U.K. tourists scrambled to return from Portugal before a quarantine requirement kicks in on Tuesday, driving up ticket prices as travelers rearranged flights ahead of the deadline.
A three-hour British Airways flight from Faro, in the popular Algarve region, to London City airport on Monday night costs 711 pounds ($1,000), according to comparison website Skyscanner. The following day, when passengers will be subject to 10 days of self-isolation on arrival, the airline is offering flights to Heathrow for 80% less.
U.K. authorities caught airlines and holidaymakers by surprise on Thursday with a decision to remove Portugal from the green list of countries where people can easily travel. The abrupt move
echoes the disruption that took hold last summer, when sudden changes to quarantine rules forced vacationers to rush home at short notice. Now carriers are hastily rearranging schedules and contemplating another high season lost to the pandemic.
“The government has torn up its own rule book and ignored the science, throwing peoples’ plans into chaos,” said
EasyJet Plc Chief Executive Officer Johan Lundgren Thursday. “This decision essentially cuts the U.K. off from the rest of the world.”
Holidaymakers set to travel to Portugal in coming days are seeing the prospect of some time in the sun evaporate. Charlie Turner, 28, from the Wirral near Liverpool was due to fly with his aunt from Birmingham to Faro on June 10 for a long weekend. She is a carer for ill family members and unable to quarantine on return. They are seeking a refund.
“The restrictions and quarantine make it near impossible to take short-term trips — it’s just not feasible,” he said.
Less than a month ago, airlines
rushed to add seats to Portugal when it became the only major sun-spot green-listed in the U.K.’s traffic-light system that began on May 17. The industry expected this week’s review to produce an expansion of the list, with Spain’s Balearic islands and Malta potential inclusions.
But no countries were added to the green list and Portugal is now going amber, causing disruption to the many Britons who were relying on the setup to bring certainty to summer travel plans. Many Brits own holiday or retirement homes in Portugal.
Travellers don’t have an automatic right to a refund if a country moves down the U.K.’s traffic-light list, according to consumer magazine Which? travel. They can rebook, but the millions of holidays rescheduled from earlier in the pandemic mean the new dates are often more expensive, said editor Rory Boland.
“For most people with holidays and almost everybody with flights, your decision is going to be rebooking and often paying hundreds of pounds more,” he said. “If you can’t do that, you’ll lose the cost of the holiday.”
With their share
prices dropping for a second day and prospects shrinking, airlines are revising their plans. EasyJet is focused on gearing up its fleet within the European Union, it said, where the bloc’s reopening is proceeding in a more urgent manner.
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Jet2 Plc said Friday it would delay its restart by one week to July 1, while British Airways, owned by
IAG SA, is increasing the number of flights from Portugal to help customers get back before the restrictions kick in.
For Portuguese hotels and restaurants, the U.K. move is “disastrous,” according to Portugal’s Tourism Confederation. Tourism accounts for about 15% of Portugal’s economy and 9% of employment, with Britons ranking as the biggest group of visitors.
Raul Martins, chairman of the Altis hotel chain and head of Portugal’s Hotel Association, said there have been “massive” cancellations in the Algarve as a result of the decision, which he branded as “excessive.” Portugal has queried the U.K.’s justification for moving it to the amber list.
“We take note of the British decision to remove Portugal from the travel ‘green list,’ the logic of which we cannot understand,” Portugal’s foreign minister, Augusto Santos Silva, said on Twitter. The country has “clear rules for the safety of those who live here and those who visit us.”
— With assistance by Henrique Almeida
(Updates with tourist, Portugal comments from fifth paragraph.)