Ryanair, British Airways and EasyJet said today they have begun legal action against the British government's quarantine policy in a bid to overturn what they see as overly strict rules. 

All three airlines had hoped to resume regular flights after air travel came to a total standstill during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to almost 20,000 job losses between them. 

But Britain's 14-day quarantine, introduced on June 8 for arrivals from abroad, is deterring bookings at a time when other European countries are beginning to open their borders.

The airlines said in a statement issued by BA's parent company IAG they had lodged their complaint with the High Court, asking for a judicial review as soon as possible. 

If judges agree, lawyers have said the UK government would have to show the scientific evidence that underpinned the rule.

There was no immediate response from the British government, which has previously defended quarantine as necessary to prevent a second wave of the coronavirus. 

Britain's chief scientist said earlier in June that politicians decided the policy, adding quarantines worked best for restricting travel from countries with high infection rates. 

The airlines said there was no scientific evidence for the policy and there had been no consultation with the industry on the new rules. 

Their legal action escalates tensions with the British government, and the relationship is in contrast to France and Germany where governments have bailed out their carriers. 

The airlines said they wanted the government to re-adopt its previous quarantine policy introduced on March 10 which applied only to passengers arriving from countries deemed as high risk. 

They also dismissed "air bridges", bilateral deals between countries with low infection rates, which the government has presented as a potential alternative to the quarantine, saying they had not yet seen any evidence of how these would work.

Slow to introduce lockdown measures and with one of the highest death tolls in the world, Britain argues a quarantine is needed to prevent a second surge of Covid-19.  

The UK quarantine imposes fines of up to €1,000 for any breaches. 

Ryanair, British Airways and EasyJet believe the measure is ineffective as passengers can still board trains and busses once they leave an airport. 

Willie Walsh, the head of BA and Aer Lingus-owner IAG, said the issue could be resolved quickly if they could prove it was an irrational piece of legislation.

IAG CEO Willie Walsh

EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren also said the three companies had a strong case. "This is something that has been rushed through. It's not in proportion," Mr Lundgren said earlier this week. 

The quarantine will be reviewed every three weeks, the government has said. Portugal's foreign minister Augusto Santos Silva has said "air bridges" that allow tourists to travel between two countries without needing to quarantine are also being discussed. 

Michael O'Leary said Britons were booking outbound flights for holidays despite the quarantine, but Europeans were not coming to Britain.

The airlines say the quarantine measures are more stringent than those imposed on people suspected of being or confirmed to be infected by the coronavirus who are asked to isolate and do not face criminal sanctions.