Travel Turmoil

Ryanair and Manchester Airports Group bring proceedings for judicial review over “traffic light” travel system
What has happened?

The airline Ryanair has brought legal proceedings in conjunction with the Manchester Airports Group (Manchester, London Stansted, and East Midlands airports) against the UK government for its ‘traffic light’ travel system. The ‘traffic light’ travel system was introduced by the UK government to classify countries based on their COVID-19 risk levels, as part of efforts to protect public health.

Those returning from ‘green’ countries will not need to isolate but will need to do COVID tests before and after their trip. Those arriving from ‘amber’ countries will need to isolate and undergo COVID tests. For those in ‘red’ countries, the only UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents are allowed to return to the UK, with a self-funded ten-day quarantine at government-approved hotel accommodations.

Ryanair and Manchester Airports Group are bringing a legal claim on the grounds that there needs to be increased transparency on how the UK government qualifies a country under a specific colour grouping, such as the criteria used in decision-making. [1]

What does this mean?

This comes amidst the massive frustration for travellers and travel providers alike at the sudden shift of Portugal back to the ‘amber’ list in early June, although it was on the ‘green’ list for a few weeks.

This resulted in travellers needing to rush back from Portugal on last-minute flights provided by airlines before Portugal was taken off the ‘green’ list. [2] This cost many travellers hundreds of pounds to book the flights and travel agencies flagged concerns that this would adversely affect the confidence to travel amongst UK nationals. [3]

In view of the travel confusion, Ryanair and the Manchester Airports Group filed court papers, with health secretary Matt Hancock and transport secretary Grant Shapps as the Defendants that will represent the UK government. [4]

What should be done?

While it is premature to comment on the potential outcome of the judicial review, this incident displays the volatile nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, where governments are left stranded in difficulty about deciding whether or not to include or take another country off its travel lists. The volatility of the situation is reflected in the very rapid development of the virus to form new strains such as the Nepal variant which evolved from the Delta variant that is now ravaging India. [5]

Nevertheless, transparency is a key ingredient in building accountability and trust from the public and is important in ensuring the functioning of democratic societies such as in the UK. [6] As such, it is vital for the UK government to be accountable to its people by making accessible to the public criteria for their decisions behind the ‘traffic light’ travel system.

The government will need to assess how to find a balance between the opening up of foreign air travel while also prioritising public health and vaccination of the UK population. While this is an uphill task for the government, such a balance needs to be found.

The main concern for the government will be that opening up too quickly before more people in the UK and at holiday destinations are fully vaccinated may result in the virus spreading virulently. [7] The idea of another surge in cases and subsequent lockdown is not one that the UK population and government relish, given that the country has been placed in three lockdowns since COVID-19 disrupted normal life in early 2020.

Furthermore, the UK government needs to consult the relevant health advisories and committees to discuss about the opening up of air travel as it is unclear whether favoured holiday locations in other countries are well-equipped in terms of healthcare systems to provide support to UK nationals if there are outbreaks at those places.


The Legists Content Team

By Nickolaus Ng


[1] BBC, ‘Ryanair and Manchester Airports Group take action over travel lists’ (18th June 2021) <>

[2] George Bowden and Francesca Gillett ‘Covid: Portugal joins amber list after scramble to return’ (8th June 2021) <>

[3] ibid

[4] Nadeem Badshah, ‘Ryanair and airport group launch legal action over travel traffic light system’ (16th June 2021) <>

[5] Ian Sample, ‘Delta Plus Covid variant: what is it and should we be concerned? (23rd June 2021) <>

[6] Angel Gurría, ‘Openness and Transparency - Pillars for Democracy, Trust and Progress’ (OECD) <>

[7] n1



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