A couple has blasted Britain’s Covid travel system as a ‘shambles’ after they were forced to delay their return from South Africa.
Owen Hancock, 35, and Emily Mennie, 30, from Tooting, London, were ‘frustrated’ when flights were banned and Heathrow’s quarantine hotel was fully booked.
The newlyweds, who both work in digital marketing, said they will have to use a credit card to pay off the mammoth £4,000 bill for ten days in isolation.
It comes amid wider chaos in the travel industry after the red list was resurrected and slammed on travellers last week.
Pilots’ union Balpa today called for the Government to provide a Winter Resilience Fund to ensure cash-strapped airlines survive the coming months.
Owen Hancock, 35, and Emily Mennie, 30, from Tooting, London, were ‘frustrated’ when flights were banned and Heathrow’s quarantine hotel was fully booked
The newlyweds, who both work in digital marketing, said they will have to use a credit card to pay off the mammoth £4,000 bill for ten days in isolation (file photo of Heathrow)
Mr Hancock and Mrs Mennie, who was born in South Africa, were visiting her family for the first time since Covid struck nearly two years ago.
They left on November 18 and had planned their return into Heathrow for this Saturday – but there were no spare rooms in the quarantine hotel.
When they called, they got an automated message saying: ‘Unfortunately due to customer demand there is no availability for the date selected.’
It added: ‘Please rearrange your travel dates if possible, or try your search again later today.’
They said they were also on hold with British Airways for over three hours – which cost £100 – trying to make arrangements along with countless other passengers.
The couple said they were furious with policymakers for not giving them time to get home before slapping South Africa on the red list amid Omicron.
They claimed the government should fund their flights back because they were given no choice about rescheduling and the cost of the quarantine.
Mrs Mennie told MyLondon: ‘To add insult to a giant financial injury, now we can’t even book the hotel quarantine, because there are no rooms available.
‘Not only do we get slapped with a huge cost, we can’t get home now because the Government hasn’t got its act together – it’s a shambles.’
Mr Hancock and Mrs Mennie, who was born in South Africa, were visiting her family for the first time since Covid struck nearly two years ago
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The pair are expecting the trip to blow a huge hole in their wallets, with the burden of hotel quarantine expected to force them to use a credit card.
Mr Hancock said: ‘As if it’s not stressful and unfair enough having to find the extortionate nearly £4,000 for hotel quarantine, now we are having to re-arrange PCR tests and flights because the UK government has imposed a policy which they can’t live up to.’
His wife added: ‘We understand we have to pay the quarantine bill but we do think its unfair and feel disappointed.’
The UK banned direct flights from South Africa when the Omicron super-variant was discovered last Thursday.
Passengers did have a window to fly in via a third country, but Mr Hancock and Mrs Mennie decided not to because ‘we didn’t think that was the right thing to do’.
Their bosses have been understanding and they work remotely so are not hugely affected by the changes.
The couple plan to read lots during quarantine and play cryptic crosswords to help pass the time.
Passengers did have a window to fly in via a third country, but Mr Hancock and Mrs Mennie decided not to because ‘we didn’t think that was the right thing to do’. Pictured: Heathrow earlier this week
Mrs Mennie said: ‘We are hoping that we may be able to get some of our stuff brought to us at the hotel just so we have stuff we need.
Ms Hancock added: ‘But there is so much uncertainly about how it actually will work in the quarantine hotel.’
Last Thursday Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed a temporary flight ban from South Africa over the weekend.
A series of travel restrictions have been reintroduced, including requiring fully-vaccinated arrivals to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test.
The dreaded red list has also been resurrected, with 10 southern African countries added.
Mr Shapps said: ‘Public safety is our priority. We’re taking this precautionary action to protect the progress we’ve made beating the virus across the country and as ever, we’ll continue to keep our measures under review.’
Meanwhile pilots urged the Government to provide specific financial support for the aviation sector due to the impact of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
EasyJet said on Tuesday that it has seen demand softening due to the emergence of the new strain of Covid-19.
Last Thursday Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (pictured on Tuesday) confirmed a temporary flight ban from South Africa over the weekend
Pilots’ union Balpa called for the Government to provide a Winter Resilience Fund to ensure cash-strapped airlines and other aviation companies survive the coming months.
Even before the pandemic, airlines were often loss-making during the winter season, relying on profits made during the summer.
But the recovery during the summer was limited, partly due to quarantine and testing requirements.
The furlough scheme, which was widely used by travel companies, ended on September 30.
Balpa general secretary Martin Chalk said: ‘Support to aviation dried up at the end of summer, yet the principle of supporting loss-making industries whilst Government restrictions prevent business as usual applies as much now as it ever did.
‘Holiday and New Year traffic is a core part of the winter season for airlines.
‘With this being severely depressed by shattered confidence and restrictions, we need winter support measures to help us weather the storm of Omicron uncertainty.
‘This will ensure we are able to compete with the rest of the world come summer 2022, when we will be needed to take the UK’s ambitions to every corner of the globe.’
Balpa wants mandatory PCR tests for arriving fully-vaccinated travellers to be funded by the Government rather than requiring people to use ‘cowboy’ private firms.
It also called for restrictions to be backed up by data.
Mr Chalk said: ‘Pilots by their very nature are safety-conscious and understand the desire to protect public health.
‘But the measures and restrictions put in place by the Government must be proportionate to risk, based on data and not unnecessarily penalise travellers, including families reuniting for Christmas and the New Year.
‘It is vital the Government helps rebuild public confidence and supports aviation by removing the barriers, such as costly private testing, that are putting people off travelling.’
The Omicron Covid mutation was found by scientists earlier this month and while little is known about the new variant there are concerns it could evade vaccines.
The UK brought in mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport and people now have to take a PCR test and self isolate when arriving from abroad.
- Have you been affected by travel chaos? Email [email protected]