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easyJet calls on UK to outline path out of pandemic restrictions

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: EasyJet check-in counters are pictured at Cointrin Airport

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain must set out how it will ease coronavirus travel restrictions, easyJet's chief executive said on Wednesday, a day after the government tightened already strict travel rules in a further blow for airlines.

Johan Lundgren, easyJet CEO, said there was strong demand for leisure travel but the success of what could be a make-or-break summer for Europe's airlines depends on the effectiveness of vaccines against new variants of the coronavirus.

"Most important now is that the government comes out with a plan on how they're going to unwind these restrictions," Lungren told a CAPA online aviation conference.

"I'm positive for a strong summer if the vaccination programmes are successful, if it works on the variants... then we know that there's a big urgent need for the government to unwind these restrictions," he said.

Airlines and travel companies are desperate for a summer recovery after COVID-19 wiped out most of their revenues for close to a year.

But in the United Kingdom, the government has tightened travel restrictions to guard against new variants.

Holidays are already banned under lockdown rules, and ministers refuse to say how long that could last. Earlier on Wednesday, the transport minister told people not to book trips abroad or at home for the summer.

For the small number of people permitted to fly for essential reasons, the rules get tougher from Feb.15, when travellers must take three COVID-19 tests, and arrivals from high-risk countries must shell out 1,750 pounds to quarantine in a hotel.

EasyJet plans to fly no more than 10% of 2019's capacity in January-March, down from 18% in September-December.

The airline has been less vocal in forecasting a bumper summer compared to competitors such as Europe's biggest airline Ryanair, and budget upstart Wizz Air.

"I don't think we are more cautious - just that we don't boast about anything while you know there's insignificant amounts of flying," Lundgren said when asked about the different approaches, adding that easyJet's was "more prudent".

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Kate Holton; editing by William James/Guy Faulconbridge)