By JACK ELSOM FOR MAILONLINE
Hopes for summer foreign holidays have been dealt a fresh blow after British Airways and easyJet scrapped more flights.
Passengers were left dismayed by the latest round of cancellations that includes trips booked for after May 17, when breaks abroad were scheduled to resume.
Europe is grappling with surging cases and yesterday health minister Lord Bethell warned the entire Continent could be put on the travel ‘red list’ of countries requiring arrivals to undergo hotel quarantine.
Matt Hancock this morning slapped down his junior minister, insisting the Government has ‘no plans’ for such drastic action at this stage.
But to better insulate Britain from the European third wave, ministers announced that from Monday rule-breakers in England travelling overseas illegally during lockdown will face a £5,000 fine.
Critics railed against the ‘draconian measure’ and argued it would further sting the hard-hit travel sector.
The Health Secretary suggested the tough rules could be eased on May 17 – but cautioned it was still too early to give summer holidays the green light.
British Airways insists the cancellations were not due to the evolving situation with the pandemic but a routine scale-back of flights to reflect the view of IATA, the airline trade body, that foreign travel will not resume to pre-pandemic levels by 2023.
The pared-back routes include fewer flights to Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, and extend as far into the future as August.
Sources played down the flight cuts as ‘business as usual’ – and suggested more could be added in the future if there is scope.
Yet would-be holidaymakers were exasperated that flights they had booked for after lockdown were being axed.
One said: ‘I’m getting welcome back emails so booked flights in good faith having had my first vaccine dose.
‘Yesterday two were cancelled for mid July. Today, another cancelled for mid August. This is absolutely ridiculous, you either want passengers back or you don’t!’
Bradley Crouch, 33, had booked a family holiday to Mykonos through easyJet for the end of May that was cancelled last week.
He booked the trip last year, and when Boris Johnson announced foreign holidays could resume by May 17, he was sure his May 23 flights would go ahead.
The business owner from Kent has already received a full refund, but is gutted, telling MailOnline: ‘It’s that needed trip we’ve all been waiting for for so long.’
He said the decision to cancel this flights was ‘very surprising’ and believes it is in response to the precarious nature of foreign travel.
Under Boris Johnson’s roadmap to exit lockdown, foreign holidays were pencilled to return for May 17, but this now looks to be in doubt because of the spiralling outbreak on the Continent.
Multiple European countries are tightening restrictions, and Germany has announced an ’emergency brake’ lockdown to tackle the rise in cases.
Just over 10 per cent of adults have received their first vaccine dose across the EU, compared to the UK’s figure exceeding 53 per cent.
To strengthen control at the borders, ministers will introduce a £5,000 fine for anyone who travels abroad without a reasonable excuse, such as essential work.
Mr Hancock said this will be reviewed on May 17, but European holidays were plunged into doubt yesterday when his junior minister, Lord Bethell, suggested the entire Continent could be placed on the red list.
Lord Bethell told peers: ‘The possibility is that we will have to red-list all of our European neighbours. But that would be done with huge regret because we are a trading nation.’
Thirty-five countries are on the red list, including the whole of South America, southern Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Portugal was on the list but was removed last week.
Mr Hancock today said ‘we don’t have any plans to do that’ but said it’s too early to tell if summer holidays will get the green light.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I entirely understand people’s yearning to get away and have a summer holiday, and we’re looking at that question right now as part of the global travel taskforce, which will report in the middle of next month.
‘The earliest that will take any steps will be May 17 but, obviously, we’re taking a cautious approach because we want any openings that we make to be irreversible.’
He said a traffic light system for travel with red and amber lights is in place at the moment but more details on the way forward would be published around April 12.
‘Until then, I’m afraid, as people have got used to over the last year, frankly it is wait and see.
‘Because we’ll only make steps that we think are safe but, on the other hand, we do understand, of course I understand, how people want to be able to get away in the summer, especially after the last year that we’ve all had.’
The £5,000 fine sent travel stocks – including easyJet , British Airway-owner IAG, Jet2 and TUI – down 2-4 per cent in early trade on Tuesday.
Britain’s travel sector has lost more than 45,000 jobs and passenger numbers at the biggest airport, Heathrow, have fallen to their lowest since 1966 during the crisis.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, said extending travel restrictions will be ‘devastating’ for millions of people working in tourism.
Paul Charles, boss of the PC travel agency, said: ‘It’s a draconian measure that tightens the problems in the travel sector and actually puts of people from even making inquiries, let alone booking.
‘I think it’s a smokescreen for the lack of inbound testing policy in this country. Here we are a year after lockdown began and there is still no major testing system in place.’
The fine will be introduced when MPs vote to renew the emergency coronavirus legislation that expires this month.
Despite hawkish Tory MPs threatening to rebel, the vote is widely expected to pass with the backing of Labour.
The Government’s gradual easing of lockdown will be done in four stages – March 29, April 12, May 17 and June 21, if the data allows.
Yesterday the Prime Minister said that Britain will inevitably feel the bleak situation on the Continent, saying their Covid woes will ‘wash up on our shores’.
British Airways said: ‘We are sorry that, like other airlines, due to the current coronavirus pandemic and global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule.’
EasyJet has been approached for comment.