New European Union Travel Plan Could Bring Clarity, Relief for Airlines

Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg Sign up here for our daily coronavirus newsletter on

Charles de Gaulle Airport on Day France Reopens Its EU Borders

Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg

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The European Union’s battered aviation industry may soon get some relief from the confusingly wide range of travel curbs across the continent, as the bloc’s governments seek agreement on a common threshold for imposing restrictions.

Under a proposal circulated by the German government, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, restriction-free travel will be allowed between regions with fewer than 25 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people for the previous 14 days, and with a reading of positive virus tests lower than 4%.

The plan is to illustrate the new thresholds using a color-coded map of the 27 nation-EU — plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland — to be updated on a weekly basis, according to a draft circulated to diplomats in Brussels and seen by Bloomberg.

If governments agree on the new rules, airlines could gain relief from the current situation of uncoordinated, country-by-country announcements on quarantine requirements for incoming travelers and abrupt travel bans. Confusion over those rules has added to the woes of an industry already pummeled by its worst crisis on record.

The German proposal follows consultations between member states on a recommendation put forth by the EU’s executive arm last month. EU diplomats are discussing the plan this week, and it remains unclear whether it will garner the necessary support.

Regional Approach

Under the proposed system, a flight could be permitted between two regions coded “green” on the map, even if other areas of the country where the flight originated from were coded “red.”

The red category would be used for regions where the number of new cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days totaled 50 or more, with positive tests at more than 4%. Positivity rates wouldn’t be taken into account if the cumulative number of new infections was more than 150 per 100,000 people.

Under the German proposal, the new map will be published and updated weekly by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Member states could permit travel from non-green coded areas if travelers self-isolated upon arrival or showed a negative test on arrival or before departure.

The pandemic has forced EU regulators into a political balancing act between preserving member states’ jurisdiction over health policy and protecting the bloc’s principle of free movement. Airlines have been vocal critics of the current approach.

Under the non-binding proposal, restrictions would only cover non-essential travel, and wouldn’t apply to drivers of freight vehicles, border workers, seafarers, passengers in transit and on-duty journalists. Travel restrictions would be eliminated in no more than 14 days after an area qualified as green.

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