Potential US removal from EU 'safe list' would deal blow to transatlantic recovery

The European Council is pushing to reimpose strict COVID-19 rules on passengers from the US and five other countries.

The European Council has recommended removing the US and five other countries from the EU’s COVID-19 “safe” list of countries from which travelers are allowed to fly into the bloc with few restrictions, a potentially huge blow for US airlines trying to restart transatlantic routes.  

In an Aug. 30 update, the European Council recommended removing the US as well as Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and the Republic of North Macedonia from the EU's safe list, which allows travelers to enter the bloc with a negative COVID-19 test result or proof of vaccination without having to quarantine, whether their trip is considered essential or not. 

The measure is not a full ban on passengers from the denoted countries. Fully vaccinated travelers from the affected countries will still be able to travel to Europe, but they may be subject to quarantine or extra testing requirements. Airlines have said throughout the pandemic that quarantines negatively affect passenger demand.

The EU’s safe list, which is updated regularly, is one part of the bloc’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU added the US to the safe list at the beginning of June, in a move that was welcomed by airlines and gave a boost to passenger demand for crossing the Atlantic from the US to Europe.  

Eurocontrol data shows that US-Europe transatlantic traffic flows as of Aug. 29—based on number of flights, including cargo flights and passenger services—were 48% down compared to roughly the same date in 2019 for travel from the US to European destinations.

But data from OAG shows that the number of one-way seats from the US to Western Europe increased from 1 million in May to 1.3 million in June, 1.6 million in July and 1.8 million in August as travelers from the US took advantage of the easing of entry requirements.  

However, European and US airlines have been expressing disappointment that US restrictions on EU citizens travelling across the Atlantic in the other direction have not been eased by US officials.  

"This decision [by the EC] is extremely disappointing for Europe’s airlines and our ailing tourism sector, particularly given the risk of virus transmission among air travelers has proven to be extremely low,” trade group Airlines For Europe said. “The overwhelming majority of international travelers today are either fully vaccinated, tested or recovered from the virus. With the spread of the delta variant in communities on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s clear that air travel is not the source. We therefore continue to urge EU and US policymakers to lift travel restrictions for those who are vaccinated, tested or recovered from COVID-19.”

A spokeswoman for Airlines for America (A4A), which represents major US airlines, added: "The European Union’s recommendations are a step backwards, and clearly disappointing to the US airline industry, which has worked diligently to safely resume transatlantic service. As the EU has reopened, Americans have been eager to buy tickets, pack their bags and reunite with loved ones who they have not seen in nearly two years."

Photo credit: Patrick Van Katwijk / BSR Agency / Getty Images

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