Travel firms have accused the government of being too cautious with its quarantine-free green list of countries, calling it a “missed opportunity”.
Industry leaders have urged the government to add to the list as England prepares to restart non-essential foreign travel from 17 May.
Prospective holidaymakers had been eager to find out where they would be able to travel without needing to self-isolate on return before the list was published on Friday.
But the government has faced backlash after revealing 12 countries – including some currently banning tourists – will be on the list from 17 May, with the travel industry calling this too restrictive.
Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s boss, said: “The decision to put so few European countries into the green tier is simply not justified by the data or the science and is inconsistent with the approach to reopen the domestic economy.”
Meanwhile, Airlines UK said the government must make “major additions” to the green list at the next review point in three weeks.
“This is a missed opportunity and, with so few countries making it on to the green list, represents a reopening of air travel in name only,” Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of the industry body representing UK carriers, said.
“By contrast, the EU has said vaccinated people will be able to travel without restrictions, which leaves the UK at risk of falling behind and not opening up international travel to key markets across Europe as well as the United States.”
Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel are among just 12 destinations that will be on the green list from May 17 – with some countries on the list still not accepting holidaymakers.
The green list also features several remote British overseas territories and destinations where visits are heavily restricted, such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands.
People returning to England from green destinations from 17 May will not be required to self-isolate and are only required to take one post-arrival coronavirus test.
It will come into force from 17 May when non-essential foreign travel is allowed to resume under England’s roadmap out of lockdown.
It has been illegal to travel abroad from the UK for holidays for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But after it became clear on Friday what destinations would carry the least restrictions for travel, the head of pilots’ union Balpa accused the government of an “excess of caution”.
Brian Strutton, the group’s general secretary, said the news was “extremely disappointing for everyone who works in the travel sector and the millions of people who are desperate to jet away on holiday or business”.
The government has told the public they should not travel to countries on the red and amber list – most of the world – for leisure purposes.
Only British or Irish nationals – or those with residents rights in the UK – will be allowed to travel back to England from red list nations from 17 May, and must quarantine in a hotel on arrival and take two Covid-19 tests.
Those coming back from amber destinations must quarantine at home or elsewhere for 10 days and take a Covid-19 test on the second and eighth day back.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, reminded the public they “should not be travelling” to countries on the amber list, which includes holiday hotspots Spain, France, Italy and Greece.
British Airways boss Sean Doyle said this advice was “disappointing”, adding: “We cannot stress more greatly that the UK urgently needs travel between it and other low-risk countries, like the US, to restart the economy, support devastated industries and reunite loved ones.”
The British transport secretary said the removal of the ban on international leisure travel was “necessarily cautious”.
At a Downing Street press conference on Friday, Mr Shapps said the government must “make absolutely sure” the countries the UK reconnects with are safe.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “While the number of destinations on the green list remains low, we hope it will grow over time as the epidemiological situation improves worldwide, meaning more opportunities for leisure travel will open.”
Additional reporting by Press Association