European Travel Restrictions Tighten As COVID-19 Spread Accelerates

Munich Airport
Credit: Munich Airport / Twitter

PARIS—COVID-19-related travel restrictions between European countries, including Germany and the UK, are tightening up, as the novel coronavirus spread accelerates in the region and threatens a fragile recovery in air travel demand.  

Germany is introducing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for passengers arriving from what it considers to be risk areas, in a move likely to come into effect Oct. 1. There is the possibility of shortening the isolation period if a COVID-19 test that can be taken on the fifth day of quarantine proves negative.

The UK government has removed the Czech Republic, Jamaica and Switzerland from its “travel corridors” safe list, meaning arrivals into the UK from those countries must self-isolate for 14 days as of 4:00 a.m. Aug. 29. Conversely the UK has added Cuba to the travel corridors safe list from the same date.

German aviation industry association BDL and Lufthansa say the new regime is effectively a new lockdown that cuts off travel to 80% of the world. 

The industry had welcomed a previous measure introduced by Germany three weeks ago whereby passengers arriving from a risk area or risk country had to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. BDL and Lufthansa favor a mandatory test involving incoming passengers from more defined risk areas.   

Recently added to Germany’s at-risk list are areas of Europe where the virus spread is developing rapidly, such as France’s Ile de France region, which includes Paris, and its Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. Also added were French overseas territories French Guiana, Guadeloupe, and St Martin; parts of Croatia; Antwerp and Brussels in Belgium; and Gibraltar.  

On Aug. 25, Eurocontrol said that the demand recovery in Europe had plateaued with traffic levels at around 48.5% of 2019 levels in the week to Aug. 23. “The recovery has hit a plateau ... state restrictions are having an impact,” Eurocontrol director general Eamonn Brennan wrote on Twitter.   

Summertime is normally a lucrative vacation season in Europe. However, as many airlines have been building back capacity and seeking to attract wary travelers with cheap deals and flexible options, the aviation industry has been vocal in its criticism of inconsistent travel rules across the region. The latest complaint came from Charlie Cornish, CEO of London Stansted Airport’s parent company Manchester Airport Group (MAG).  

Cornish noted that at this time in 2019—the last Monday in August is a UK public holiday—more than 280,000 passengers passed through Stansted in just one weekend. The figure is set to be less than a third of that in 2020.  

“Throughout the pandemic there has been no evidence of any recognition from the government of the need to protect the travel industry and enable it to recover from what is undoubtedly the biggest crisis it has ever faced,” Cornish said Aug. 27.  

Cornish blasted the UK government’s failure to provide financial support for the industry, as has happened in France, Germany and other European countries. 

“The impact of this decision has been amplified many times over by its sluggish, chaotic and illogical approach to travel restrictions,” Cornish added.  

The UK’s system of travel corridors has been criticized following last-minute decisions to remove countries, including Spain and France, from the safe list in recent weeks. The move led to panicked early returns for many thousands of British holidaymakers already abroad and seeking to avoid having to quarantine. Although a move to add Portugal to the UK’s travel corridors list was welcomed by the industry, with Ryanair adding extra flights in response to the announcement.  

“As things stand, around 50% of the most popular markets with British tourists have effectively been closed-off,” Cornish said. “Some will point to positive news about Portugal becoming restriction-free again, but with so little of our summer remaining, so many popular destinations needlessly closed-off, so many jobs at risk and so little confidence our Prime Minister understands this urgency, you can understand why our industry feels left behind.” 

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.