British airline passengers should avoid bringing hand luggage on to a plane in order to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, according to new government advice.
However, the recommendation was criticised by Europe’s biggest airline, Ryanair, which said it was safer for passengers to carry rather than check in bags. The Department for Transport guidance “strongly” encourages passengers to check in bags and minimise hand luggage because it will “speed up boarding and disembarking and minimise the risk of transmission”.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said the guidelines were “a positive next step” for the embattled aviation sector to start recovery, after most flights were grounded due to coronavirus and travel restrictions from late March.
Shapps added: “The government’s advice currently remains to avoid all non-essential travel, but today we are taking the necessary steps to ensure a framework is in place for the aviation industry to bounce back when it is safe for restrictions on travel to be lifted.”
The guidelines for air travel come as more flights are due to resume next week, when easyJet will restart domestic services from Gatwick.
The advice, which broadly follows the guidance from the UN aviation body the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as well as input from the UK aviation industry, also recommends checking in online and remaining seated as much as possible during the flight.
General health advice will continue to apply, such as attempting to maintain social distancing where possible in the airport, and washing hands regularly after touching any surfaces, including check-in kiosks and trolleys.
Passengers are urged to bring their own face covering for use throughout their journey including at the airport, with spare coverings for longer journeys and plastic bags to store used masks.Advertisement
Specific rules on temperature checks or self-certification, which some airlines and airports have asked for, have not been issued. But in line with general guidance passengers have been told not to travel if they have been in close contact with anyone with symptoms in the past 14 days.
Tim Hawkins, chief strategy officer at MAG, the owner of Stansted and Manchester airports, said they had collaborated with the government to draw up the guidelines, based on advice from independent medical and scientific experts who looked at necessary safety measures at each stage of travel.
But Ryanair said that it recommended hand luggage, which would only be touched by the passenger, rather than checked-in bags which would have contact with multiple baggage handlers and check-in staff.
Apart from Ryanair, most airlines and airports welcomed the guidelines, which they said would help pave the way for travel to resume – but also urged the government to remove the impediment of its controversial quarantine rules and introduce proposed “air bridges” to enable flights to selected international destinations as soon as possible.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said the guidelines were welcome: “They demonstrate how airlines can apply targeted and multi-layered measures to ensure air travel is safe for customers and crew.”
The International Air Transport Association said the measures were sensible but “rendered useless if the government continues with the 14-day quarantine rule”.
A Ryanair spokesperson said the government should “stop issuing rubbish advice to passengers about baggage and instead focus their efforts on scrapping the UK’s useless visitor quarantine, which the UK Home Office now admit cannot be implemented, supervised or policed effectively”.
… we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.
The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.
Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.
We hope you will consider supporting us today. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable.