Gatwick and EasyJet criticize UK quarantine as they look to reopen

EasyJet aircraft at Gatwick Airport in London, England.

Chris J Ratcliffe

Passenger demand at London’s second-largest airport may not return to pre-crisis levels for another three or four years as the sector grapples with severe disruption.

Airports have been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with airlines stopping or significantly reducing their flights in the wake of lockdowns and travel restrictions to contain Covid-19.

“We think it will take three to four years for Gatwick to come back to 2019 passenger volume levels,” Stewart Wingate, chief executive officer of Gatwick, told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick Monday. 

Gatwick reported just under 37 million passengers in the nine months to the end of 2019, an increase of 0.3% from the same period the year before.

The airport has also been under pressure after two big airlines announced plans to reduce or review their presence at Gatwick due to the current crisis. Virgin Atlantic said it will end its operations at the airport, while British Airways said it could not exclude the possibility of also closing its services there.

“We are very hopeful that British Airways will continue flying, we think they will, we certainly are doing everything we can to persuade them to continue to fly to and from Gatwick and Virgin (Atlantic) are holding on to their spots, so in three or four years, they are telling us, they certainly intend to come back to Gatwick,” Wingate said.

UK quarantine is not efficient

Meanwhile, the air travel industry is calling on the U.K. government to end or replace its new quarantine policy, which they see as a major impediment to the reopening of their businesses. Some U.K.-based travelers might put off plans to holiday abroad as they are being forced to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return.

Wingate mentioned that in mainland Europe “borders are coming down, the planes are starting to fly, and it is really important economically that we participate in this market.”

Earlier on Monday, easyJet’s CEO Johan Lundgren made a similar appeal.

“Everybody in the government recognizes that aviation is the big contributing factor as we now go into the economic recovery that’s so desperately needed … This quarantine approach is not efficient from a public health point of view and it should be replaced,” Lundgren told CNBC.

The British budget airline resumed flights on Monday, after grounding its fleet for 11 weeks. EasyJet said in April that it expects a loss of between £185 million ($230 million) and £205 million in the first six months of its fiscal year due to the pandemic. The final numbers will be disclosed later this month.

“I think it is too soon to start talking about opportunities that will come out of this, but of course as we see that we progress through the summer and we see demand growing again there will be plenty of opportunities down the line,” Lundgren said about potential expansion plans for the business. 

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