Stock London Heathrow Airport UK Britain passengers
Good to come - from February 11, travel to the UK will be a far smoother, and less expensive process, with the removal of all testing requirements. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: From February 11, travel to the UK will come without any COVID-19 related testing requirements for fully-vaccinated passengers, setting up the possibility for a strong boost in UAE-UK traffic. A full recovery for the airline industry, however, will not happen until more countries do away with the testing needs, aviation industry sources say.

“The simplification of travel rules comes just before-half term, providing welcome news for families looking to travel abroad during the school holidays, as well as an extra boost for the tourism industry,” the UK government said on its website. “Thanks to the success of the UK’s vaccine and booster rollout, the government is now able to reduce the number of travel restrictions, ensuring there is a more proportionate system in place for passengers.”

From February 11, arrivals at UK airports will require only a passenger locator form. Travellers who are not recognised as fully-vaccinated will only need to take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on or before day 2 after they arrive in UK.

With the removal of testing, the average family can save around Dh500 (100 pounds) on their travel plans to Britain, said the UK government. The expensive PCR tests in UK had attracted the ire of frequent travellers as well as major aviation bodies, which argued that the testing regime was further dampening air travel demand.

“This is clearly a welcome development although we have to wait until mid-February, and people travelling back now will be thinking why bother taking a test given the forthcoming change,” said John Grant, Partner at Midas Aviation. “It may result in a bit more leisure traffic back and forth.”

“I suspect that it will have little or no impact on the important connecting markets unless other countries change their requirements as well,” said Grant. “UK was amongst those countries that had already begun reopening before Omicron and we all need others to follow.”

The UK’s early embrace of open travel may be partly responsible for putting the Dubai-London route back on the map. It was the third busiest air route in January with around 247,000 seats, according to OAG, an aviation consultancy.

Flights from Dubai to London currently cost between Dh1,000-Dh1,500, around the same level as December – the traditional heavy travel period. From Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways is offering direct flights from around Dh1,300.

Promise of better travel experience
The UK has announced new proposals aimed at making it easier for airline customers to seek justice from unfair practices. These include considering the creation of a fairer compensation model for when domestic UK flights are delayed.

Passengers would be able to claim compensation based on the length of the flight delay and linked to cost of travel rather than having to meet a certain threshold – which is currently a three-hour delay.

The government is also considering mandating all airlines to be part of the aviation Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme, which would give consumers a route for escalating certain complaints that cannot be settled between the consumer and airline without needing to go to court.

“I want to protect consumers, whether flying in, out or around the UK,” said Grant Shapps, UK’s Transport Minister on Twitter.

Offering a lifeline

“For airlines, the UK Governments' decision can be one of the major additional lifelines during these challenging and uncertain times with the emerging Omicron variant,” said Linus Benjamin Bauer, Managing Director of Bauer Aviation Advisory.

The UAE carriers have significantly ramped up capacity and, according to travel sources, Emirates airline was operating six to seven daily flights to London Heathrow by late 2021. Emirates, which has also restarted flights to London Gatwick Airport (LGW), had earlier announced that it would offer 84 weekly flights to the UK by December-end.