The three largest airlines in the United Kingdom have initiated a legal proceeding against the UK government for what they call an indefensible new quarantine policy that began earlier today.
The UK Home Office has announced a new 14-day quarantine policy for travelers today. Airlines already plan to protest the UK government action.
- Passengers arriving in the UK via plane, ferry or train must provide an address where they will self-isolate for 14 days.
- This includes UK citizens
- The only exceptions are arrivals from the Republic of Ireland as well as the UK dependencies of Channels Islands and the Isle of Man
- “Essential” workers like doctors and scientists studying the pandemic will be exempt
- Passengers should drive their own car to their destination “where possible” but can still use public transport
- Once at their designations, passengers are banned from using public transport or taxis and cannot leave their place of self-isolation
- If alone, passengers may still be allowed to leave to buy food and other essential supplies, but cannot report to work
- Passengers will be encouraged to download a tracing app, but this will not be compulsory
- Government officials will make random checks to ensure that quanrtined passengers remain quarantined
- The fine for violating self-isolation rules is £1,000.
Home Secretary Priti Patel frames this as a tool to fight a potential second wave:
“We all want to return to normal as quickly as possible. But this cannot be at the expense of lives. The science is clear that if we limit the risk of new cases being brought in from abroad, we can help stop a devastating second wave.”
UK Airlines Protest UK Government, Seek Legal Redress
EasyJet, Ryanair, and IAG (the parent company of British Airways) have sent a “pre-action protocol letter” to the UK Government, explaining why they believe the new 14-day quarantine policy is unlawful.
A Ryanair spokesperson stated:
“These measures are disproportionate and unfair on British citizens as well as international visitors arriving in the UK. We urge the government to remove this ineffective visitor quarantine which will have a devastating effect on UK’s tourism industry and will destroy even more thousands of jobs in this unprecedented crisis.”
That sounds like a policy battle rather than a legal one…
The pre-action letter seeks to undermine the policy by pointing out that incoming travelers face greater restrictions than those actually affected by COVID-19. It also notes that England will enforce the new measures much more strictly than Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. Finally, it notes that the rules apply even to those coming from nations with dramatically lower infection rates than the UK.
“In our view, the government has failed to identify a valid justification for the blanket nature of the regulations, more especially given the extremely severe nature of the self-isolation provisions that apply.”
The point of the pre-action protocol letter is to avoid a lawsuit. Further discussion will now take place and Patel has indicated she is open to listening. But with the new quarantine rules already in effect, it will become more difficult to draw them back. The best that UK airlines can likely hope for is that these restrictions do not last for more than a few weeks.