UK looking at air bridges; criticises airlines on job cuts

LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom is looking closely at air bridges to enable some people to travel but airlines should not be using the government’s job retention scheme as a way to cut jobs, a junior transport minister said on Wednesday.

The government plans to introduce a 14-day quarantine period for almost everyone entering the country from June 8, a step airlines have said threatens their businesses.

Asked about the quarantine, Kelly Tolhurst told parliament it was the right time to introduce such restrictions.

“No option is off the table and we are looking very closely at air bridges ..,” she added.

Tolhurst said the government’s job support scheme “was not designed for taxpayers to fund the wages of employees only for those companies to put the same staff on notice of redundancy during the furlough period.”

She singled out British Airways, saying it should “pay a price” for what she called a breach of faith after it put thousands of staff on notice of redundancy while the government was funding their salaries during COVID-19.

She said the airline, owned by IAG, had taken advantage of a government scheme intended to protect jobs and used it as “a convenient funding stream for a long-planned corporate restructuring”.

Some lawmakers said the Civil Aviation Authority should review its landing slots as a way to put pressure on BA.

“I want to ensure the slot allocation process encourages competition and provides connectivity so this is something that I will be looking at,” Tolhurst said.

BA’s chief executive Alex Cruz said unions were campaigning to have Heathrow slots taken away from the airline. “I don’t need to tell you that every slot lost will lead to jobs in BA being permanently lost,” he told staff in a letter seen by Reuters.

BA said in April it planned to axe up to 12,000 of its 42,000 employees.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton, Sarah Young and Paul Sandle; editing by Stephen Addison