Thousands of Brits abandoned their holidays in France on Saturday in a race against the clock to avoid new measures requiring travellers to quarantine for 14 days upon return.
In addition, the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, the Dutch territory of Aruba, and the British Turks & Caicos Islands have been removed from the UK list of approved travel corridors, meaning that people returning to or visiting the UK from those countries are also bound by the 14-day self-isolation quarantine rules, from today (Saturday 15 August).
In a last-minute rush tourists in France snapped up tickets for planes, trains and ferries at increased prices.
France reported a 66% rise in the number of coronavirus cases, which prompted Britons holidaying in the popular destination to dash back home to beat the restrictions.
Some air fares were more than six times as expensive than normal — British Airways (BA) had tickets for sale for a flight from Paris to London Heathrow on Friday for £452 ($592), with the same trip costing £66 on Saturday.
Train tickets prices also jumped on Friday night, with the cheapest ticket on a Eurostar train from Paris to London costing £210, compared with £165 on Saturday.
The new quarantine measures, saw leading European travel stocks fall by 3.3% on Friday morning.
On Friday in an interview with Sky News, transport secretary Grant Shapps urged travellers not to “just turn up” at airports hoping to return to the UK.
Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, said: “We’ve seen some airlines hiking prices for people scrambling to get home from France, while also refusing to refund or offer flexibility to those in the UK who can no longer take their holiday by claiming schedules are operating as normal – despite government advice against all but essential travel.
“The cynical behaviour of certain carriers has a knock-on effect for package operators, who are struggling to refund passengers when they can not claw back their money from the airlines. The impact on trust in the travel industry has been devastating.”
“This reinforces why major reform of the travel sector is needed to put the travelling public first – including giving the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) the powers it needs to act swiftly and effectively against airlines playing fast and loose with the rules,” Boland added.
The measures are another blow for the airline industry, which has already been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, seeing flights grounded and seats unbooked since the start of lockdown measures in March.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed almost two-thirds (62%) of holidaymakers said that they would be unlikely to travel overseas if they had to quarantine for 14 days on their return
In reaction to the measures, EasyJet (EZJ.L) announced it had cancelled all package holidays to France until the end of August, the company also said it’s working to process refunds for those affected. Normal flights to France will continue on full schedule, the airline said.
It comes after the budget airline announced on Friday it had raised an extra £203m from the sale and leaseback of its aircraft.
Meanwhile, BA announced it will continue flying but with a limited schedule of flights to a select number of countries, which are now on the quarantine list.
Jet2 also confirmed flights will continue as normal, despite the Foreign Office’s announcement, but those who don’t want to travel to France can rebook with no admin fee.
The UK’s biggest tour operator, TUI (TUI.L) cancelled all holidays to Malta until 31 August — customers affected by the changes will be able to receive full refunds or amend their holiday and receive a booking incentive. TUI has also extended cancellations to mainland Spain and Portugal up to and including Friday 28 August.
The company lost £1.8bn this year as a direct result of the pandemic, illustrating COVID-19’s impact on the package holiday industry, the group announced revenues from April to June crashed by 98% as global lockdowns wiped out sales.