How will the international travel ban be policed?

Boris Johnson’s announcement on Saturday that England was heading back into a national lockdown took many by surprise; not least the already beleaguered travel industry. EasyJet Holidays CEO Garry Wilson fired back immediately following the news, telling Telegraph Travel “it came with no travel industry consultation or pre-warning.”  

We know now, much like during the first lockdown earlier this year, that leisure travel – both domestic and international – is off the cards from 00.01 on Thursday; until at least December 2, and very possibly longer. The Government has yet to publish its detailed guidance, but Johnson’s message is clear: citizens must ‘stay at home’ unless for essential reasons.  

There are two caveats to the travel ban this time around, however. The first is that people who are already on holiday now or who are planning to depart before the November 5 cut-off, are not being requested to cut their trips short and return immediately.  

The second is that people may still travel abroad for essential work purposes. Exactly what constitutes ‘essential’ has yet to be announced, and neither is it clear how this will be monitored or policed, nor what penalties may be imposed upon rule-breakers. But here’s what we know so far.  

What is the government advice on travel?  

A statement from the Government reads: ‘You should avoid travelling in or out of your local area, and you should look to reduce the number of journeys you make. However you can and should still travel for a number of reasons.’ These reasons include ‘work where this cannot be done from home’, medical or caretaking appointments, education, essential retail and exercise ‘if you need to make a short journey to do so.’  

It adds: ‘Overnight stays and holidays away from primary residences will not be allowed. This includes holidays abroad and in the UK. It also means you cannot stay in a second home, if you own one, or staying with anyone you do not live with or are in a support bubble with. There are specific exceptions, for example if you need to stay away from home (including in a second home) for work purposes, but this means people cannot travel overseas or within the UK, unless for work, education or other legally permitted reasons.’  

Michael Gove told Andrew Marr on Sunday: “Sadly, we’re saying that when it comes to international travel – of course if international travel is required for work or for other critical reasons, there are legitimate exemptions – but from Wednesday night, Thursday morning, our message is that people should stay home.”  

Will airlines still operate during lockdown?  

Yes, most airlines are operating as normal until Thursday, but those we spoke to are then cancelling the majority, if not all, of their flights.

EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren has confirmed: “The airline will be reviewing its flying programme over the lockdown period. It is likely that much of the UK touching schedule will be cancelled during lockdown with our planned flying set to resume in early December. We will advise customers who are booked to travel over the next month of their options with a view to assisting customers to return to the country in the coming days.”  

BA has only said it is “assessing the new information” and “will keep customers updated on any changes to their travel plans.” It is likely, in regards to the ‘travel for work’ caveat, that BA will continue to operate key business routes where possible.  

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said that the carrier will be reducing winter capacity by about 40 per cent compared to last year, and crucially, that it won’t be offering refunds to passengers on flights that aren’t cancelled. Customers can, however, change their dates for free. “If the flights are operating there won’t be any refunds, although they will be able to avail of our change policy. We allow people to change their flight timings to flights on later dates if necessary. But if the flight is operating there won’t be any refunds,” he told the BBC.  

A rep for TUI told us: “Following the UK Government’s recent announcement regarding additional restrictions, TUI UK will not operate flights and holidays departing from England and Wales from November 5 up to and including December 2, 2020.  As the current regulations have been implemented in England and Wales only, all holidays departing from Scotland will continue to operate as planned, unless customers are proactively contacted and told otherwise.”

Thomas Cook confirmed it has “has unfortunately stopped selling holidays until December 2 to adhere to the new regulation.”  

How might the ‘travel for work’ policy be implemented?  

Nothing is certain on this, and leading trade body ABTA told us it is still awaiting further instruction from the Government, but here’s what some industry experts had to say.  

Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy PC Agency, told us: “The ease of travel is going to get much harder in the coming weeks. Flights will be cancelled by airlines, border controls overseas will become more unpredictable, and it’s likely there will be more checks by Border Force officials in the UK. They will be spot-checking as a minimum to ask why you are heading overseas.   

“Business travel is allowed, as are some essential educational trips, but sadly leisure travel is banned. I don’t think operators will be selling many trips at all for travel before December 2, but they will need clarity urgently so that they can sell trips after that.”  

John Grant, Senior Analyst at OAG, weighs in: “The term ‘all but essential travel’ will inevitably be interpreted by different people in different ways. As for the policing of who is leaving the country and why, the authorities simply do not have the resources to manage this on a large scale; if the UK Government can’t even get a grip on track-and trace, this will be impossible.  

“Airlines are currently working through all of the implications of the international restrictions so probably early next week we will see the scale of changes to schedules, but if every international flight was to be cancelled from the UK then it would account to around 1.4 million seats a week.”  

Saj Ahmad, Chief Analyst at StrategicAero Research, told us: “Penalties [for breaking the rules] haven’t explicitly been available, but it’s clear that aside from essential work-related travel, leisure and holiday trips are no longer permissible until the lockdown is lifted.  

“Quite how this will be enforced and validated is another matter, as some may try to travel under [false] pretexts. Critically, these new restrictions decimate what little hope travel firms had to establish some sort of winter getaway for would-be travellers. That’s now all been shot down in flames. The entire commercial aviation sector, the globe over, is in absolute ruins.”

Are you planning on travelling abroad to avoid the second lockdown? Tell us in the comments section below

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