Vacationers don’t deserve this chaos

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Restrictions on international travel during the pandemic have a strong claim to be among the most ill-conceived of all government-imposed anti-Covid measures. There was no logic in trying to prevent a virus that was already circulating in the UK. All that has been achieved are lost opportunities to go on holiday or visit friends and family abroad, and a travel industry pushed to the brink of financial collapse.

That’s what makes the current chaos at airports across the country so disheartening. Travelers can finally go abroad, largely without having to shell out a fortune for Covid tests. They may have to deal with a weaker pound, which will reduce their purchasing power in many destinations. But a vacation in the sun this summer will be an aspiration for millions, especially given the gloom.

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Already, however, thousands of flights have been canceled, sometimes at the last minute, due to lack of staff. It is often claimed that Britain is short of manpower, but that is not entirely true. Unemployment may be low, but that figure does not include the millions of working-age people on benefits who are not looking for work. One would expect ministers to do more to encourage them to get back to work. Instead, they may be reluctant to increase benefit payments, well above the increases for most working people.

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Now British Airways workers at Heathrow have voted to strike in a row with the company over wages. Neither party to this dispute is faring well. Unions are expected to time their strike to coincide with the start of the summer holiday season, in a bid to gain greater influence. Worse still, railway strikes can take place simultaneously. Few would say that BA has been well managed in recent years, despite having to contend with the effective closure of its business by state dictate.

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If the strike continues, the danger for the government is that it will add to the growing sense that Britain is decaying under Tory watch. Cheap international travel is one of the riches of the era of mass capitalism, providing ordinary people with opportunities once granted only to the wealthy. Those with memories of the 1970s often record the constant personal inconveniences and disappointments of living in a failing system. It looks like we can, indeed, go back to that time.

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