For months, we have been told to “stay at home.” Now lockdown is lifting and in the northern hemisphere and we are coming into the summer season. This is the traditional moment to “get away” and there is suddenly a lot of news coverage about the summer holidays. There don’t seem to be as many COVID-19 travel restrictions, as we thought.
We all deserve a holiday after such a tough time, or so we are told.
Have you ever noticed how the media will start insistently pushing stories at certain times?
It’s called telling us how we should think.
As lockdown eases, European economies are on their knees. The aviation industry has ground to a virtual halt. The European aerospace industry doesn’t think it will come back from Covid-19 for at least five years. We want the people moving again and re-injecting money into our economies with tourism spend.
I am just sharing my viewpoint from where I am sat in France. I’m not a cynic.
OK, maybe a little.
The jury seems to be out as to whether we have flattened that curve for good or whether a second wave awaits us. Not being a member of the scientific community and having no real epidemiological acumen so I will spare you my conclusions.
It is this uncertainty, however, that will cause travel and our attitudes to travel to fundamentally change … and, I suspect, for a long time to come.
Are you wondering what to do this summer? I wouldn’t be surprised if you are both watching the pennies and unsure as to what to do. Would it be such a bad thing to stay at home?
Here are a few things to consider …
So, we can travel again, but where can we go?
That is a good question, and as with all many areas of the “new normal” remains a little vague.
In France we went from being able to travel from within a 1km radius, to a 100km radius and then finally across country in a matter of weeks.
As of mid-June, we can travel within the Schengen area of Europe, with the exclusion of Spain. The EU is keen to get back to this life of no internal border checks. It’s kind of what the EU stands for. With the UK out, and the rest of Europe having been a bit slow to help out Italy and Spain at the beginning of the pandemic, Brussels needs to hang its hat on something familiar.
From July 1st 2020 Europeans can travel everywhere else, but this is, of course, dependent on restrictions in place in destination countries.
For example, the UK government is considering a forced quarantine of all passengers arriving in the UK. In the words of the UK’s airline industry association, this would “effectively kill international travel to and from the UK and cause immeasurable damage to the aviation industry and wider UK economy”.
I would wager that these quarantine measure will be shelved shortly.
COVID-19 travel restrictions: What can we expect at the airport?
A lot of intra-European travel is done via plane, so let’s talk about the airport. There is some experience, particularly from Asian airports, of implementing increased security measures around the SARS outbreak.
As well as the obligatory mask and social distancing measures, we can expect additional personnel looking out for passengers with COVID-19 symptoms. Expect possible forehead temperature checks on arrival at the airport and/or before boarding the plane.
And it is unlikely these will be temporary measures.
On 22nd December 2001, Richard Reid tried to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami. We are still having to take off our shoes, or having them scanned, when we pass through an airport nearly 20 years later.
The end of the low-cost?
Europe is a very competitive market when it comes to air travel. It gave birth to the low-cost airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair. The density of population and the borderless, Schengen area combined made for the rise of the famous “city break” and affordable holidays for the whole family, particularly in the sunny climes of southern Europe.
Social distancing on a plane? How about we keep the middle seats in a row of three empty?
This has quickly been deemed irreconcilable for airlines to make any kind of profit margin if they are to maintain low cost tickets.
So, let’s refit planes with alternative seating formats?
It all takes time and money. And let’s not forget that airlines have been bleeding money for the past two months and laying off staff.
Ryanair are seeking to reduce employees’ salaries by 20% in order to maintain the workforce and in a parallel universe Air France-KLM has had a bailout from the French and Dutch governments whilst its CEO has received a bonus of 768 000 euros for 2019.
He has graciously declined a bonus for 2020. Sorry, that is that cynicism sneaking in again.
All that to say, the aviation industry is in turmoil. I don’t think we will be seeing the same low prices as we have benefitted from in the past.
And what about the existing battle against over tourism?
People were debating mass tourism before governments imposed COVID-19 travel restrictions. It has somehow been validated by photos of dolphins in the canals of Venice, even if the dolphins were as real as a blessing of unicorns galloping down the Champs Elysées.
Yes, there is a collective noun for a group of unicorns. Who knew?
Mass tourism in many European cities has been choking them. Venice, Amsterdam, Barcelona …
It has also been pushing local residents out of these cities as companies like Airbnb make temporary renting more attractive for owners and residential rental rates subsequently also increase.
Barcelona was already in a semi-war with Airbnb, Amsterdam had stopped proactively advertising, Dubrovnik had limited the number of cruise ships allowed to dock and Venice was planning to levy a tax for visitors not staying overnight.
Europeans have rediscovered their cities. The debate around over tourism will be louder than ever.
Even if you can travel, do you want to?
According to recent research from IATA (representing global airlines) only 14% of consumers will resume travel as soon as restrictions are lifted.
This figure is like to evolve over time, but in many respects as governments took to terrifying people so they would stay in their homes. Now that people have the freedom to go about as they please, they are not always too sure of its appeal.
There is still a virus on the loose after all.
What awaits you in the foreign destination of your choice? More social distancing and compulsory hand sanitiser? More people telling you what you can’t do, but this time in a foreign language? If you have extrapolated to a more catastrophic scenario, it could be a few weeks in hospital far from home.
Will our freedoms of today be our freedoms of tomorrow?
And so, if your new-found “freedom” in the form of the summer holidays does not appeal, it’s probably because it is actually full of constraints and worries compared to what we have known before.
COVID-19 travel restrictions are just the start. There is already talk about immunity passports. In a not-so-distant future, it is not farfetched to think that international destinations will demand blood test requirements or vaccination obligations.
So, back to this summer…
In the beginning, I asked you what you wanted to do this summer. My apologies if I have painted quite a bleak image — apart from that nice bit about Parisian unicorns.
COVID-19 travel restrictions, price increases and general uncertainty don’t make for a good package deal, but isn’t this summer actually an opportunity to look at things differently?
You want to “get away” but maybe what you want is closer than you think?
Maybe this summer is a moment to start to look closer to home?
And I’m not saying you will never travel internationally again, but this could be the start of us all approaching travel in a more sustainable way.
I have been lucky to see many parts of the world. Whilst it has brought me a lot in life experience and air miles, I am not particularly proud of my carbon footprint. Ultimately, there is something that doesn’t quite add up when you can get to a far-flung European capital on a plane for less than a lunch menu in a local restaurant.
There are enough figures out there to demonstrate how we have decreased CO2 emissions over the past three months, and grounding planes has been a key contributor to this.
I’m not saying we stop airline travel for good.
We can and should continue to invest and work on making it cleaner.
But, over and above that, hasn’t lockdown also given us an opportunity to stop and think?
If air travel does become more price prohibitive, we can use the coming years to appreciate more what we have in the near vicinity, whilst cultivating a more sustainable attitude to international travel and making our European capitals more liveable for their residents.
We can make a positive contribution to the future of our planet, even if dolphins swimming down Venetian canals will always be fake news.
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash