The possibility of travel this summer remains “strong” but the industry needs firm lead-in times in order to reopen, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow have said.
Chief executives of all three took part in a panel discussion following Monday’s Downing Street briefing that advised against booking travel. All three were optimistic despite any firm commitments from Boris Johnson that travel would resume on 17 May.
BA chief executive Sean Doyle said: “We see nothing in the data that suggests we should not be opening up travel on 17 May.”
Doyle, Virgin’s Shai Weiss and Heathrow’s John Holland-Kaye all appealed for clarity when the Global Travel Taskforce reports next week.
“We have to look ahead and have a framework that anticipates things will get better,” said Doyle. “The framework that comes out later in the week will dictate when and how we open up. As we look forward to progress with the vaccinations there is a really strong opportunity to travel this summer.”
“The government has said it is committed to opening up travel, so I think that’s a very positive message for travellers. I think a number of European markets will be open. The fact we are still on course for May 17 is something that should be positively received.”
Doyle stopped short of direct criticism of the government’s “don’t book” message but said: the industry was offering “unprecedented flexibility” and very keen pricing.
Weiss said the government’s actions on vaccinations meant “conditions are ripe for resumption” and tipped the US, Israel and the Caribbean as being destinations that will open this summer.
Doyle also said the case for reopening the US “as a single system” because of its vaccination progress was “very compelling”.
Holland-Kaye underlined the need for clarity: “There is a genuine risk the government is being too cautious and we won’t see any travel until after summer,” he warned. This would have a “crippling” effect on tour operators, airlines and regional airports, he said.
“The government should be concerned about that.”
However, he also said there was a need for optimism, as with three months still to go until the summer season, there were already countries that were “green or close to green” and it was “perfectly reasonable to expect more”.
He said he expected the public mood to change “significantly” by mid-May but said the industry needed lead-in time.
“If we only get the info in the middle of May about what is going to open up it will start to get too late.
“When we need to open Terminal 3, we need four weeks’ notice and it’s probably eight weeks when it’s open to get it up to full capacity. We can’t afford to waste money on the ramp-up, so having a clear roadmap is critical.”