LONDON — The traditional British summer getaway to the sun-soaked beaches of the Mediterranean Sea is set to pick up steam Friday as U.K. quarantine restrictions are removed from dozens of countries, including France, Greece and Italy.
But with many flights still canceled, holiday resorts still working on ensuring that they are COVID-safe and many potential holidaymakers reluctant to make a trip abroad in light of the pandemic, Britain's airports are much less busy than they would be in any other year.
However, last week's announcement by the British government to ease its quarantine requirements for anyone arriving back in England has given some enough of a nudge to take the plunge.
"We probably would have gone later," said Ray Gordge, 64, at Gatwick Airport's North Terminal, south of London.
"It's exciting, I'm pleased the quarantine has been lifted to be honest," said Gordge, who was on his way to Paris to see his daughter for the first time in six months, and meet his new grandson, born last week.
As of Friday, anyone arriving back in England from around 75 countries and territories won't have to self-isolate for 14 days.
The aviation and travel industries are hoping that the new rules will help them salvage part of the summer holiday booking season that has been so battered by the restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic — thousands of people have lost their jobs as business ground to a halt.
The crucial period will be later this month after schools formally close for the summer and travel companies and airlines start ramping up operations. Confidence is key, though, and is susceptible to any new outbreaks that may start appearing over the coming weeks.
Gatwick Chief Executive Stewart Wingate said the relaxation of the rules can make a "massive difference," given that around three-quarters of the destinations the airport serves are now free from quarantine requirements.
"From a consumer point of view, what we're hoping is that will persuade people to take advantage of the flights," he said.
The list does not include the United States, which is still considered high-risk. Portugal, another popular destination for British holidaymakers, also isn't on the list though discussions between the respective governments are ongoing. Serbia was originally on the list but was removed on Friday because of a spike in coronavirus infections in the country.
One of the major changes that will greet holidaymakers is the necessity to wear face coverings at the airport and on the plane.
"I think it's going to be difficult to maintain social distancing, but I also think the chances of coming into contact with someone with COVID is pretty low and they seem pretty on the ball with masks and things," Eoin Burgin, a 21-year-old student at Edinburgh University, said at Gatwick.
Burgin said he was "very excited" to be heading to Basel in Switzerland to see his girlfriend for the first time in about five months but that he wouldn't have been going if the quarantine changes had not been announced.
The getaway will gather pace over coming days as more holidays and flights come on stream. TUI U.K., the country's biggest travel company, for example, is due to restart its summer program on Saturday, with flights to eight destinations in Greece, Spain's Balearic Islands and the Canaries, from three airports. TUI has said it plans to add more flights and destinations by the end of July to offer a total of 19 destinations from five U.K. airports.
Scotland's list of countries is slightly different to that for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It still requires people from Spain to quarantine, for example.