British Airways aircraft stand on their parking positions at Heathrow Airport in London. | REUTERS


The owner of British Airways is considering launching a legal challenge against the UK's looming quarantine plan, in the latest sign of a breakdown in relations between airlines and the government over the coronavirus pandemic.

With planes grounded since late March, airlines had hoped to start flying and earning revenues again from July, but Britain's 14-day quarantine rule to be introduced on June 8 for arrivals from abroad will hamper that recovery, say bosses.

Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG, said industry had not been consulted on the quarantine rule and he expected other airlines to consider their legal options too.

Ryanair Group Chief Executive Michael O'Leary has described the plan as "useless and ineffective" and a threat to the broader tourism industry, while Walsh said it would torpedo any return to flying in July.

"We think it is irrational, we think it is disproportionate and we are giving consideration to a legal challenge to this legislation," he told Sky News on Friday.

Britain's big carriers, BA, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic, have between them announced almost 20,000 job cuts to prepare for a smaller travel market post-COVID-19.

Relations between BA and the government have come under increasing strain as the crisis has progressed, with both sides making threats.

A junior transport minister agreed with a lawmaker on Wednesday who said BA should "pay a price" for putting thousands of staff on notice of redundancy while accessing the government's salary support scheme.

IAG's Walsh and the head of British Airways then declined to attend a meeting with the UK interior minister on Thursday to discuss quarantine plans.

The plan has been criticised by bosses from tourism, hospitality and leisure industries, and by some of the government's own lawmakers who question why it is being brought in now when infection levels across many European countries are much lower than they were months ago.

The government's chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said on Wednesday that politicians decided the policy, adding that quarantines worked best for restricting travel from countries with high infection rates.

Shares in IAG rose 8% in morning trading amid a rally in holiday-linked stocks on hopes that the worst of the crisis is over.