Coronavirus and European Travel: Must I staycation or should I book now?

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Ryanair and Easyjet aircraft at Gatwick airport

All non-essential journeys abroad for UK citizens were banned by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 17th March as part of the general lockdown. New measures that came into force on May 13 in England, make day trips by car possible now but not overseas excursions. (1)

The Gov.UK website advises that “the FCO advises British nationals against all but essential international travel.” (2) At the moment any overnight stays away are against government advice so just driving to the airport is breaking the rules. Any non-essential trips are not going to be supported by travel insurance policies.

However EasyJet stated today in an email to followers and on twitter publicly that “we’ll begin flying again from 15th June. With so many destination across Europe getting ready to open up, its hard to know where to go first.” EasyJet customer services were not available to comment further when we contacted them. (3)

Today at 5pm is when government guidelines are reviewed and the rules could change but they have not altered yet. EasyJet, Ryanair, Wizzair and other low cost airlines currently advertising flights could be encouraging keen flyers to break the rules. As a retail and leisure business they would certainly take no responsibility for the actions of their customers booking against their individual government’s guidance.

Retail stores are allowed to open in a safely distanced way from 15th June in the UK but there has been no such rule change for the airlines who fall under the umbrella term of the still heavily restricted leisure industry which includes the restaurant trade. Such a popular company quoting this mid month date could easily confuse Brits into thinking they can go ahead and confidently book their trips without any concerns. The Easyjet video showing a PPE wearing family of passengers also sends a confusing message.

On May 10th Boris Johnson “confirmed plans to force all international arrivals, including returning holidaymakers, to self-isolate” for 14 days (4) As the UK has one of the worst number of cases of Covid-19 some countries are banning travellers from Great Britain entering their countries at this time.

Many international governments have a 14 day compulsory quarantine for Brits arriving at their destination including France. This means a combined 4 week quarantine time that would mean normal holidays are impossible for nearly everyone at the moment.

Some airlines are starting to operate their new normal services in the first two weeks of June as European countries cautiously reopen their borders to tourists. However they are not all welcoming UK travellers yet. In June “Italy…Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Sweden, Sicily will be open for visitors with no need for visitors to self-isolate..” (5)

If the FCO advice changes July seems to be the realistic month that most flights are becoming possible and that is when Spain and Greece plan to open its borders to tourists again. Foreign visitors to Spain will also no longer have to undergo a two-week quarantine from 1 July” stated The Scotsman today. (6)

There are some extra travel solutions backed by Boris Johnson’s team for helping the aviation industry resume operations. “Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced ‘air bridges’ with other nations…” (7) The idea is to welcome people visiting from low risk of coronavirus countries. This would not include the UK at this time but there is hope that more testing and the ‘track and trace’ program that is up and running nationally from today will help. This strategy could see England’s infection rate reduce significantly, ensuring the bi-lateral ‘freedom to fly between’ agreements are agreed between international leaders over the coming weeks.

The top team in Westminster are sensibly prioritising the prevention of the spread of the pandemic and trying to prevent a second wave of the contagion. Until the Foreign Office updates its advice that it is safe to travel abroad we are all going to be enjoying a sunny staycation in the British Isles consisting of day trips to the coast and countryside.

A more spontaneous ‘go with the flow’ attitude to arranging any event is the most realistic choice this summer and Autumn. Planning and booking ahead can lead to breaking government ordered rules, frustration, expense and disappointment. Many citizens who had booked Spring 2020 holidays and cruises that were then cancelled by their travel companies have already found this out. Twitter is full of people waiting for refunds from all sorts of companies whose workforce are often now trying to work in new ways from home.

We don’t yet know whether next years travel plans will be disrupted by ongoing safe distancing problems experienced by all the airlines and enforced lockdowns. Until a successful vaccine is widely available it would be wise to expect at least some unforeseen problems when booking a vacation even several months in advance.

If looking forward to next years season seems the safest bet for a traditional holiday for the family, it is worth also knowing that the European Health Insurance Card or EHIC will not be valid from 1st January 2020. Therefore private health insurance is advised by the British government when heading to countries that are still members of the European Union in the future. (8)

(1) ‘UK Travelers: 5 Things In The Way Of Your Europe Holiday’ Tamara Thiessen, Forbes, 22 May 2020 ‘Things in teh way of your European holiday’ Tamara Thiessen, Forbes

(2) ‘Foreign travel advice’ Coronavirus guidance and support Gov.UK website 28 May 2020 ‘Foreign travel advice’ Gov.UK

(3) Easyjet website 28 May 2020 Easyjet website

(4) ‘When will we travel again?’ Nick Trend, The Telegraph, 26 May 2020 ‘When will we travel again’ Nick Trend, The Telegraph

(5) ‘Are there any countries that UK residents should consider for a holiday this year?’ Rick Jordan, Conde Nast Traveller 27 May 2020 ‘Countries to consider for a holiday’ Rick Jordan, Conde Nast

(6) ‘When can I travel to Spain? Latest FCO guidance as country looks to relax quarantine rules’ Alex Nelson, The Scotsman, 27 May 2020 ‘When can I travel to Spain’ Alex Nelson, The Scotsman

(7) ‘When will we go on holiday again?’ Greg Dickinson, The Telegraph, 27 May 2020 ‘When will we go on holiday again’ Greg Dickson, The Telegraph

(8) ‘Visit Europe from 1 January 2021’ Gov.UK Guidance website 27 May 2020 ‘Visit Europe from Jan 2021’ Gov UK