T OM MAPLES spent five days and almost $7,000 getting home to London from Tanzania in May. Many African countries are on the English “red list”, meaning anyone who has visited one in the previous ten days must quarantine in an expensive airport hotel before entering England. Eager to avoid that bill, Mr Maples bought a ticket via New York, where he could crash with friends for a few weeks.
Officials squabbling over paperwork barred him from his first flight. He booked a second but was stopped on his layover in Germany. America’s borders were open to non-Americans travelling from Tanzania, he was told, but not to those coming from Europe. After hours of pleading and searching for alternatives, he resigned himself to flying straight home. But he had another setback: officials demanded he pay the $2,400 quarantine bill before being allowed on board. By then he had maxed out his credit card and had to ask a relative to lend him money. The experience left him “emotionally devastated”, he says.
Governments have succeeded in taking the joy out of travel this summer (see chart 1). Britain has introduced rules of tooth-grinding complexity. In theory its traffic-light system rates countries by covid-19 risk and sets travel rules accordingly. In practice it is arbitrary, unpredictable and constantly changing. Facing pressure from the travel industry and voters keen to venture beyond Britain’s sodden beaches, Boris Johnson, the country’s prime minister, has advocated a “balanced policy”. He did not explain what that meant.