Travel bosses are pleading for ministers to exempt top destinations such as Majorca and Ibiza from a new Spanish quarantine as it wreaked havoc across the industry on the first day of the summer holidays.
Some £1.4bn was wiped off the value of listed airlines and holiday firms after passengers landing in the UK from Spain were told they must self-isolate for two weeks due to a surge of infections.
Industry leaders are furious at the decision, which was imposed over the weekend with no warning, and are now braced for a fresh hit to finances that have already been ravaged by the crisis.
Shares in IAG, the FTSE 100 group that owns British Airways, plunged almost 8pc. EasyJet also fell nearly 8pc, Jet2 owner Dart dropped 8.5pc and Ryanair fell more than 3.8pc, with fears growing that the quarantine could be extended across France and Germany.
Tui fared worst, plummeting more than 11pc as the UK’s largest tour operator cancelled all holidays on the Spanish mainland.
Andrew Flintham, Tui’s UK & Ireland boss, urged ministers to move to a more regional approach on quarantines so that unrestricted trips can continue to holiday areas with a smaller number of Covid cases.
Whitehall responded by suggesting it could introduce regional air bridges to low-infection parts of Spain as early as Friday.
Mr Flintham said: “This level of continued confusion is damaging for business and all of the people employed by our industry, as well as those who are looking forward to enjoying their summer holidays.
“It was the official start of school holidays, with most flights take place over the weekend, so we would call for more notice on any changes in the future so we can prepare and help our customers.”
The Airport Operators Association backed calls for regional air bridges. Boss Karen Dee said: “This announcement reinforces the fragile nature of the industry and the urgent need for the Government to provide support.”
Global airline body IATA singled the UK out for criticism, saying the blanket quarantine is an overreaction which “does not accurately reflect the risk of a regional spike in one corner of the country.”
Simon Cooper, chief executive of On the Beach, Britain’s biggest online travel agent, said: “The travel industry and particularly tour operators and airlines are not set up to cope with the pace at which the travel advice is evolving.
“It was only three weeks ago that these destinations reopened, and now advice has changed and quarantine has been re-implemented. For operators this simply adds to the scale of the challenge being faced.”
EasyJet cancelled holiday packages to all of Spain for the next few weeks, but said flights would continue.
Meanwhile Becky Lane, an analyst at Jefferies investment bank, raised concerns over a fresh hit to customer confidence which could force even those who are planning holidays elsewhere into a rethink.
The “lates market” for last-minute trips abroad will also be hit, she said, along advance bookings for 2021.
However, Mr Flintham said: “We’re still seeing a lot of these customers travel to these destinations, while others are opting to change their destination, which shows the appetite for summer holidays is still there.”