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Arrival walkway at Qingdao, China’s Jiaodong Airport. (Photo: Lei Yan)

Opinion: End of Testing Does Not Mean an End to All Travel Restrictions

With the U.S. government removing pre-departure testing for flights into the country, airlines and tour operators on both sides of the Atlantic are expecting a bumper summer. This comes as great news to businesses and travelers alike as international travel has seen increased demand as countries lift testing and quarantine restrictions.

According to CNN, London saw numbers of airline passengers from the U.S. that ‘nearly reached pre-pandemic levels during the week of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in early June. This was a week before the lifting of testing restrictions back to the U.S. with the report stating that 2022 will be ‘three seasons in one.’

Though the news of the removal of U.S. pre-departure testing is a positive one that many other countries adopted earlier, there is still a range of restrictions that travelers may face. The need to prove vaccination status is one requirement that a number of destinations impose. To be certain that there will be no impediments to arrival processing the onus is on travelers to ensure that they meet the individual country’s definition of vaccination status.

Some countries require that inbound visitors have received the initial program of vaccinations plus a booster within a specific timeframe. Other countries will accept just the initial dose or doses of specific vaccines while others do not consider vaccination status at all. Proof of status in a specific language or language also needs to be a consideration.

In addition to this, there may be a need to fill out supplemental information for arrival and this can be confusing for some. The U.S. has an ‘Attestation’ requirement and certain countries have an online or paper ‘Passenger Locator Form’ (PLF) each with its own levels of detail.

The management of these requirements has added a significant amount of stress to the traveling experience and a logistical undertaking for airlines.

As someone who has traveled to a number of countries over the last two years the need to keep up-to-date with the needs of each country has been a significant undertaking prior to each trip. On one occasion the rules changed just days before travel which necessitated an adjustment and scramble for local testing.

With the need for ‘travel testing’ diminishing around the world, it will become more difficult and potentially more expensive to meet the requirements for those countries that still require a test. As a result, travelers may continue to pass on visiting or seek alternative destinations rather than enduring added time and expense.

An element that frustrates travelers as air travel demand rises is the inconsistency in which the restrictions have been managed. Some airlines have adapted online processes to pre-check the documents of their passengers to minimize check-in times. Others have restricted online check-in in favor of manual checks at the airport contributing to congestion and delays.

One thing has been clear and that is the reliance on technology to assist in facilitating the processing of passengers and the varying travel requirements.  For several countries I visited, it was clear that some of the processes and interactions between airlines and the government requirements were still to be clearly established.

Of course, the situation has been ‘unprecedented’ and aviation has had to respond to changing rules with sometimes minimal notice. From my experiences I have found the frontline staff whether at check-in or customs and immigration have been welcoming and patient. Though the pandemic is certainly not completely over with the lessening of travel restrictions in major tourism markets, it is to be hoped that the learnings from the last two years can be analyzed to create future consistent processes.

Author

  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John is currently the course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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