Airline association boss Willie Walsh slams ongoing PCR testing ‘rip-off’

·2-min read
Willie Walsh speaking at IATA’s AGM (IATA International Air Transport Association )
Willie Walsh speaking at IATA’s AGM (IATA International Air Transport Association )

The director general of the global airline body Iata has slammed the UK government’s continuing rules around PCR tests for travel, calling them a “state-sponsored rip-off”.

Speaking at an Aviation Club event in London last night, Walsh accused the government of “profiteering”, and questioned why travel has been singled out while other sectors have had restrictions drastically reduced.

“You have to ask why so much effort is put into controlling travellers when most restrictions have been dropped in the general population,” said Walsh.

“In terms of day-to-day life, the UK is far more pragmatic in managing Covid-19 than many other states. But its approach to travel continues to focus on restrictions which cannot be justified based on risk.”

The government has twice announced that it will scrap the rule that means British travellers have to take one, two or even three PCR tests per trip, at an average cost of £72 per test.

But neither the health secretary Sajid Javid nor transport secretary Grant Shapps have given an exact date for the change, vaguely citing “the end of October”.

Mr Shapps said last week that he is hopeful it might happen before school half terms - some of which start next week.

Willie Walsh told last night’s attendees that he had recently paid £58 for a day two PCR test for an eight-hour visit abroad, and criticised the government’s website of approved test providers.

He quoted the website’s claim that test prices “were a guide and the final price could be different”, saying, “Can you imagine if airlines put that on their website?”

Many travel industry figures see the cost and effort around testing as one of the key things preventing the sector from recovering.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “We desperately need to know the exact date so families can plan for the half-term break.”

Gatwick Airport’s CEO Stewart Wingate called the UK’s travel testing rules “out of step” with other countries opening up, saying: “With vaccination rates across Europe comparable, if not better than the UK’s, the time has come for testing to be removed altogether for travellers who have been double jabbed.

“Our continued travel restrictions are out of step with much of Europe and continue to have a real impact on jobs and livelihoods, business and growth opportunities while also keeping friends and family apart.”

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