More people passed through Heathrow airport last month than at any time since Covid-19 hit western economies in March 2020, helped by the partial reopening of the transatlantic aviation corridor.
However, while Britain’s largest airport welcomed the “blue skies” of recovery from the pandemic, it warned that if the travelling public had to rely on expensive PCR tests for the coronavirus, then air travel would become the preserve of the wealthy.
Heathrow reported that its terminals had handled 1.5 million passengers in July, 74 per cent more than the 866,000 that went through Heathrow last July but still far below pre-pandemic levels.
“Finally, some blue skies are on the horizon as travel and trade routes slowly reopen,” Emma Gilthorpe, 51, the airport’s chief operating officer, said. “The job, though, is far from complete. Government must now capitalise on the vaccine dividend and seize the opportunity to replace expensive PCR tests with more affordable lateral flow tests.”
The airport said in a statement: “Ministers committed to reducing testing costs over three months ago. However, the UK still stands as an outlier, with Europe slashing their prices and in some cases, subsiding them. The cost of testing in the UK remains prohibitive for many, as industry calls for VAT to be scrapped alongside the use of cheaper lateral flow for low-risk destinations. This will keep people safe and will avoid travel becoming the preserve for the wealthy.”
The end of the requirement for fully vaccinated Americans to have to quarantine when coming from the United States was a key factor in the rising numbers, with North American passenger levels up to 232,000. That is 230 per cent higher than a year ago and JFK airport in New York has again become Heathrow’s single most popular “route pair”. That is likely to increase further with the launch of services to London by JetBlue, an American carrier.
Heathrow said that rules needed to be further relaxed. “The joint UK/US travel taskforce must capitalise on the UK’s world-leading vaccine rollout and reach a reciprocal agreement for fully vaccinated UK travellers,” it said.
The airport said that its demands were not only about opening up routes for holidaying Britons or those keen to catch up with overseas friends and family. “The reopening of vital trading links such as Canada and Singapore is critical for British business,” it said. “Severed trade links must be restored as soon as the data allow and the UK government should not delay these vital decisions.”