Portugal poised to be the first 'air bridge' with the UK

Greg Dickinson
Life in Portugal is slowly returning to normal - Getty

The 14-day quarantine on arrivals into the UK is due to come into effect on Monday (June 8), but the Portuguese foreign minister has offered fresh hope of a UK/Portugal travel agreement

British holidaymakers visiting Portugal will be “most welcome” this summer, according to the country’s foreign minister.

Speaking to the BBC this morning, Augusto Santos Silva said he was hopeful an ‘air bridge’ between the UK and Portugal could be agreed by the end of June.

The UK is set to enforce a 14-day quarantine on arrivals into the UK, including returning holidaymakers, from June 8. Priti Patel has today written for the Telegraph with Grant Shapps to insist on the importance of the measure.

However, she also writes: “We are working with the transport industry to see how we can introduce agreements with other countries when safe to do so, so we can go abroad and tourists can come here.”

The statement from the Portuguese foreign minister is the strongest signal yet that the UK and Portugal are working on a bilateral travel agreement, or a so-called ‘air bridge’.

Mr Santos Silva said a travel quarantine was “an enemy of tourism,” but stressed that he respected the UK government's decision to enforce one from Monday.

Under an air bridge agreement, British holidaymakers would not need to quarantine on arrival in a country, and anyone arriving into the UK from that country would be exempt from the 14-day quarantine.

The Portuguese foreign minister said that new rules would be brought in to allow people to travel safely to Portugal. He suggested that nightlife would be restricted at Portugese resorts, and that hotels would be labelled as “clean and safe” with new social distancing measures in place.

Mr Santos Silva said that talks were ongoing, and clarified that Portugal would not be imposing any kind of quarantine on holidaymakers arriving in his country. 

Instead, Portugal will be randomly testing passengers and carrying out temperature checks at airports. The latter are already being carried out at Lisbon airport

Tourism and hotel chiefs in Portugal will be hopeful that British holidaymakers can return soon. More tourists from the UK travel to the Algarve each summer than from any other country.

Flights are slowly returning from the UK to Faro, the gateway to the Algarve, despite the FCO still warning against all but essential travel, and the quarantine due to come in on June 8.

Ryanair is launching flights from June 21 (from Stansted, Dublin and Manchester), easyJet from June 16 (from Belfast), WizzAir will operate four weekly services from Luton as of June 16, and British Airways is poised to return to the city from July. Yesterday, easyJet announced it would be resuming 75 per cent of its network as of July.

Many businesses have already reopened in Portugal. Restaurants, museums, galleries, churches and car hire companies are now open for business. In June, the Algarve hopes to reopen three quarters of its hotels. Beaches will reopen in full across the country on June 6.

João Fernandes, President of Algarve Tourism, told ITV News: “You (Britain) are our main market. We are talking about last year for instance we had six million overnight stays. Each represents 40 per cent of our international demand.”

What is an “air bridge”

We have heard about travel “bubbles” – agreements between a closed bloc of countries, such as the Baltics, or Australia and New Zealand, and we have heard about travel “corridors” – overland routes into certain countries, like Croatia, through border agreements. But what is an “air bridge”?

It seems like an air bridge will effectively mean a bilateral travel link between the UK and another country, allowing quarantine immunity. The agreement would, we can only assume, by necessity involve a lifting of the FCO travel advisory for that destination.

When does the quarantine start, and are any countries exempt?

Anyone (including Britons coming back in the UK) will be subject to a 14-day quarantine when arriving in the UK by plane, ferry or train. This will come into force as of June 8.

Only people travelling from the common travel areas including Ireland, Guernsey, the Channel Isles and the Isle of Man will be exempt, along with a very limited group of up to 30 professions or jobs, including freight drivers and medical professionals.

However, the notion of ‘air bridges’ gives hope that people arriving from certain countries, plus Britons returning from holiday, may not have to follow the strict quarantine measure; it has been suggested that anyone who breaks the quarantine could be subject to a fine of £1,000.

The first suggestion of "‘air bridges", made by Grant Shapps last month, sparked cautious optimism across the travel industry, including from travel trade association ABTA.

AITO, however, issued a more critical response to the announcement: “Our fingers have been badly burnt by earlier off-the-cuff comments by Mr Shapps, and this Government, unfortunately, has a record of making grand statements only to retract or change them substantially a day or so later,” said Director of AITO Noel Josephides.

When will the air bridges be introduced?

We don’t know. The 14-day quarantine will be introduced on June 8, and a number of airlines and holiday companies have been looking at June or July as a date for when operations could resume. Some have suggested June 29 as a possible date for the first air bridge agreements to be in place.