With extra tents to avoid large crowds at the check-in and an ever-present stress on testing, several key players of Belgium's travel industry have revealed their plans to keep the summer holidays safe.
Even with the increasingly rapid rollout of Belgium's vaccination campaign and the EU's Digital Green Certificate on the horizon, travel in July and August will not yet be back to the way it was before the pandemic.
That does not seem to be stopping many Belgian travellers, however, as Brussels Airlines is recording rising booking figures every week, according to CEO Peter Gerber.
So, while Brussels Airport, Brussels Airlines and TUI are preparing for a busy summer season, it will not be without the necessary rules, conditions, and precautions.
Which measures is Brussels Airport taking?
While the basic measures - disinfecting, respecting the social distance, wearing face masks, ventilation - remain key, the airport will also place tents in front of the departure hall to prevent a lot of people from congregating.
That way, if it gets too busy at check-in, passengers can wait in one of the tents. The airport will also be accessible for passengers or staff only - meaning that if you come to pick up or drop off someone, you will have to wait in the car park.
Additionally, testing will also remain key for the time being, as at least 95% of departing travellers must be able to present a negative PCR test, taken no longer than 72 hours before, according to the airport. The Airport's testing centre will also remain open, meaning travellers can get tested right there.
"We are very much looking forward to the summer months, the first revival for the aviation sector and especially the first holidays abroad," said Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport, at a press conference.
"After this difficult year, a lot of people really need to get away from everything for a bit, and Brussels Airport makes that possible in the safest possible conditions," he said, adding that the airport expects an average of 40,000 passengers per day in July and August.
Where can travellers go?
Despite warnings from the Regional Director of WHO Europe Hans Kluge that it is "not yet safe enough to resume international travel," people will be able to depart to 175 destinations from Brussels Airport this summer - most of them with Brussels Airlines, TUI fly and Ryanair.
Six new destinations were added, the Airport announced:
- Bari (Italy),
- Pula (Croatia),
- Karpathos (Greece),
- Suceava (Romania),
- Tetouan (Morocco),
- Cluj (Romania).
From October, flights to Mauritius will also be operated.
"Although this year, our offer will also only be a part of what we program in a normal summer," Gunther Hofman, Managing Director of TUI fly Western Region said. "For some weeks, we have seen a positive evolution towards EU regions that have left code red behind."
For non-European destinations, however, it remains to be seen what possibilities the summer and autumn will bring, according to the company.
As the colour codes - and their corresponding measures - for countries and areas can change pretty quickly, a weekly update of the latest colours in the EU can be found here.
- Not yet safe enough to resume international travel, says WHO
- EU to ease restrictions for vaccinated travellers from non-EU countries
- Airlines extend free rebooking policies amid uncertainty regarding summer travel
To deal with the changing colour codes, Brussels Airlines flexible rebooking system also remains in force, and well even be expanded: allowing travellers to rebook their trip as many times as they want until 31 July. After that, they can rebook for free one more time.
Additionally, TUI fly is asking the government to make certain regions smaller to keep the changes more limited, and to consider islands separately instead of in groups when assigning colour codes, for example.
TUI has also submitted a proposal to organise a Covid-safe holiday to the government, with strictly controlled bubbles and lots of testing, so the quarantine obligation can be lifted.
According to Gerber of Brussels Airlines, "it would be a step in the right direction to accept rapid tests, as is already the case in some neighbouring countries."
Whether the prices will also rise will depend on "supply and demand," according to TUI fly. "There is competition on holiday destinations, so that is positive for consumers. On the other hand, there is currently only a limited number of areas, so that is negative. It will be the sum of the two."
What about the EU's Digital Green Certificate?
Belgium is currently still waiting for that Certificate to clarify how exactly travelling within the EU will work, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stated after the Consultative Committee meeting of 11 May.
At the European Council meeting on 25 May, it will be determined how the Certificate can be used, and in which way it will ensure that travel can be made easier, according to De Croo.
With the document, people will be able to travel within the EU, as it will show that they have been vaccinated, have recently tested negative or have sufficient antibodies for immunity.
On Thursday 20 May, the information that the certificate will contain was provisionally agreed on, but nothing was said about travel conditions, and the text still has to receive the final green light, which is expected to happen between 7 and 10 June.
“I do not doubt that we will be able to go on holiday in Europe this summer, but the modalities have yet to be determined," De Croo said.
For travel organisations, airlines and airports across Europe, the most important step is the harmonisation of the European restrictions through that EU certificate.
Lastly, to make sure that journeys can be safe "and if possible without major restrictions upon return," Arnaud Feist of Brussels Airport is strongly advocating "an even greater focus on testing in order to relax, and even lift, quarantine measures."