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Airlines seek their day in court

by Wayne Bartlett

The beleaguered airline industry, witnessing an almost total disappearance of traffic currently, has decided that enough is enough. Although they have benefited along with many others from the government's furlough scheme alongside other economic support, they may be looking enviously at their counterparts on the continent such as Lufthansa in Germany, Alitalia in Italy and Air France who have received or been promised significant direct support from their governments. No such direct support has yet been made available by the UK government. The recent decision to bring into effect a quarantine policy for travellers to the UK appears to have been the last straw for some airlines who have decided to take legal action in an attempt to overturn it. It is worth pondering on the ramifications of such a challenge and its impacts, and not just on the airline sector itself. For what is effectively being brought into sharp focus here is the trade-off that is being made between protecting public health on the one hand and protecting the economy on the other and, crucially, where the balance concerning the two largely contradictory pressures should lie.

Three airlines, namely British Airways, Ryanair and EasyJet, have now filed a formal legal challenge to the policy which requires most travellers coming into the UK to enter into 14 days of quarantine when they first arrive in the country. Fines may be levied on individuals who fail to comply with these regulations and spot-checks will also be made to confirm that those affected are doing as they are instructed to do. The airlines are claiming, in applying for a judicial review at the High Court, that there are various inconsistencies in the rules. They assert that there was no consultation on the quarantine policy and no scientific evidence provided to support it. They point out that a number of exemptions such as those who commute weekly from France or Germany will undermine it anyway and also suggest that the government policy of preventing people from travelling to and from countries with lower infection rates than the UK just does not make sense. There has also been widespread public comment that whatever the merits or otherwise of the quarantine procedures introduced this month they should have been brought in a long time ago when levels of infection were much higher yet people could still at one stage travel freely from countries with high levels of infection such as Spain, Italy and France.

The airlines are suggesting that the government should re-adopt a previous policy which limited quarantine arrangements to travellers who entered the UK from high-risk countries. There has been much talk in the media of the introduction of 'air bridges', that is to say allowing quarantine-free travel between the UK and countries with low infection rates but as yet these have come to nothing. There is some speculation, though it is no more than that, that the quarantine restrictions may be subject to review at the end of the month. It will be interesting to see whether a legal attempt by the three airlines will have an impact in terms of encouraging implementation of a revised quarantine policy sooner rather than later. It will also be interesting to see whether the judicial review actually takes place and if it does what ramifications it might have for other sectors who have been hit by the lockdown. If the airlines were to win their case, it might conceivably encourage others to launch legal reviews to ongoing lockdown restrictions too.

Wayne Bartlett is an author for accountingcpd. To see his courses, click here.

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