Ministers “missed the boat” by delaying the latest easing of travel rules until after the summer, easyJet has claimed.
The Government announced last week that fully vaccinated travellers arriving in England would no longer need to take a pre-departure test from Monday, and the post-arrival day-two test can be a cheaper lateral flow rather than a PCR from the end of October.
EasyJet chief commercial officer Sophie Dekkers said the airline was “surprised and delighted” by the change in policy, but said it was made too late.
She told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee: “In terms of sales over the weekend, they did pick up but not to the extent that we’ve seen in previous announcements because we’ve missed the summer.
“October half-term is probably the only big opportunity for people (to go on holiday) in the near term, so although we saw a good uplift in trading and sales over the weekend, we’ve missed the boat unfortunately with the summer holidays.”
Ms Dekkers urged the Government to go further and scrap the day-two test and “the UK is lagging behind Europe” and “nowhere else in Europe do they have testing like this”.
She went on: “If we really want to be competitive we need to be on a level playing field, we need to accept that we have very high vaccination rates, as does most of the rest of Europe now.
“The risk is very low and we need to just remove this last hurdle.”
She said “it doesn’t make sense” that testing requirements were tougher this summer than in 2020 despite the progress on vaccinations.
Changes to the rules this year have been “so vast” and “unexplainable”, she added.
“It’s the consumer confidence that was completely destroyed this summer and that’s been the big challenge for us.”
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye told the hearing that the easing of travel rules is “a step in the right direction” but called for a return to “frictionless travel”.
He said: “We’re going to have to live with Covid. We all recognise that. Vaccination is our way through this, and if you’ve been double-vaccinated you would expect that you can get back to travel as normal without all the testing and the forms you have to fill in.”
He added: “We are in a fight for the economic future of this country.
“We’re not going to win that fight if we’re always playing catch-up with the Europeans.
“None of the major markets in Europe have any kind of testing, very few of them have any countries on their red list, and we are still in catch-up mode.
“If we want to win we’ve got to get ahead and be far more progressive about opening up and being a welcoming, liberal, open trading nation.”
Mr Holland-Kaye told MPs “the demand is there today” for people to travel, but passenger numbers are being restricted by “controls that governments around the world have put in place”.
He does not expect this to be “fully changed until the world has been vaccinated”, leading him to predict that passenger levels will not return to what they were before the coronavirus pandemic until 2024.