Transport committee laments ‘missed opportunity’ to learn pandemic lessons

The House of Commons’ Transport Committee has criticised the government’s response to its recent aviation report as “disappointing” and “a missed opportunity”.

Several recommendations were made in a UK Aviation: reform for take-off report published by the transport committee in April, based on the government’s handling of international travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Topics covered in the committee’s report included the implementation of restrictions, consumer rights, domestic air connectivity, sustainable aviation, airport slots, the Heathrow price control review and action to combat summer airport disruption.

Specific core recommendations included automatic compensation for travellers, advice and analysis shaping decision-making to be made public, the ability for the industry to be able to claim compensation when restrictions were imposed solely on international travel, and for “transparent and predictable” systems for future pandemics.

In a statement issued on Monday, Conservative MP and transport committee chair Huw Merriman expressed his disappointment at how few suggestions the government had supported.

He said: “The pandemic highlighted several holes in consumer rights around travel but today’s disappointing response will not offer any comfort for travellers.

“This response is poor on consumer rights, poor on refunds, poor on progress on airline insolvency reform and poor on preparation for future health crises.”

He added that recommendations to provide consumer with “peace of mind” had been “rejected” by the government.

“Specific measures to protect the industry from future pandemics, and allow it more transparency and involvement in decision-making on restrictions, have not been endorsed,” Merriman said.

Calling for more “certainty” to boost the industry’s future, he added: “It’s difficult to expect the industry to expand and take financial risks if it has no comfort that it could be placed into restrictive measures again.”

Despite registering his disappointment, Merriman acknowledged the government had “moved” on some of the committee’s other recommendations, including on the use of slots and recruitment.

“There have been steps to alleviate the pressure to use slots,” he said. “Many of our recommendations to make it faster for the industry to recruit and onboard staff have been accepted. This should reduce the number of flight cancellations.”

He added there was “still work to do” and called on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to be give “up-front powers” to allow “a more cohesive approach” rather than leaving decisions to airlines and airports.

Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “Today’s update from the Department for Transport was scant on details and lacked urgency of implementation.

“The BTA welcomes the commitment to an international travel toolkit for future pandemics. However, we are disappointed that something we worked closely with the government to get implemented, is not being rolled-out now in a transparent way.”

He added: “The focus of our disappointment must be on the lack of action around domestic connectivity. This is vital to getting British businesses back trading at pre-pandemic levels once again. More can and should be done, quickly.”

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