Lusso calls for government to give air travellers free Covid-19 tests

Tour operator Lusso has written to the government urging it to add air travel to the list of reasons to be awarded a free Covid-19 test.

The luxury operator suggested airports only allow people with a negative test result to enter, and said this would increase passenger confidence and persuade more countries to open up borders to UK visitors.

Operations director Mark Hibbert said the move would work as an alternative to blanket quarantine measures, increase consumer confidence, protect tour operators and travel agents from “having to refund irretrievable monies as a result of snap FCO advice changes”, protect the UK from inbound infection and save tens of thousands of jobs in the travel industry.

Calling on the industry to appeal to government to provide all flight passengers with free tests when departing the UK, Hibbert wrote: “It is our strong belief that the only way to reignite and sustain air travel throughout this pandemic is to ensure that all outbound and inbound passengers travel with a recent negative Covid-19 test.

“Is this achievable? Yes – we just need the government to add Air Travel to the current list of requirements to obtain a free Covid-19 test. Will the cost be significant? No – test centres are running to a fraction of their capacity at the moment with fixed staffing costs regardless of the numbers of tests performed.

“Will passengers be able to get tests prior to their flight home? Of course – in fact many airlines, countries and islands are already insisting that UK nationals have negative tests to fly in either direction so this would be easy to confirm prior to taking a booking.

“Will the cost be significant of overseas tests? No – the cost of COVID-19 testing is often less expensive overseas and in any event the cost of one test per person is a lot more palatable than two.

“Also, our belief is that many holiday destinations could run a reciprocal programme to ours to offer free tests for departing passengers as a much needed stimulus to inbound Tourism to destinations that heavily rely on tourism.”

Lusso’s letter said the use of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice needs to be “urgently reviewed”.

It said: “The purpose of Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice is to provide information and advice to help British nationals make their own informed decisions about foreign travel. Advice against ‘all but essential travel’ means that the FCO judge that there is an unacceptably high risk to British people travelling abroad. There is a significant lack of transparency and consistency of decision making in the use of this status.

“It is currently being used in a broad-brush approach and should not include knee jerk reactions and blanket bans on areas with similar if not lower infection rates than our own. FCO advice against all but essential travel is not currently fit for purpose and should be reserved for areas of high risk.

“This needs urgent review as huge areas of the world are restricted to travel to currently, many with lower infection rates than the UK (Anguilla, UAE, Maldives, Seychelles).”

The operator said tests should be mandatory for arrivals into the UK as well, and that quarantine should be reserved for arrivals from ‘high risk’ destinations.

“In our belief [quarantine] is not fit for purpose – even with 50% compliance, it provides little to no protection from inbound infection.

“By limiting quarantine requirements to high risk countries (Brazil, India, USA) we would have more resource to police this adequately. Testing prior to arrival back in the UK would be far more effective at protecting ourselves from inbound infection and could be made even more secure by adding a further free test after seven days for anyone travelling from an area of medium risk.

“Our beloved travel industry is dying a death from a thousand cuts fuelled by a distinct lack of understanding and direct action by the government to support an industry that is a strategic and significant part of the UK economy.

“The government is failing to understand that without a thriving outbound tourism sector there is significant damage caused to inbound tourism. Tens of thousands of tourism jobs now rely upon a greater understanding of the travel sector and direct engagement by the government to find a solution that better protects travellers and gets the UK confidently and safely travelling again.”

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