Home Secretary Priti Patel insists quarantine will help stop the virus' spreadImage copyright
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Home Secretary Priti Patel insists quarantine will help stop the virus’ spread

Britain’s biggest airline, British Airways, has refused to attend a meeting with Home Secretary Priti Patel on Thursday to discuss the UK’s quarantine plans.

From 8 June the government will require all travellers to the UK to quarantine for 14 days or face a £1,000 fine.

But BA, which is under huge financial strain due to the pandemic, has called it “another blow to our industry”.

Owner IAG did not give a reason for not attending and declined further comment.

However, the operator is understood to be annoyed at what it saw as a lack of consultation over the quarantine’s introduction.

The BBC has asked the Home Office for comment.

EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic, as well as the owner of Heathrow Airport, were among the aviation businesses that attended the telephone meeting with Ms Patel and junior aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst.

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Airlines across the world have grounded aircraft as passenger numbers collapse

BA has faced heavy criticism in parliament in recent days over a plan to slash jobs while accessing the government’s furlough scheme.

In April, BA said it would cut 12,000 roles and weaken terms and conditions for its remaining staff, just weeks after it had put 30,000 workers on the job retention scheme which pays workers’ wages.

The airline has defended the cuts as necessary, but on Wednesday Ms Tolhurst suggested BA should be held to account for what one MP called a “breach of faith”.

“The [furlough] scheme was not designed for taxpayers to fund the wages of employees only for those companies to put the same staff on notice of redundancy during the furlough period,” Ms Tolhurst said.

An industry source said that BA feels “it has not been treated professionally; that the meeting was a waste of time”.

Aviation bosses are fuming about the quarantine. And tonight’s conference call seems to have made things worse.

Most were apparently unimpressed, with one person present on the call even describing it as “a shambles”.

They feel they got no reassurances from Priti Patel that the quarantine would be reduced in any significant way soon by agreeing so-called “air bridges”. These are safe corridors between the UK and countries with low infection rates meaning people won’t have to self-isolate after they travel.

That is an interesting contradiction in tone from other government sources who insist ministers are working hard to establish a number of air bridges, especially with European countries, as soon as possible.

The fact that BA’s parent company IAG didn’t even attend the call is the ultimate sign that relations between the government and UK aviation are at rock bottom.

The government insists the new quarantine rules will help contain the spread of coronavirus but has faced a backlash from Conservative MPs who argue they will harm airlines and stop people taking summer holidays

The rules have also been roundly criticised by the UK’s tourism industry, which has all but ground to a halt due to the pandemic.

In her opening remarks at the meeting, which was also attended by representatives of the rail and maritime industries, Ms Patel said: “Protecting lives will always be our top priority, but I am alive to the impact on your sector and I’m asking you to work with us on this.”

But earlier on Thursday, the boss of the UK’s biggest airport services company, Swissport, said on Thursday that the plan could deliver a “killer blow” to the tourism sector.

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Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has criticised the plans

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, echoed those concerns, saying the requirement to self-isolate would “significantly reduce European visitors”.

“The safety and security of our people and our customers is always our top priority and public health must come first,” a Virgin Atlantic spokesman said.

“However, the introduction of mandatory 14-day self-isolation for every single traveller entering the UK will reduce customer demand significantly and prevent a resumption of services at scale.”

On Monday, a group of 200 travel companies wrote to Ms Patel asking for the plans to be scrapped.

The letter suggested travel should be possible for people – without quarantine – between destinations “deemed safe from coronavirus”.

So-called air bridges would allow visitors from countries where coronavirus infection rates are low into the UK, without having to self-isolate for two weeks.

A government source told the BBC there was a “list” of countries which the government was hoping to secure air bridge agreements with, which include all major European tourist destinations such as Portugal, Spain and France as well as Australia and Singapore.

However, for now the government’s official position is that the idea is “under consideration”, not established policy.

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