Lack of explicit travel ban could tempt sunseekers to holiday under false pretenses

Oliver Smith
·3 min read
"It's a business trip, honest" - Getty
"It's a business trip, honest" - Getty

As details of a second lockdown emerged last Saturday, the biggest bombshell – for keen travellers, at least – was a blanket ban on international trips. 

“These are the measures to be announced by the PM, as I understand it,” tweeted ITV’s Robert Peston hours before Boris Johnson’s address to the nation, before reeling off a list of rules. Number 4? “Outbound international travel will be banned, except for work.” 

Despite the PM making no mention of a ban during his speech, airlines quickly began culling their flights, with Tui scrapping all departures from England and Wales until December 2 and EasyJet cutting the vast majority of its services. The detailed lockdown legislation, it was assumed, would confirm the moratorium. 

Not so. The full text dropped yesterday, and there is no mention anywhere of a specific ban on leaving the UK.

There is, of course, a requirement to remain at home except for certain reasons (and “going on holiday” is not one of them). But heading abroad is not, in itself, an offence.

It throws up all sorts of curious scenarios and loopholes, none of which – obviously – are endorsed by Telegraph Travel. 

  • Moving house? You are allowed to leave home to view a residential property. Presumably, this could be one overseas... 

  • You can leave home to shop, of course, and there is no rule on how far you can go. Does Barcelona’s Mercado de La Boqueria seem reasonable?

  • Exercise is fine, too, and there are no time limits. A seven-night cycling holiday in the Alps? Now don’t be silly. 

  • You can go out to attend a place of worship, be it the local Methodist church or – presumably – St Peter’s Basilica. 

  • There’s an exemption for those providing charitable services. Now I’ve been meaning to volunteer at that cat sanctuary in Kefalonia for years…

  • You can leave home for the purpose of “education of training”. How about training to be a sommelier in Chianti?

  • A wedding is another acceptable reason to be out and about. We presume that includes a last-minute ceremony on a beach in St Lucia? 

  • The legislation also seems to permit a person with no fixed abode to go on holiday (it says a homeless person is committing no offence by not being at home).

Travel for work is also permitted, of course. Which doesn’t seem particularly fair given that business travellers typically spend far more time in crowded urban environments – attending meetings and shaking hands – than winter sun seekers. The legislation mentions no requirement for people leaving the country to prove to their airline that they are on a work-related trip, and airlines say they have received no guidance on the matter.

John Grant from aviation analyst OAG said: “The term ‘all but essential travel’ will inevitably be interpreted by different people in different ways. As for the policing of who is leaving the country and why, the authorities simply do not have the resources to manage this on a large scale; if the UK Government can’t even get a grip on Test and Trace, this will be impossible.”

I’d be amazed if the loopholes don’t inspire a few determined sunseekers with plenty of chutzpah to head on holiday under false pretenses, and they will certainly have options.

During the first lockdown, despite the “stay at home” rules, airlines still offered flights (for “essential” travel, of course) to the likes of Paris, Valletta, Rome, Dubai, Madrid and Reykjavik. Ryanair has said it will continue to operate its entire (reduced) winter schedule (and it won’t be giving refunds if you don’t want to travel!).

Of course, there is an entirely legal way to escape the lockdown. Fly out before midnight and you’ll be breaking no rules, with the legislation saying it is reasonable to be outside one’s home if one is returning from holiday, so long as the holiday began before the regulations came into force. You have eight hours.