Airlines push for uniform travel restrictions across EU
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    Airlines push for uniform travel restrictions across EU

    Credit: Belga

    Airlines in Europe are calling for uniform rules during the coronavirus pandemic, as the different travel restrictions and quarantine rules are hindering air traffic, according to the industry.

    The call for harmonised rules comes from sector organisation Airlines for Europe (A4E), which organised a videoconference on Tuesday, in which it referred to a recommendation from the European Commission, reports the Belga press agency.

    “A unified European testing programme is urgently needed if we are to have any chance of restoring passenger confidence,” said Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director of A4E.

    Although the number of flights and passenger traffic increased slightly in July, they stalled in August, with only 30% of travellers compared to the same period last year, according to A4E’s figures.

    “The Council of the EU must make this a political priority. Uncoordinated national measures over the last six months have had a devastating impact on freedom of movement – a core EU principal – with significant knock-on effects for our travel and tourism sector,” Benjamin Smith, CEO Air France-KLM Group and A4E Chairman, said.

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    Additionally, it seems that hardly any air passengers have been infected with the coronavirus in recent months. According to Patrick Ky of the European aviation watchdog EASA, only 6 out of 100,000 passengers were not allowed to fly because they showed symptoms.

    Easyjet’s top executive, Johan Lundgren, also clearly sees a link between travel restrictions and quarantine rules, and booking behaviour. “As soon as the travel restrictions decrease, bookings go through the roof,” he said, adding that uniform rules will help airlines more than state aid.

    According to the sector, travel restrictions and quarantine rules should be based on data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which draws up colour codes for each country or region.

    Additionally, unambiguous criteria concerning third countries are necessary, and more efforts should go towards testing and tracing instead of quarantining, according to the sector.

    Anyone taking the plane should be able to get tested shortly before departure.

    The European Commission is looking into a way to streamline the different restrictions in the member states, it announced at the start of September.

    In its proposal, the Commission proposed a coordinated EU approach to travel restrictions within the EU and called on the member states to adopt common criteria and thresholds to determine travel restrictions, a common colour code to map out areas, a common framework for travellers from high-risk areas, and the clear and timely dissemination of information on any restrictions introduced.

    The Council is still examining the proposal which was expected to be adopted during September. According to a Commission spokesperson, member states welcomed the proposal when it was presented for their ambassadors and in the Council.

    The first opportunity for adoption will be next week (22 September) at the General Affairs Council when the agenda includes an exchange of views on EU coordination of COVID-19. An EU source told The Brussels Times that it is too early to say what the focus of the exchange of views and expected outcome will be as preparation are still on-going.

    “Our right to free movement has been seriously hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. For the many citizens who have to move around on a daily basis, the cacophony of national rules makes things very complicated. We want to make things simpler,” said justice commissioner Didier Reynders when he presented the proposal on 4 September.

    Additionally, it is up to the member states to decide how long a quarantine should last, but here too, the Commission is encouraging EU-wide coordination.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times