On 2 April 2021, the UK Government made the shock-announcement that saw the addition of Pakistan, Philippines, Kenya and Bangladesh to the much-feared “red list”. However, the announcement was not planned to go into effect until 9 April 2021. This left travellers with a one-week window to return without undergoing mandatory hotel quarantine.
The tight deadline sparked an influx of British expats returning to the UK, particularly from Pakistan. Marking a first for many Pakistani airports, crowds numbering several hundred packed the airport departure lounges. Private footage from snapchat stories in Islamabad airport shocked many viewers, as they discovered the true scale of what the announcement had triggered.
Another shock to the industry, however, was the breakneck surge in demand for flights back to the UK. Again, much of the growth in demand arose from the large number of British citizens in Pakistan. As a result, the days that followed saw thousands of British Pakistanis attempting to return home. Adding to the urgency was the fact that Qatar Airways and Emirates, two popular carriers for this demographic, had cancelled many return flights from Pakistan to the UK. This was due to the UAE and Qatar also having been added to the red-list only weeks earlier. With plane seats filling faster than ever before, and prices reaching record highs, travellers were forced to find unorthodox means to return home.
Chartered round trips
In response, airlines scrambled to the rescue to charter additional flights in order to meet the unexpected spurt in demand. Regular plane-spotters were puzzled as they noticed many “unusual” journeys originating from Pakistan, on airlines that never served the country, and via routes that criss-crossed equally unusual connection hubs. Three planes belonging to a Polish carrier were spotted flying hundreds of passengers from Islamabad via Moscow. And, in the space of one week, an Airbus A330 belonging to Senegal was seen to have made “five” round trips from Islamabad to Manchester. Other airlines like Icelandair and smaller ones like the Spanish Wamos Air and the Bulgarian GullivAir also joined the push to bring home the exodus of travellers. Despite the many carriers chartering last-minute flights, ticket prices still reached a high of £1,400 per person, quickly approaching the hotel quarantine price of £1,750 per person.
Unsurprisingly, the move caused backlash in the British Pakistani community, with tens of thousands signing a petition calling for Pakistan’s removal from the red-list. As the policy goes into effect, however, the four countries including Pakistan are expected to remain on the red-list for the foreseeable future. What remains a subject of discussion, however, is the unforeseeably large numbers of arrivals to the UK that the announcement caused. Understandably, this has caused many to question the effectiveness of the rather patchwork-looking hotel quarantine policy instituted by the UK Government.
What are your thoughts on the UK Government’s red-list? Let us know in the comments below!