Europe-based airlines start to resume services as countries try to revive tourism
Published: Jun 03, 2020 12:01 PM

Flight crew wearing face masks are seen at Ankara Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey, on June 1, 2020. Turkey's airline companies resumed their domestic operations on Monday with a limited number of flights. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

Europe-based airlines are starting to resume services step by step as countries try to revive tourism as a way to bring their economies battered hard by the COVID-19 pandemic back to life.

Alitalia, Italy's flagship airline, formally launched long-haul flight from Rome to New York on Tuesday, a day before the country opens its borders to other Schengen countries. The eight-hour flight will run twice a week.

Since early March, the lockdown has all but shut down the airline aside from some cargo flights and a few flights used to repatriate Italians from coronavirus hotspots.

The airline will also restart flights between Rome and the Sardinian cities of Alghero and Olbia on Wednesday, as well as flights between Rome and Spanish cities of Barcelona on Wednesday and Madrid on Thursday.

All the flights will take place with social distancing rules in effect, meaning that flights will be capped at 33 to 50 percent capacity depending on the type of aircraft.

Germany's biggest airline Lufthansa announced on Tuesday that it is going to make wearing mouth-nose cover on board mandatory starting from June 8. This change would initially apply to Lufthansa, Eurowings and Lufthansa Cityline and will preliminarily apply until Aug. 31, 2020.

Lithuania lifted on Monday the 14-day self-isolation rule for travellers from 24 European countries.

Travellers coming from Malta, Ireland and Spain are still subject to mandatory self-isolation for 14 days while travel is still prohibited from Belgium, Sweden, Portugal and Britain, where the number of COVID-19 patients exceeds 25 cases per 100,000 population.

Up to now, Lithuania has resumed regular flights to Latvia, Estonia, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and plans to resume flights to Denmark, Israel and Finland in the upcoming week.

From July 1, Malta will reopen its airport for some European countries and Israel. The lifting of restrictions applied only to direct flights, and passengers have to guarantee that they have stayed in the same country for four weeks prior to the flight.

In Cyprus, airports are scheduled to reopen on June 9 when flights are expected to resume with 19 countries considered by Cypriot authorities to be relatively safe as far as COVID-19 is concerned.

Most hotels are offering big discounts, but have announced on their websites that accommodation will not be available before June 20, when travellers from Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Norway, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Israel, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia and Lithuania will travel freely without having a proof for a negative COVID-19 test, those from six other countries will still need the proof.

As the summer tourism season is about to start in the coming weeks, the Greek government gave more information on the the conditions under which Greece will welcome tourists.

The Ministry of Tourism announced last Friday the first list of 29 countries, including China, which can send tourists to Greece as of June 15 to the airports of Athens and Thessaloniki.

The list was drafted based on epidemiological data and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announcements, following recommendations from Greek scientists. These travelers will be subject only to sample testing for COVID-19 upon arrival.

In addition, the country also opens to visitors from other countries as of mid-June. But at least until June 30, all the tourists originating from an airport on the EASA list of affected areas with high risk of transmission of COVID-19, are obliged to be tested upon arrival and will have to spend one night at a designated hotel.

If the test is negative then the passenger has to self quarantine for seven days, while if the test is positive, the passenger is quarantined under supervision for 14 days, according to Tourism Minister Harry Theocharis.

Greek authorities will focus on the departure airports but not the nationality of the travelers, the minister stressed.

As of July 1, international flights are allowed into all airports in Greece and visitors are subject to random tests upon arrival, while additional restrictions regarding certain countries will be announced at a later date.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said on Sunday that there has been a slight easing of world travel restrictions introduced in response to COVID-19.

The Madrid-based agency stressed the importance of international tourism in promoting sustainable economic growth.

"The timely and responsible easing of travel restrictions will help ensure the many social and economic benefits that tourism guarantees will return in a sustainable way. This will contribute to the livelihoods of many millions of people around the world," UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said.

"The sector is a driver of sustainable development and a pillar of economies. UNWTO stresses the need for vigilance, responsibility and international cooperation as the world slowly opens up again," he added.

On May 7, the organization predicted that international tourist numbers would fall by between 60 and 80 percent in 2020 due to the effects of COVID-19.