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Long Road to Recovery Starts at London Heathrow

August 11, 2021

Kevan James

The further easing of travel restrictions throughout July resulted in a 74% upsurge in passengers compared with July 2020. With consumer confidence on the rise, over 1.5 million travellers passed through Heathrow last month, marking the highest monthly passenger numbers since March 2020. The relaxation in rules has provided a much-needed boost to the UK travel industry, and enabled people across Britain to look forward to a more normal summer reuniting with family and friends abroad.

North American passenger numbers grew by nearly 230% YoY, and New York JFK reclaimed the top spot as Heathrow’s most popular route. Later this week Heathrow is set to further increase its transatlantic offering, as it welcomes American carrier jetBlue. With fully vaccinated US visitors now able to travel to the UK without the need to quarantine, the joint UK/US travel taskforce must capitalise on the UK’s world-leading vaccine rollout and reach a reciprocal agreement for fully vaccinated UK travellers.

Despite signs of recovery, passenger numbers are still down over 80% on pre-pandemic July 2019, as barriers to travel remain. Ministers committed to reducing testing costs over three months ago, however, the UK still stands as an outlier with Europe slashing their prices and in some cases, subsiding them. Meanwhile, the cost of testing in the UK remains prohibitive for many, as industry calls for VAT to be scrapped, alongside the use of cheaper lateral flow for low-risk destinations. This will keep people safe and will avoid travel becoming the preserve for the wealthy.

As more countries hit their vaccine rollout milestones whilst maintaining low infection rates, the reopening of vital trading links such as Canada and Singapore is critical for British business. Severed trade links must be restored as soon as the data allows, and UK Government should not delay these vital decisions.

Heathrow received triple recognition at the 2021 Skytrax World Airport Awards. Heathrow was voted “Best Airport in Western Europe”, secured “World’s Best Airport in 20-25 million passenger category” and was the only UK airport to win the Covid-19 Airport Excellence Award, which recognises the stringent health, hygiene and safety protocols introduced in light of COVID.

Heathrow Chief Operating Officer, Emma Gilthorpe said: “Finally, some blue skies are on the horizon, as travel and trade routes slowly reopen. The job though is far from complete. Government must now capitalise on the vaccine dividend and seize the opportunity to replace expensive PCR tests with more affordable lateral flow tests. This will ensure travel remains attainable for hardworking Brits, desperate for well-earned getaways and keen to reunite with loved ones before the summer travel window closes.”


Whilst the relaxation of some travel restrictions are to be welcomed, there are still hurdles to overcome. Not least the ongoing conflict between those who even now, continue to call for the re-introduction of lockdowns and the curtailment of people's ability to pass freely through their own country let alone travel to another one, and those who wish to see restrictions ease further.

The situation in Australia remains acute, with many Australians stranded abroad as the country has effectively closed its borders again. Israel, the most highly vaccinated country in the world has still seen a resurgence of reported cases - cases of what though?

Of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the disease, COVID-19? Or of the disease itself?

This is where the debate has become so polarised with most media reportage confusing the two, to the point of referring to 'The Virus' in one sentence, and COVID-19 (or just plain 'Covid') the next. There is a difference between the two and this has been lost amidst the impact on everybody, but most of all, the effect on commercial aviation.

If the pandemic has proved anything it is how vitally important it is to functioning societies. Airports and airlines are the thread that connects everything and governments worldwide have to make up their minds as to whether or not they wish to remain connected or not.

In the case of the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister's much heralded 'Global Britain' remarks will be meaningless unless ways are found, and found quickly, to reopen borders.

Images - Heathrow Airport Ltd

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