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Travel firm TUI joins airlines suing government over ‘inexplicable’ amber list rules

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Travel firm TUI has joined a number of airlines in suing the government over its traffic light travel system, it announced on Tuesday.

The travel giant said it was “inexplicable” that ministers decided to put Portugal on its amber list last month – and not move the Greek and Balearic Islands, which have low COVID rates, on to the green list.

Speaking at the Travel Matters conference, travel association ABTA also said it was considering joining TUI, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair, British Airways’s parent company IAG, and the Manchester Airport Group in taking legal action against the government.

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Last week Ryanair chief executive Michael O’ Leary described the government’s international travel policy as a “shambles” and announced legal action along with a number of partners.

Andrew Flintham, TUI managing director, accused the government of not listening to the industry’s needs after aviation minister Robert Courts failed to turn up to the conference due to a “diary clash”.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the aviation minister didn’t come to speak with us all today,” he said.

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“There is no doubt the government needs to hear what we have to say as an industry and this once again feels like a sign they’re not.”

Robert Courts MP. Pic: Richard Cave Photography/ Alamy
Image: Aviation minister Robert Courts MP. Pic: Richard Cave Photography/Alamy

On the review of the travel lists earlier this month, Mr Flintham added: “At the time of the last country review, many destinations such as Malta, the Greek islands and the Balearics had much lower rates (of infection) than the UK.

“It was inexplicable as to why these were not added and instead Portugal was moved straight from green to amber, without the slightest sign of stopping at the much-vaunted green watchlist.”

He said that the sector “must understand the criteria” the government is using so they can make international travel easier for their customers.

Speaking to Sky News earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government is “working on” allowing fully-vaccinated passengers to travel to amber list countries without having to quarantine on their return.

He said that it “hasn’t been clinically advised yet”, but it was something he “wants to see”.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck a less optimistic tone on Monday, when he said 2021 would be a “difficult year for travel – whatever happens”.

Speaking at the Travel Matters conference on Tuesday, ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer issued a “heartfelt plea for political change” over travel rules.

He said the sector needed a specific minister – as the Department for Transport and Department of Health are both involved in decisions.

“Our economic contribution is weighty. More money is spent in the UK by British citizens prior to travelling abroad than is spent by international visitors and the job creation or destruction potential is huge,” he said.

“I say to government: put aside any misguided prejudices against outbound travel. We are ready to work together, show us that you are.”

Asked whether ABTA would be joining organisations taking the government to court, he said: “We’re looking at whether or not that is an avenue we can pursue.”

He said the “hurdle for suing the government is high”, but he wants to know if “the government measures the impact on the travel sector of its own policies”.

A Department for Transport spokesperson told Sky News: “We continue to engage extensively with the industry to explore how we can open international travel safely, whilst ensuring we protect public health.

“We recognise the challenging times facing all sectors of transport as a result of COVID-19, which is why we have put in place an economy-wide support package, including around​ £7bn of support benefitting the air transport sector.”