Frustration at Government over travel restrictions takes flight

Published date21 May 2021
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
The same day, Tuesday, the Cabinet was due to discuss plans to reopen air travel after 14 months of tough Covid-19 restrictions, but postponed this to next week. That agenda will include debate on mandatory hotel quarantine, a restriction applying to among others, visitors from EU neighbours, Belgium, France and Italy.

Willie Walsh, Irish chief executive and director of the International Air Transport Association, on Thursday dubbed quarantine "repressive" and "dangerous" in an address to politicians. Walsh, founder and former chief executive of International Airlines Group (IAG), owner of Aer Lingus and British Airways, observed that his native country's attitude to travel throughout the Covid-19 crisis "amazed" him.

He told Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks that he himself had not travelled to the Republic since February last year, a consequence of policies that he argued were based on the mistaken notion that "everyone flying in here" is infected with the virus.

For months, even with job losses in airlines and airports hovering at the 4,000 mark, the Government has managed to avoid much public criticism of its tough stance against travel, or of its seeming lack of a plan to reverse that position as vaccines reopen the rest of the world.

Sharp focus

But events this week threw the issue into sharp focus. A few hours before Varadkar suggested that heading for a Mediterranean beach might be a crime, Ryanair published results showing it lost €815 million in the 12 months to the end of March. However, its chief executive, Michael O'Leary was bullish about the months ahead. He predicted that the Irish giant could carry four million passengers next month.

"If we get to four million in June, it could be anything from seven to nine million in July," he informed US and European brokers' analysts. The upper end of that forecast would be 61 per cent of the 14.8 million people that Ryanair flew in July 2019, but twice what it carried in the same month in 2020, when the airline relaunched after being grounded for three months.

O'Leary said summer bookings from the UK, Germany, the Benelux countries, Scandinavia and eastern Europe were beginning to accelerate as vaccinations took hold and people looked beyond lingering restrictions and concerns. "Families are going to be moving in very large volumes to the beaches of southern Europe," he declared.

He doesn't believe it will stop there. Assuming that a vaccine-resistant Covid variant...

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