Wednesday’s Travel Day of Action made waves among MPs, with several ministers highlighting the industry’s lobbying efforts in the House of Commons on Thursday (24 June).
Labour’s Jim McMahon, the shadow transport secretary, the SNP’s Gavin Newlands, and Conservative member Huw Merriman, chair of parliament’s Select Transport Committee, all noted the gathering in Westminster’s College Green.
Other Travel Day of Action events took place outside Holyrood in Edinburgh and Stormont in Belfast on Wednesday (23 June).
During a parliamentary Q&A on transport, addressing transport secretary Grant Shapps, McMahon said: "Yesterday, hundreds of workers in the aviation and tourism industry held a demonstration outside parliament urging the government to protect their jobs and the jobs of 1.5 million people employed in aviation and the wider supply chain.
"So will he [Shapps] finally deliver on the sectoral deal his government promised but has so far failed to deliver? And when he makes his announcement later on the traffic light system, will he publish the criteria, the country-by-country assessment, and the direction of travel for each country to give travellers confidence to plan for this summer?"
Shapps said Labour had previously called for all countries to be placed on the UK’s red list "meaning there would be no travel at all", adding the former shadow chancellor had said the party would not provide support to "these companies".
"Yet, here they [Labour] are now saying they want more support and don’t, indeed, want to follow their own policy. Having a red, amber and green list enables people to see which countries are in which category and the JBC [Joint Biosecurity Centre] is publishing the data on the website to show why countries are in each category."
Newlands said he had "lost count" of the number of times he’d asked the government about "its long-abandoned commitment" to sector-specific support for the aviation sector, and renewed his call – in the wake of Travel Day of Action – for the government to set out how it would support aviation, travel and tourism.
"Despite the secretary of state’s tinkering with the traffic light system, it looks increasingly unlikely there will be any kind of summer season," said Newlands. "It’s clear to the dogs on the street an aviation and travel and tourism recovery package, and a targeted extension of furlough, is now imperative.
"So how does the secretary of state plan to better support the sector and workers that were at the Travel Day of Action protest on College Green yesterday?"
Aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts fielded the question, stating the government did recognise the "severe impact" the pandemic had had on regional air travel. "We’ve supported critical routes through policies such as public service obligations and through the airports and ground operations support scheme," said Courts.
"The government is working on a strategic framework for the sector, which will focus on building back better and ensuring a successful aviation sector for the future. But what the aviation sector will certainly be glad of is that it is this government that is looking after their interests, not the Scottish government which has been accused of sacrificing the industry by the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association."
Merriman, who praised the industry’s lobbying efforts on Wednesday during an interview with TTG, asked Shapps to confirm whether there was any truth in a significant recent improvement in passenger processing times at the border due to digitisation, adding: "Is he [Shapps] confident we will be in a position to get more people who have perhaps been double-jabbed through arrivals, that we have digitisation, and that the NHS app will seek to deliver proof of double jab?"
Shapps said there had been a "remarkable digital transformation" at the border in recent weeks thanks to physical and software updates to airport eGates.
"People who have perhaps been coming in from green countries... who have had their passport scanned in one way or another – that’s been automatically linked back to the passenger locator form they filled out before leaving their country of departure [and tells] Border Force whether they’ve had a pre-departure test, that they’ve got future tests booked, and links the whole machinery together so yes, the automation is really starting to get into place now."