Manchester Airports Group in legal challenge over travel ‘traffic light’ system

Charlie Cornish

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) and budget carrier Ryanair are leading a legal challenge to the Government’s ‘traffic light’ system for international travel.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has branded the system as “a complete shambles from the beginning” and accused Government of ‘making it up as it goes along’.

Many other airlines and travel organisations are said to support the move which is calling for the Government to clarify its actions in regulating international travel for UK citizens.

International travel was set to be opened on May 17, as part of the Government’s ‘roadmap’ out of the pandemic.

But only a handful of countries are on the ‘green’ list, with some not even allowing entry for UK citizens.

Earlier this month Portugal was moved from green amber, leading to cancellation of planned holidays and many Brits having to scramble back from Portuguese holiday spots to avoid costly quarantine and testing charges.

The Government is not due to review travel arrangements again until June 24.

MAG says the current opaque way that decisions are being made is undermining consumer confidence to book summer holidays and makes it impossible for airports, airlines and other travel companies to plan for the recovery of international travel or work with the Government on future reviews.

In Court papers – in which both the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Transport are named as the defendants – MAG says the Government has a duty to clearly explain how it makes decisions on categorising countries, and to publish the supporting data, given the “dramatic” impact these decisions have on aviation businesses.

MAG points to government assurances that decisions would be made in a clear and transparent way and says that this is one of the reasons it must provide clarity as to the way assessments on red, amber, green classifications are done, and what the results of them are.

MAG chief executive, Charlie Cornish, said: “The whole travel sector recognises the critical importance of protecting public health, and we have facilitated every measure the Government has required in response to COVID-19.

“That is why we originally welcomed the Global Travel Taskforce’s traffic light system, which the Government said would be based on a ‘a clear and consistent evidence-based approach to facilitate the safe, sustainable and robust return of international travel.’

“However, recent developments suggest that the Government is now unwilling to open up international travel by putting low risk countries on the green list.

“For most countries, the traffic light seems to be stuck on amber for no obvious reason, despite having prevalence rates much lower than the UK.

“The Government is not being open and we simply cannot understand how it is making decisions that are fundamental to our ability to plan, and to giving customers the confidence to book travel ahead.

“These issues must be resolved urgently – and ahead of the review point later this month – to allow everyone to understand how the system operates, and to create the opportunity for international travel to resume to the fullest extent possible over the summer.”

Michael O’Leary said: “This go-stop-go-stop policy is causing untold damage to the aviation industry and frustrating and upsetting millions of British families when they see their holiday plans and family visits disrupted by the Government’s mismanagement of international travel.

“We call on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to explain the scientific basis behind this system that the Government seem to make up as they go along and to establish a data-driven transparent model that could restore confidence in air travel ahead of the very crucial peak summer months.”

MAG, which owns and operates Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands Airports, is calling on the Government to publish the COVID-19 prevalence thresholds it uses to determine whether destinations are classed as red, amber or green, as well as any other criteria, advice or information that informs its decision making.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We recognise this is a challenging period for the sector, as we seek to balance the timely reopening of international travel while safeguarding public health and protecting the vaccine roll-out.

“Our traffic light system cautiously manages the risk of new variants, and we have provided £7bn to help support for the industry during the pandemic.

“We cannot comment on legal proceedings.”

Earlier today, however, there was a glimmer of hope that the Government might be considering easing travel restrictions for those who have had two vaccinations against coronavirus.

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