 250 people from the Scottish Passenger Agents' Association (SPAA) are also protesting outside the Scottish Parliament. Another 100 have assembled in Belfast, and a virtual meeting will take place for campaigners in Wales.

At Bristol Airport, pilots joined cabin crew, travel agents and airport operators, on the tarmac to vent their frustration at the government's travel restrictions.

Abta wants the government to add more countries to the green list and remove testing and quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated people returning from green and amber countries.

It is also calling for a package of tailored financial support, such as extending the furlough scheme until April 2022.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps says he hopes to see things open up again globally soon but says "we're not in control what happens with the virus internationally"

Brian Strutton, Acting General Secretary at British Airline Pilots Association, told ITV News: "We can't have this constant chopping and changing, different opinions being expressed by different ministers, one minute you get optimism, then you get pessimism, you can't run a £53 billion industry like that."

Pilots, cabin crew and travel agents protest outside Bristol Airport.

Travel agent Ann Jones said: "I'm working 24/7 for the last 16 months, it's been heartbreaking to see how my business is just running to the ground and through no fault of my own.

"Yes we understand it's a pandemic, but at the end of the day we do need specific help now."

The government will update its travel lists for England on Thursday and ITV News understands it is expected to announce that fully vaccinated adults and children will be allowed to visit amber list countries without having to quarantine on arrival in Britain.

Although the deal has not been agreed yet, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told ITV News: "We have got a couple of checkpoints in the next few days and we'll be able to say more once we've looked at the science.

"The most important thing is to hold onto the gains we've got, we've seeing the advantages by getting the jab rollout in this country, and I hope, start to see more people being able to live more normal lives?"

The Scottish Passenger Agents' Association claims the travel sector is being “sacrificed” during the pandemic.

It is demanding more support for the sector, clarity over the data being used to ground the industry, a plan for a safe return to international travel and a low-cost, easy-to-access testing regime.

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A survey by the association found more than nine in 10 (96%) Scots who travelled overseas since March 2020 felt very or fairly safe.

Joanne Dooey, SPAA president, said: “We’re hoping that the first minister comes to meet us to explain why, despite a world-beating vaccination programme and easily accessible albeit expensive testing, we’re further behind at opening up travel than we were 12 months ago when we had no rapid testing and no vaccination.

“Our survey of ordinary Scots shows that almost two-thirds of Scots feel devastated, disappointed, confused or upset at the current travel restrictions and more than half (57%) would travel overseas within the next 12 months if they were able – with 17% of all surveyed saying they would be willing to travel in the next three months or sooner.

“We want the Scottish government to show us their data, to trust the vaccine and to make testing more affordable.”

Credit: PA

Conservative Scottish MP Andrew Bowie said the Scottish government “abandoned” the aviation sector with its ban on travel to Greater Manchester.

He said EasyJet cancelled its newly-announced route from Aberdeen to Manchester, putting at risk many jobs in the north-east of Scotland.

A UK government spokesperson said: “Our international travel policy is guided by one overwhelming priority: protecting public health.

“Decisions on traffic light allocations take into account a range of factors including genomic surveillance capability, transmission risk and variants of concern, with data behind decisions to move countries on the list published online.

“We keep all measures under review and continue to engage with industry and international partners to explore how we can open international travel safely. Both tailored and wider economic support is still available to the sector, including the furlough scheme.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Wide-ranging measures have been put in place to help the sector.

"Scotland is offering the most comprehensive non-domestic rates relief in the UK for retail, hospitality and aviation and this includes travel agents.

"We were the first country in the UK to extend 100% non-domestic rates relief into 2021-22."

The spokesperson added the "financial challenges facing the travel agents’ sector cannot be resolved by the Scottish government alone.

"A UK-wide solution is necessary in order to mitigate the financial challenges and we have written to the UK minister for business and industry seeking a dialogue on this issue," they said.

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