Coronavirus: British Airways owner IAG considers legal challenge against travel quarantine

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
British Airways planes parked at London's Heathrow Airport. (Frank Augstein/AP)

British Airways owner IAG (IAG.L) is considering taking a legal challenge against the planned blanket 14-day quarantine for travellers to the UK.

In an interview with Sky News, chief executive Willie Walsh said that the quarantine, which is set to come into force from next week, would “torpedo” its plans to resume flights in July.

“We think it is irrational, we think it is disproportionate and we are giving consideration to a legal challenge to this legislation,” Walsh said on Friday.

His comments come amid criticism that British Airways did not attend a Thursday (4 June) roundtable meeting about the quarantine with home secretary Priti Patel and the travel industry.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said that the airline’s workers, passengers, and shareholders should be told why the airline’s management chose not to participate in the meeting.

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“The government has opened the door and the entire UK aviation industry is meeting — airline carriers and airports — in an effort to find a way through this crisis,” McCluskey said.

“It is unbelievable and, frankly irresponsible, that BA would sit this out,” he said.

Some 24 representatives from the aviation, maritime and rail industry attended the meeting, as did transport minister Kelly Tolhurst.

From 8 June, all passengers arriving in the UK from countries outside of the Common Travel Area, which includes Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, must self-isolate for 14 days.

Arguing that the UK was now past the peak of coronavirus cases, Patel told parliament on Wednesday (3 June) that the country was “now more vulnerable to infections being brought in from abroad.”

But the travel industry has argued that the quarantine period could be a “killer blow” during a period in which firms are already struggling.

A top executive at Swissport, the UK’s biggest airport services company, said that firms in the sector would be unable to earn revenue as a result of the move.

“If you dent consumer confidence or dent the market in such a broad way, nobody buys tickets, aeroplanes don't fly,” said Jason Holt.

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Ryanair (RYA.L) chief executive Michael O’Leary said the move would “significantly reduce European visitors” to the UK.

Airlines are already confronting an unprecedented crisis in coronavirus, and analysts have warned that many more may collapse under the weight of the collapse in demand from travellers.

IAG warned last month that it would be 2023 before things returned to normal.

“It won’t be before 2023 that we get back to the levels of flying that we saw last year in 2019,” Walsh told the Transport Select Committee of the House of Commons.