A4E wants European States to adopt common standards for travel restriction “clarity and predictability.”

“A unified European testing programme is urgently needed if we are to have any chance of restoring passenger confidence”, said Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director, Airlines for Europe (A4E). Europe’s largest airline association is urging European Union leaders to swiftly adopt a renewed and common approach towards Covid-19 travel restrictions to better support the aviation sector and boost Europe’s wider economic recovery. 

“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”, said Benjamin Smith, CEO Air France-KLM Group and A4E Chairman.

“Diverging measures by Member States – often implemented at very short notice, based on differing criteria, and not sufficiently coordinated with other States has caused passenger demand to plummet. A renewed and common approach to travel restrictions would provide airlines and our passengers the clarity and predictability we need while improving cross-border connectivity and restoring the integrity of the Schengen/EU area. Member States should urgently also apply common criteria to third countries so that intercontinental traffic can resume as quickly and as safely as possible”, Smith added.

The A4E proposal backs the recent European Commission (EC) Council Recommendation calling for the creation of a European colour-coded map, based on data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). It urges the adoption of common criteria and thresholds to evaluate the epidemiological risk of travelling to/from certain areas, such as the incidence rate (positive Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) and the positivity rate of tests for infection. It also calls for measures to be implemented at a regional level, based on ECDC data, instead of blanket national restrictions.

Improved Covid-19 testing and contact tracing should be used instead of quarantines, as testing enables targeted risk mitigation on an individual level. States should continue to invest in making quick and reliable Covid-19 tests available to passengers shortly before departure. 

A4E lamented “chaotic border restrictions along with confusion about quarantines, varying passenger locator forms and test requirements”. Reynaert  said,”A unified European testing programme is urgently needed if we are to have any chance of restoring passenger confidence”. Although July saw a small increase in the number of flights and passenger traffic, these figures have stalled in August – with only 30% of travellers compared with last year.

Quarantine restrictions should be an instrument of last resort, with the duration of quarantine consistent throughout Europe. Clear exclusions from travel restrictions and quarantine measures for airline staff, crew, transit passengers and passengers with a specific low-risk type of journey are also recommended. Airline staff, including crew, are trained to follow specific hygiene schemes and are under the close supervision of European airlines. 

Travellers who, for example, stay in a risk area for less than 72 hours and have minimal contact with the local population are at a lower risk of infection and should therefore also be excluded. In all cases, Member States should be responsible for collecting traveller data and for enforcing the appropriate measures.

A4E also advocates adoption of the latest ICAO standard for passenger locator and health declaration forms, and believes national health authorities should check whether passengers have completed these forms, not airlines.