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Stored aircraft in Arizona (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Ryan Ewing)

Travel Bubbles Hinder Return of International Travel

COVID-19 threw a huge wrench into things across the world with the travel industry being one of the hardest hit as the virus traveled country to country via passengers on board. Some countries have handled this pandemic relatively well, others have not.

This has led to a problem, the countries that handled the pandemic well such as New Zealand, and to some extent Singapore and Japan, are now looking to start loosening their restrictions. The various bans on travel and stay in place orders have put considerable strain on people and businesses around the world and it can’t continue in a place where the virus has been under control. The economic cost at that point is not worth it.

Countries like New Zealand are working to go back to some resemblance of normal but the issue of international travel is still a challenge. The country has endured very stringent travel bans and lockdown procedures and has come out victorious, all it takes is a handful of people from countries where the virus is running rampant to kick New Zealand back into the dirt.

There always is the option of a 14 day quarantine period for travelers coming into countries, which the United Kingdom will soon introduce. However, such measures are not feasible for the majority of travelers. It’s not possible for a person traveling on vacation to build in a 14 day quarantine period. It’s also not possible for business travelers to build in a 14 day quarantine period into a trip unless it was absolutely needed.

To avoid this and still enjoy a slow return to normalcy the idea of a “travel bubble” has formed. Countries that have the virus under control will create travel bubbles that will allow residents of those countries to travel freely among each other. If the virus has been eliminated or very tightly controlled there is minimal chance of spread among the countries since the virus wouldn’t be in circulation. There is a discussion that New Zealand will create one with Australia. If that works it could be expanded to countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea.

Several countries in the Baltics have created their own bubble. Hawaii has been a hard hit due to the nearly complete stop in tourism but there is potential hope ahead. The state of Hawaii is in the works to allow visitors from Japan who have met certain safety thresholds to bypass Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Although this is good news for travelers, it is creating a significant problem for airlines. Countries with airlines that flew to all corners around the globe are going to have a prolonged recovery contingent on countries being included in travel bubbles. Resumption of routes would no longer be solely based on if there is demand but also on if the respective governments will allow it.

It’s another layer of complexity airline route planners have to wade through when building schedules. Given that the United States isn’t in a position to be included in a travel bubble for the time being, no matter how tired Americans get of sitting at home, it’s not going to happen until the virus situation is under control. Without significant action to contain the spread of the virus in the United States, international air travel will continue to be muted regardless of how hard we try to ignore the virus.


  • Hemal took his first flight at four years old and has been an avgeek since then. When he isn't working as an analyst he's frequently found outside watching planes fly overhead or flying in them. His favorite plane is the 747-8i which Lufthansa thankfully flies to EWR allowing for some great spotting. He firmly believes that the best way to fly between JFK and BOS is via DFW and is always willing to go for that extra elite qualifying mile.

Hemal Gosai
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