Comment

Holidaymakers don't deserve this chaos

A British Airways strike would add to the sense that Britain is decaying under the Conservatives' watch

The restrictions on international travel during the pandemic have a strong claim to being among the most ill-conceived of all the anti-Covid measures imposed by the Government. There was no logic to trying to keep out a virus that was already circulating in the UK. All that was achieved were lost opportunities to go on holiday, or visit friends and family overseas, and a travel industry pushed to the brink of financial collapse.

This is what makes the chaos currently plaguing the nation’s airports so dispiriting. Travellers are finally able to go abroad, by and large without having to pay a fortune for Covid tests. They may have to contend with a weaker pound, which will cut their purchasing power in many destinations. But a holiday in the sun this summer will be an aspiration held by millions, particularly given the gloom back home.

Already, however, thousands of flights have been cancelled, sometimes at the last minute, due to a lack of staff. It is often claimed that Britain has a shortage of workers, but that is not strictly true. Unemployment may be low, but the figure does not include the millions of working age people on benefits who are not looking for employment. It might be expected that ministers would be doing more to encourage them back into work. Instead, it is possible that they will wave through a rise in benefit payments, far above the increases for most people in work.

Now, British Airways workers at Heathrow have voted to go on strike, in a row with the company over pay. Neither side in this dispute comes out of it well. The unions are expected to time their strike to coincide with the start of the summer holiday season, in an attempt to secure greater leverage. Worse, rail strikes may be taking place concurrently. Few would say that BA has been well-managed in recent years, although it did have to deal with the effective shuttering of its business by state diktat.

Should the strike go ahead, the danger for the Government is that it will add to the growing sense that Britain is decaying under the Conservatives’ watch. Inexpensive international travel is one of the bounties of the era of mass capitalism, giving ordinary people opportunities that were once afforded only to the wealthy. Those with memories of the 1970s often record the constant personal inconveniences and disappointments of life under a broken system. It seems we may, indeed, be heading back to those days.