As of today, 11 February, the UK has reopened for travel with all restrictions removed for eligible vaccinated passengers arriving in the country. Frankie Youd explores this new decision, analysing what this change could mean for the aviation industry.

Over two years ago on 30 January 2020, the first cases of Covid-19 were recorded in the UK. The following months would see Prime Minister Boris Johnson advising everyone within the UK against “non-essential travel.”

UK residents experienced their first lockdown on 20 March closely followed by more restrictions, social distancing, and travel restrictions.

From banning air travel entirely to a colour-coded traffic light system, the aviation industry has experienced its fair share of Covid-19 guidelines and regulations. UK regulations have changed again, as from today fully-vaccinated passengers are not required to be tested upon arrival.

The decision has come from the success of the UK Covid-19 booster vaccine rollout as well as the rules coming into play just before the school half-term holidays, enabling families to travel with ease which the tourism industry hopes will provide a much-needed boost.

Will the relaxation and simplification of these rules come at a cost, or is this the step in the right direction?

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Vaccination for an easy vacation

What changes have been put in place today? Under the UK Government’s new travel regulations, from today all testing requirements have now been lifted for fully-vaccinated passengers arriving in the UK.

Rather than carrying out a PCR test, passengers are required to complete a passenger locator form (PLF). This allows UK authorities to obtain information about the passenger, including contact information, journey and stay details.

Passengers who are not recognised as fully vaccinated, are required to take a pre-departure flight test as well as a PCR test on or before the second day after they have arrived in the UK.

The relaxation of these rules marks the success of the booster roll-out programme as well as acting as an extra boost for the tourism industry as the regulations kick in before the half-term school holiday. The UK Government has stated that the changes to these travel restrictions are intended to last, aiming to provide predictability for travellers as well as the industry throughout the year.

The easing of regulations also means travel is now cheaper for passengers due to the average £100 required for a PCR test being removed. 

Speaking on the new rule changes Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said in an official statement: “We have entered a new chapter in our fight against Covid-19 and we’re taking a balanced approach as we learn to live with the virus. Thanks to the success of the vaccination programme, now is the right time to take this additional step towards opening up international travel once again.

“Extending the NHS Covid Pass to children aged 12 to 15 in England will also make the outward journey easier for families and I am delighted we have taken this step-in time for February half term.”

Airport and consumer savings

The changes will also result in economic savings for airports and airlines. Before the introduction of the new regulations, tests and other safety measures were costing airports up to £1m to provide a safe environment following government standards.

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) – a company based at Inverness Airport that operates 11 airports located in the Scottish Highlands, Northern and Western Isles – previously told Airport Technology that it invested approximately £1.2m in safety measures.

A spokesperson for HIAL said: “HIAL is investing approximately £1.2m in additional measures which will augment existing health and safety procedures that have already been implemented during lockdown and in response to the global health crisis.”

The airports could potentially invest the money saved from test expenses into other areas and facilities.

Flight to success or grounded?

With the regulations coming into play today it is too early to tell whether this will be a peaceful flight or a turbulent trip. One question which has arisen is whether or not the scheme itself lines up with the external regulations of the UK upon passenger arrival.

Although testing for vaccinated passengers is not required upon landing, how does this line up with hotels, restaurants, indoor venues, and other inside activities for non-UK residents? Will passengers be able to enter with ease but be required to test to enjoy their holiday itinerary?

With the vaccine rollout continuing to be a great success across the UK, it is hoped that this new scheme is as successful as the government has predicted it will be.