Ryanair Case Takes Off: Airline to take legal action over government travel bans

June 29, 2021

3 min read

Sign up to our mailing list! 👇

What's going on here?

Ryanair has joined forces with other airlines and Manchester Airports Group (MAG) to seek judicial review over the government’s decisions surrounding the traffic light travel ban system.

What does this mean?

On Wednesday 12 May, the UK government set out a three-tiered traffic light system to control international travel. UK citizens are free to travel to “green” countries, as long as they receive a negative result from a private PCR test on day 2 of their return. However, citizens must quarantine on their return from “amber” and “red” destinations. Popular holiday locations such as France, Spain and Greece have been on the amber list since its inception, much to the dismay of the travel industry. The government is reviewing the list every three weeks. However, airlines and airports are dissatisfied with this approach and are taking legal action with Matt Hancock (former Health Secretary) and Grant Shapps (Travel Secretary) set to be named as defendants in the case.  

The companies wish to challenge the government’s decisions using the process of judicial review, in this process the decisions of public bodies are reviewed by the High Court. Here judges decide if public bodies (such as the government) have made decisions within their allocated powers. The travel businesses will argue the government has no legal right to restrict travel and subject passengers to strict quarantine without providing evidence for these decisions. 

What's the big picture effect?

The travel and tourism industry has suffered immensely throughout the pandemic, the global travel sector lost approximately $4.5 trillion in 2020. The government again has the familiar challenge of balancing industry interests and wider public health as the Delta variant continues to spread.

 This legal action shows that many key players in the industry are gravely dissatisfied with the government’s decisions. MAG owns the largest airport group in the UK, managing Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands. MAG and Ryanair have been supported by airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet. The group object to the uncertainty the system has caused and the lack of transparency with which decisions over changing the list have been made. They have demanded the government publish any “criteria or additional information that informs [its] decision-making”.

 The CEO of MAG, Charlie Cornish, has stated action is necessary as the government is “now unwilling to open up international travel by putting low-risk countries on the green list”. This legal action seems to be leverage to persuade ministers to reconsider their decisions. Following events such as the last-minute removal of travel hotspot Portugal from the green list, the group has found it “impossible for airports, airlines and other travel companies to plan for the recovery of international travel”.

 The government has strongly defended the traffic light quarantine system and insists all decisions have been made following scientific evidence. The Department for Transport (DoT) states it is attempting to “balance the timely reopening of international travel while safeguarding public health and protecting the vaccine rollout”.

 Whilst 59% of adults in England had both doses of the vaccine, there is a fear the younger unvaccinated population may pick up variants if they travel abroad, hence the government’s cautiousness over international travel. The DoT did acknowledge the devastating economic impact this will have on travel businesses and reiterated the government has so far provided £7bn to help the sector through the pandemic.

 This £7bn has proved inefficient and leaves the industry with few options, a legal challenge being one such option. If the review is unsuccessful, it may be a little while yet before the travel industry can set sail in earnest.

Report written by Amber Allen

Share this now!

Check out our recent reports!