As someone who loves flying and loves the airline industry, I care deeply about people being able to travel whether it would be to get back home or to visit loved ones or to get away for a little while and workers being able to help expedite the world recovery, I am seeing a worrying trend in air travel, however, warranted it may be.
I am seeing everyday changes that it may mean for the next couple of months, connectivity may become increasingly difficult.
We all know that the Australian government recently announced that it does not see the international borders reopening until early 2022 despite the vaccination plan roll out starting next month firstly for those most in need, following the general population. So anyone would think that the worst is behind us, but it may be a wild ride for the next few months, which could see the reduction or closure of many key flight links and not just for Australia.
If you are trying to get home or make a move, it may be better to stay put for a while or move quickly. Even essential travel is not going to be easy.
here are many reactionary travel restrictions, and some countries are overly concerned about the various virus mutations. Even though most epidemiologists and virologists are saying that they are not unexpected in the slightest, and often mean a virus is getting more spreadable, but less deadly, as viruses tend to do.
So far, the vaccines are also reported to be effective with all the new mutations found.
Politicians, however, are also always eager to appear like they are doing all they can to protect the people which resonate with certain segments of the public in the present and future, regardless of how actually irrational and damaging the restrictions may be.
This has led to many tough new covid-19 related travel restrictions in recent weeks, putting in jeopardy connectivity for entire countries, and the future of many airlines, despite little basis from a scientific perspective.
There are still many countries that grappling with rising numbers of transmission despite the measures that they have put in place and border closures and flight cancellations abroad and in our home, ground have become once again reality to deal with. As of today, KLM the national airline of the Netherlands has announced will temporarily suspend all long-haul flights, until further notice in response to intense travel restrictions introduced in the Netherlands.
The restrictions require all passengers, even those in transit, to take a rapid test within 4 hours before departure, in addition to a PCR test within 72 hours of departure. A 10-day quarantine period has also been introduced. It is indeed harsh for any airline to survive with those restrictions.
That means anyone flying anywhere KLM flies long haul will now find their flights cancelled for the foreseeable future, with little chance of rebooking on another airline, as other airlines retreat from the Netherlands.
Even key workers driving vaccine initiatives and scientific miracles may find themselves unable to travel, particularly if airlines continue to close long haul flying.
In the UK where vaccination started over one month ago, it appears that nothing is moving as the country is still dealing with huge numbers of transmission and death toll, so the national lockdown is not helping the industry to start its recovery.
Meantime airlines must try to balance panic and logic and they will continue to operate to places where financial opportunity exists without risk of leaving crew members behind due to changing restrictions. That does not always need to include passengers. In fact, many airlines have survived purely on flying cargo, but if prices drop, that could be in jeopardy too.
I am not saying that all long-haul travel will cease overnight, but the frequency of flights between cities or countries may drop swiftly. If a market, or entire country, is no longer viable, flights will go from daily, to twice weekly, to weekly, to no flights at all.
That is perhaps the most alarming part of recent travel border changes: the lack of notice. The argument is not that states or countries don’t need to make changes or use new and improved technologies to test for covid-19. The argument is that they need to offer clear guidelines for future moves, and how sustainably safe initiatives can hold, even with new emerging virus transmission.
A good example is what we just witnessed in Australia during this past week when the government introduced new passenger’s arrival caps and other conditions affecting the crew, which caused Emirates announcement to stop their flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane with no notice. The restricted caps on citizens and permanent resident hoping to return to the country mean it’s no longer viable for airlines to fly, which could potentially leave more than 25,000 travellers stranded without many options.
It is just one example of another overnight change, which will fundamentally change the course of many lives and livelihoods.
In Joe Biden’s historic first day as President of the United States, many executive orders were signed to path the way to recovery from COVID-19 and re-establishing the US as a key global figure.
This included the removal of the travel bans on arrivals from Europe, Brazil, and China that the Trump administration had lifted in his last days in office. These bans now are set to remain in place, and there is talk of adding additional restrictions on all travellers entering the country, including returning citizens.
A negative covid-19 test for all arrivals from January 26th onward is one confirmed measure, but there are many others reportedly on the table. In many countries, access to timely testing is not a given, which further complicates plans.
So, is long haul air travel shutting down? Well, given the context of the news above, it is hard to count on any country links available today being around tomorrow. That does not mean mobility might not still be possible via connections, but even transit is becoming a tricky area with its own testing needs.
It has become now clearer that once community transmission and death rates drop because of the mass vaccination of the most at risk, travel restrictions will hopefully begin to disappear and become a frustrating memory. It is not outrageous to believe significant, sustainable changes to the travel landscape could be among us in the months to come, perhaps even earlier.