Update: Israel just closed all flights for the time being, showing the volatility noted below.
I hate fear mongering. It’s not what’s needed in the world right now any more than the push notifications alerting us of every event and live tally. This is not that.
As someone who cares deeply about loved ones being able to connect across borders and about essential workers being able to help expedite the world recovery, I’m seeing a worrying trend in travel, however warranted it may be.
It means for the next couple months, connectivity may become increasingly difficult.
The tl;dr version is that travel will begin to open up from late spring into early summer as vaccines reach those most in need and the worst is behind us, but it may be a wild ride for the next month or two, which could see the closure of many key flight links.
If you’re trying to get home, or make a move, it’s may either best to stay put for a while, or move quickly. Even essential travel isn’t going to be easy.
Reactionary Travel Restrictions
Countries are freaked out about various virus mutations. Yes, even though most epidemiologists and virologists would generally tell you that they’re 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 “look” like they’re “doing a thing”, so they can use soundbites 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 lead to many rather insane new covid-19 related travel restrictions in recent weeks, jeopardizing connectivity for entire countries, and the future of many airlines, despite little basis from a scientific perspective. In layman terms, it’s a “barn door after horse bottled” situation in most cases.
Country Closures, Flight Cancellations
It came down to the wire, but KLM was able to avoid plans to temporarily suspend all international flights from January 22nd, as previously reported in ‘KLM will temporarily suspend ALL long haul flying‘, for an undisclosed period of time 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. Basically, it’s a no go. KLM was able to discuss more viable options with the government.
Yes, it meant anyone flying to New York, Dubai, Hong Kong or anywhere else 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. Who’s left?
In the UK, it appears British Airways can’t even sell you a holiday right now. At least not during lockdown.
A flight plus hotel search for a trip to Dubai in February returns a pop-up window stating “It’s illegal for residents of the UK to travel internationally on holiday during national lockdown. As a result, we are unable to provide availability for your search dates.”
It’s illegal for many UK based travelers to go abroad right now, but not all. Business and education are among a variety of accepted reasons. Putting a blanket restriction against holiday sales is an extraordinary step, though it’s likely you could still buy a BA flight on its own.
Balancing Panic And Logic
Airlines will continue to operate to places where financial opportunity exists without risk of leaving crew members behind due to changing restrictions. That doesn’t always need to include passengers. In fact, many airlines have survived purely on flying cargo, but if prices drop, so too could that viability.
So no, not 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 not at all. And not with just one airline either.
That’s perhaps the most alarming part of recent travel border changes: the lack of notice.
The argument isn’t that 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
Australia recently enacted changes which caused Emirates and a variety of airlines to stop flying to Australia with little or no notice. The caps on citizens and family hoping to return to the country mean it’s no longer viable for airlines to fly, which leaves some 25,000 travelers due to return without many current options.
It’s just one example of yet 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 proclamations were signed to get the ball rolling on a recovery from covid-19, and reestablishing the US as a key global figure.
This included rescinding a ban on Muslim majority countries, but also immediately repealed plans to remove travel bans on arrivals from Europe, Brazil and China. These bans remain in place, and there’s talk of adding additional restrictions on all travelers 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.
Similar to the UK, South Africa also finds itself isolated, as many countries banned all flights to or from South Africa in response to a strain found in recent weeks. Like all strains found, fear mongers are quick to assign a geographical tilt to the strain, even though it’s typically already in at least 20 countries at the time of discovery, and the discovery is typically only as a result of fantastic scientific work from experts.
Not to be outdone, South America finds itself worse off than most. In one of the more “wow” moments in travel recently, travel to the entire continent has been banned by a variety of countries, with flight links closed overnight.
Ironically, both the UK and The Netherlands are among those to ban all travel with South America, and the Netherlands also banned the UK in the process.
Is Long Haul Travel Shutting Down?
Given the context of the news above, it’s hard to count on any country links available today being around tomorrow. That doesn’t mean mobility might not still be possible via connections, but even transit is becoming a tricky area with its own testing needs.
Once tragic death rates drop as a result of the mass vaccination of the most at risk, travel restrictions will begin to disappear and become a frustrating memory. It’s not outrageous to believe significant, sustainable changes to the travel landscape could be among us as summer emerges, perhaps even just before.
But before that good news begins to trickle in, it may indeed get worse before it gets better, and that may leave vital links between countries behind. If you’re pondering any movement in the next month, it’s best to make decisions quickly, whether that means staying, or going.