The chief executive of British Airways’ owner IAG said he was considering legal action over the UK government’s quarantine travel rules, which he claimed had “torpedoed” plans to restart passenger flights next month.
Willie Walsh said IAG was consulting with lawyers about possible action into what he called “terrible” measures requiring international passengers to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in the UK by air.
“We think it’s irrational and disproportionate and we are giving consideration to a legal challenge to this legislation so we are reviewing that with lawyers later today,” the airline chief told Sky News on Friday.
“I suspect there are other airlines who are doing so because it’s important to point out there was no consultation with the industry prior to enacting this legislation and we do believe it’s an irrational piece of legislation,” Mr Walsh added.
Mr Walsh’s threat follows weeks of tension between the government and BA over coronavirus-related travel restrictions and the carrier’s decision to cut up to 12,000 jobs.
Other airlines have echoed BA’s unhappiness over the 14-day rule, which will come into force from June 8. Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary had called the policy “pointless posturing” and Wizz Air head Jozsef Varadi said the measures were “extreme” and “very harsh”.
Industry leaders fear quarantine could stop any meaningful restart of business during the industry’s critical summer period, and argue it is based on scant scientific evidence. In March, the government’s advisory group Sage said border closures would have a “negligible effect” on the spread of Covid-19.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents the sector, is among those calling for air bridges allowing for visitors to arrive without the need to isolate.
“The government needs to ask whether it wants any connectivity this summer,” he said on Thursday. “If it does then it must work to get travel corridors established as soon as possible.”
But UK prime minister Boris Johnson has insisted quarantine rules are a meaningful protection against coronavirus. “We need to take steps now to manage the risk of imported cases triggering a second peak,” he said earlier this week.
Responding to Mr Walsh's threat of legal action, Mr Johnson's spokesperson said on Friday that “we want to work with industry across the board and that includes with BA."
In a letter sent to MPs on Thursday, Mr Walsh said that BA had hoped to operate about 40 per cent of its scheduled flights in July, but said the plans had been “torpedoed” by the introduction of the quarantine rules.
“British Airways is not generating any revenues and continues to burn through approximately £20m of cash a day. The current situation is not sustainable,” he wrote. The company had already taken on an additional £800m of short-term debt, he added.
He said he had had “no contact” with the secretary of state or aviation minister about the measures, aside from a 25-minute conference call on March 18.
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When home secretary Priti Patel and aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst met with industry heads yesterday, IAG did not attend.
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson said that the government was "disappointed" that the airline chose not to attend yesterday’s meeting to discuss the quarantine plans.
With additional reporting by Sebastian Payne.
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