Boris Johnson’s COVID response ‘a joke,’ irked airline chief says

Willie Walsh, Director General of the International Air Transport Association, takes part in a panel discussion at the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, US, October 5, 2021. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

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June 7 (Reuters) – A leading airline industry official on Tuesday blasted British politicians for criticizing long airport lines and canceled flights once COVID-19 cases eased and in turn assailed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own response to the pandemic.

“You look at the UK, Boris Johnson, he highlights one of the reasons why he should continue to be prime minister as being the way he handles the pandemic. What a joke. They should have done a hell of a lot better,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told the Paris Air Forum.

In priority was protecting public health and the measures it introduced “bought time for the roll successfulout of our vaccine programme. “

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Earlier this month British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told airlines to stop selling tickets for flights they cannot staff, while Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab recently told Sky News that carriers should have recruited more. Both men serve in Johnson’s Cabinet. read more

Johnson survived a confidence vote on Monday. read more

Walsh said airlines could not have recruited staff earlier this year when British traffic was down and feared the industry the prospect of new COVID-19 measures.

“You have the saying airlines should have ramped up sooner. No, they shouldn’t,” Walsh said. “Airlines would have gone out of business had they done what these idiot politicians are saying they should have done.”

The Department for Transport said that aviation, which was provided £8 billion of support during the pandemic, “must step up recruitment to make sure disruption is kept to a minimum.”

A snapback in air travel led to long lines at some British airports, as well as in Amsterdam, Dublin and Toronto, as airport managers quarreled to fill jobs. read more

Walsh, a former British Airways and IAG (ICAG.L) boss, has attributed congestion to delays in getting clearances for airport staff but said the situation is manageable and limited to some airports and airlines.

Walsh aviation should have been more forceful in challenging government-mandated COVID-19 border closures which he said did little to curb.

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Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by William James in London; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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