Ready, jet, go: are UK airports ready for a June departure date?

Under the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown easing roadmap set out by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in February, most restrictions are set to be lifted by 21 June, pending another wave of infections. Measures for a return to international travel are yet to be set out, not least as they will also depend on destination countries, but what are the financial challenges ahead for introducing mass testing, and can UK travellers really be encouraged to fly to domestic destinations? Frankie Youd speaks to UK airports to find out more.

Foreign holidays for those living in the UK have been a distant memory, after almost a year of bans and stop-start restrictions that has seen thousands chasing refunds, rescheduling reservations, and scouring Google for help and advice. With many wondering if they are going on a summer holiday the subject of travelling abroad is a hot topic.

It has been estimated by Which? - having carried out a survey of more than 7,500 people who had to cancel a holiday because of Covid-19 - that around 9.4 million people have had package holidays cancelled since the UK’s first lockdown in March last year.

With this level of disruption impacting the public, it is no surprise that many across the country will be keen to pack their suitcases and take to the skies this June.

Although this is exciting news for passenger’s, airports across the UK are introducing new training for staff, enhanced cleaning protocols and invest in Covid-19 tests.

Pre-flight checks

In preparation for the highly anticipated departure date, airports across the UK have been preparing night and day to ensure they are ready for the anticipated passenger influx.

To establish passenger and staff safety, UK airports have increased staff training to ensure the latest rules and regulations are always upheld. The training not only shows that the staff have received the teaching they need to carry out their jobs safely, but also ensures that fellow crew and passenger safety is secured during travel.

With safety being one of the key concerns amongst passengers, airports have increased the number of protective screens, hand gel dispensers and social distancing floor markings throughout the terminal.

We know that safety will be at the forefront of all passengers’ minds, so we will continue to look at how else we can assure passengers that they are travelling safely.

Luton Airport CEO Alberto Martin says: “As we edge closer to the restart date, we will continue to carry out the necessary steps to maintain this industry-leading position. We have been busily working behind the scenes to make all necessary adjustments so that passengers and employees can travel safely throughout the terminal.

“Of course, we know that safety will be at the forefront of all passengers’ minds, so we will continue to look at how else we can assure passengers that they are travelling safely.”

Alongside safety regulations the airport has also partnered with Collinson, a company who produce products and services for better customer experiences. They will provide drive through and in-terminal Covid-19 testing facilities for passengers. This will allow for pre-departure and post arrival screening.


Terminal conditions

Airport officials have warned that travellers arriving back to the UK after their holidays will be faced with queues exceeding six hours. In a recent statement by Heathrow Airport, a spokesperson said that the airport queues are becoming ‘untenable.’

The current system that has been put in place at airports sees border control not only checking passports, but also ensuring that they have the right documentation to be compliant with health measures.

To ensure the transmission of Covid-19 is contained, it is vital that these health checks are carried out when it comes to proof of vaccination or test result data. However, these checks take time to ensure they are correctly monitored which results in longer queueing time.

Introducing Covid-19 testing at airports not only presents an additional cost for passengers – ranging from £60 to £128 for a test – but to the airports themselves.

Covid-19 has raised particular challenges for the travel and aviation industry and has affected every aspect of HIAL’s operations.

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 – has invested over £1m in additional safety measures at its airports to ensure safety and Covid-19 compliancy is achieved.

A spokesperson at HIAL says: “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.

“Covid-19 has raised particular challenges for the travel and aviation industry and has affected every aspect of HIAL’s operations. Our processes are under continuous review and can be adapted swiftly if required by the relevant authorities and in line with the wider public health imperatives.”

Social distancing and sanitation

With throngs of passengers waiting to receive Covid-19 tests, document checks and boarding passes, the concern surrounding the danger of close contact queuing has presented itself to airports. Due to Covid-19 being an easily transmitted disease, social distancing measures have been put in force since its outbreak.

HIAL airports are staying on top of these concerns with increased staff training, implementation of social distancing measures and enhanced cleaning programmes.

A HIAL spokesperson says: “All airports were made Covid-19-secure with the early adoption of a comprehensive series of mitigation measures including effective passenger management, enhanced cleaning programmes, the use of sanitiser and the introduction of a broad range of PPE. Terminal buildings have been configured to meet social distancing requirements and are able to adapt to meet passenger throughput.”

Similarly to the social distancing management carried out at HIAL, Luton Airport has included social distancing floor markings to ensure the 2m rule is upheld as passengers move through the airport.

Martin says: “Maintaining social distancing within the terminal building can sometimes be difficult and some queues are unavoidable. Knowing this, we have made a series of changes throughout the airport to keep this to a minimum and hope that passengers feel safe and happy when travelling with us.”

We aren’t going on a summer holiday

There is speculation that UK summer travel may not be as bustling as expected. The confusion surrounding the government traffic light system – a system categorising countries based on risk of travel – may see UK passengers preferring to staycation and go on domestic holidays instead.

Alongside the unclear, constantly changing traffic lighting system, passengers are also faced with the issue of self-isolation once returning from their travels from certain destinations.

Unless these concerns are addressed soon, consumers will continue to shy away from booking an international trip.

GlobalData associate travel and tourism analyst Gus Gardner says: “A poll conducted by GlobalData has shown that quarantine requirements and travel restrictions remain the two main deterrents to international travel with 58% and 55% of respondents expressing that these factors would deter them from traveling.

“This puts summer bookings in jeopardy, and unless these concerns are addressed soon, consumers will continue to shy away from booking an international trip.”

With uncertainty surrounding international travel, can those in the UK be encouraged to fly to UK destinations instead? In another poll conducted by GlobalData, results shows that 43% of respondents plan to go on domestic trips within 12 months.

With a higher level of confidence surrounding booking travel closer to home, UK airports could expect to see a summer of high demand for domestic travel.

Martin says: “Aviation plays a vital role in the economy, both through the income it generates and through enabling connectivity. We therefore support the resumption of travel in a way that prioritises the safety of passengers and staff.”