LONDON – The Council of the European Union has removed the United States from its list of countries for which restrictions on non-essential travel should be lifted (European Council, 2021). The EU’s move comes only 10 weeks after the addition of the US to the list amid a surge in virus cases. For the second time, America has been battling COVID-19, averaging over 100,000 daily hospitalizations (Chen & Schulz, 2021). Fully vaccinated people make 52.5% of the total population, behind Europe which is at 56% (CDC; ECDC, 2021).
The appeal launched by IATA in July to ease travel restrictions between Europe and the United States is being ignored. The trade association has highlighted that North Atlantic routes represent the main source of international pax revenues for both Europe and America. The figure exceeds 30% for the United States and approaches 15% for Europe. Bookings also suggest an increase in demand for US-Europe travel: in January 2021 there was a 100% drop on 7 days moving average, which decreased to -40% in July 2021 for bookings made in America (IATA, 2021).
In light of a boost in travel confidence, the percentage difference in US carriers’ flights to Europe compared to 2019 has been narrowing, improving from down 73% in May to down 55% in August, Cirium data shows (Cirium, 2021). The ban recommended by the European Union is likely to compromise the increase in demand and put airlines in trouble, especially in late summer when aviation sees a natural constriction in revenues due to its strong seasonality.
Nonetheless, the surge of leisure travel (VFR on the top) had led some European airlines to announce new US destinations as a long-term investment. The current low demand was projected to grow in the coming months on the basis of two elements: tourism and a price-sensitive shift of the market. However, all plans get complicated due to new limitations. Overall, global air travel demand remains significantly below pre-COVID-19 levels owing to international travel restrictions (IATA, 2021).
In a recent interview with Aviation Source, the president and CEO of French Bee, Marc Rochet, had wished for the removal of the travel ban. The low-cost airline recently inaugurated the Paris-New York route.
“We need to move because the US travel ban will be lifted, we will be in place and, with COVID, the route is meeting our variable costs. We think that this route can be successful, and we think it’s time to stop the travel ban”. (James Field, 2021)
On 30th August, IATA’s Director General Willie Walsh commented on the EU’s choice to remove the United States from the safe list. saying: “While this is a disappointing development for businesses and people who rely on travel, the data from the US and Israel support the value and benefit of vaccination. As governments rightly urge their populations to be vaccinated, governments need to be confident in the benefits they bring – including the freedom to travel. At a minimum, those who are fully vaccinated should be free to move without restriction”.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021). COVID Data Tracker. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations_vacc-total-admin-rate-total
Chen, E. & Schulz, B. (2021). EU takes US off safe country list, recommends Europe travel restrictions tighten for Americans. USA Today. https://eu.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2021/08/30/europe-travel-restrictions-americans-covid-delta-surge/5594245001/
Cirium. (2021). www.cirium.com
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). (2021). COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker. https://vaccinetracker.ecdc.europa.eu/public/extensions/COVID-19/vaccine-tracker.html#uptake-tab
European Council. (2021). COVID-19: travel into the EU. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/coronavirus/covid-19-travel-into-the-eu/
Field, J. (2021). EXCLUSIVE: The French bee of the Future: Talking New York, the A350 & Competition with CEO Marc Rochet. https://aviationsourcenews.com/airline/exclusive-the-french-bee-of-the-future-talking-new-york-the-a350-competition-with-ceo-marc-rochet/
IATA. (2021). COVID-19. One Ocean, Two Shores: Time to Reconnect. https://www.iata.org/en/iata-repository/publications/economic-reports/time-to-reconnect-north-america-and-europe/
IATA. (2021). June Air Travel Recovery Continues to Disappoint. https://www.iata.org/en/pressroom/pr/2021-07-28-02/
IATA. (2021). Statement on EU Travel Restrictions for US Visitors https://www.iata.org/en/pressroom/2021-releases/2021-08-30-01/