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Plane flown almost empty to deliver newly required Covid tests


Britain’s biggest holiday company has had to fly a plane over 2,750 miles on a round-trip from Birmingham to Finnish Lapland to deliver Covid-19 tests.

Tui operated the flight to enable its customers to comply with the sudden change in Covid testing rules that takes effect on Tuesday.

On Saturday the government reintroduced pre-departure testing for passengers to the UK in response to concerns about the omicron variant. Travellers must present a negative lateral flow test result before being allowed to board their journey home.

Tui has 2,500 clients in Finnish Lapland, with hundreds more flying out during the week. All passengers aged 12 and over require a Covid-19 test.

While Tui operated five flights from the UK to the Arctic early on Monday morning, testing supply firms were unable to meet the pre-dawn departures.

Monday is Independence Day in Finland. With a public holiday and additional complications on sending cargo to the EU due to Brexit, sending the tests as freight was not feasible at such short notice.

Accordingly, the holiday company decided to fly a Boeing 737 to the Arctic and back.

Tui UK’s commercial and business development director, Richard Sofer, said: “Families plan all year for their magical trips to Lapland with dreams of meeting Santa, husky sleighing and feeding the reindeer.

“It’s our job to ensure their dreams are a reality and our Christmas elves, as ever, are on hand to help make sure they experience the magical wonders of Lapland.”

An industry source has told The Independent the round-trip will have cost around £30,000 in fuel, air-traffic control and other costs, and generated around 100 tons in carbon emissions.

Helen Coffey, head of travel for The Independent, who has given up flying for two years, said: “When the government make these last-minute snap decisions about travel restrictions – in this case a total U-turn on what was previously promised – the repercussions are bigger than just impacting on people’s holidays.

“They can have a serious affect on the climate, too.”

A spokesperson for Tui said: “We were delighted to help our customers in Lapland by providing tests for them in resort so they could return home to the UK.

“As the most sustainable airline in Europe, we take our responsibility to the planet extremely seriously.

“Unfortunately test kits could not be provided in time for our early Tui departures this morning and, after spending many hours looking for alternatives, this was the only option available to make sure our customers could return home as planned.”

No similar missions are planned. The company said: “Guests departing for Lapland on the next Tui flight on 8 December will be reminded to purchase their tests prior to departure.”

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