LONDON – The world’s airlines are betting on vaccines to restart international travel.
Two of Europe’s largest airlines, British Airways ICAGY -1.96%
and the low-cost airline Ryanair Holdings RYAAY 0.85%
PLC, has started allowing travelers to provide details of Covid and vaccination test results along with personal data, such as passport numbers and visa information, during bookings. Airlines say the measure will eventually help passengers prove they have been vaccinated when they land at destinations that have begun receiving vaccinated travelers.
Across the United States, domestic travel is on the rebound, amid Covid-19 cases stabilizing or declining and a relatively rapid vaccination campaign. That spike is yet to manifest itself in international travel, where a patchwork of travel bans, quarantine rules and testing requirements have hampered cross-border flights.
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US domestic carriers have increased scheduled capacity by more than 50% between September and March, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. Meanwhile, global capacity on all international routes has increased by just over 7%.
British Airways, Ryanair and other airlines that rely on international travel hope to boost ticket sales by capitalizing on nascent optimism about vaccines. The move is not the type of vaccination passport that some governments and international agencies are considering creating to help unlock economies affected by the pandemic. Countries have pondered documents that would allow vaccinated residents to visit bars and restaurants, or go to the office or a sporting event.
Instead, it’s a more modest effort to make it easier to store and view Covid-19 vaccination and testing records for passengers who are considering taking advantage of the early welcome from some countries to vaccinated travelers. The goal is to make the transition to post-pandemic flights as easy as possible, minimizing fears of being denied entry at the borders and limiting the amount of time a passenger must spend at airport check-in.
British Airways is also moving at a time when its local market, the UK, is benefiting from one of the fastest vaccine launches in the world. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month unveiled plans that could lead to the lifting of a month-long ban on foreign travel in May. Airlines reported an increase in bookings after Johnson’s briefing. TUI AG
, Europe’s largest tour operator, recorded a 500% weekly increase in travel bookings to Turkey, Greece and Spain.
Cyprus and Greece, which have intermittently closed their borders to most tourists, have said they would start welcoming British visitors without restrictions if they can show they have received the two-dose vaccine. Both will reopen to visitors from the UK from early and mid-May respectively. In Iceland, the government is allowing any inbound vaccinated traveler to bypass Covid-19 health screening protocols.
China said on Tuesday it was easing travel restrictions for vaccinated foreigners. Chinese embassies in the US, Italy, India, the Philippines and elsewhere plan to offer “visa facilitation” to foreign applicants who can certify that they have been vaccinated. Travelers are still subject to a negative Covid-19 test and quarantine, and there’s another catch: The only vaccine that qualifies is one made by China. Those are hard to find in much of the West.
As part of its plan to facilitate travel after a pandemic, British Airways, the largest airline owned by International Consolidated Airlines Group SA
—It will allow passengers to upload Covid-19 inoculation tests and negative tests when they make a reservation on its website. By reviewing health documentation uploaded by passengers, British Airways can verify that passenger documents are in order, just as airlines already do for various traveler visa requirements.
The first flights for which data can be sent are those from London to India. India does not require a vaccine for travel, but it does require proof of a negative Covid-19 test.
“We are preparing for the significant return of international travel in the coming months,” said British Airways Chief Executive Sean Doyle. “This means doing everything possible to simplify our customers’ journey.”
Ryanair, Europe’s biggest traffic, has developed a similar “travel wallet” tool on its website and mobile app. He said he is bracing for a surge in pent-up demand in May and June once the highest-risk populations in Europe have been vaccinated.
“Many Ryanair customers will take their first vacation in more than a year, following the new travel guidelines,” said Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Dara Brady. The travel wallet will allow passengers to store all their Covid documents “in one place with no hassle or paperwork to worry about.”
As vaccination programs accelerate around the world, airlines are testing a number of other ways to make it easier for passengers to navigate the different international Covid-19 health regimens. Airlines including Singapore Airlines Limited.
, Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways have been working with the International Air Transport Association, an airline trade body, to test a system called the Travel Pass. The system, which includes a mobile app, aims to allow passengers to demonstrate vaccination and testing records for Covid-19, while identifying testing and vaccination requirements for different locations and local testing centers accessible during the trip. .
American carriers have also turned to new apps to help passengers keep track of various travel requirements and upload test results – systems that could eventually be used for vaccine records.
Israel, ahead of most countries in its vaccination campaign, has implemented a vaccine passport that allows citizens to verify their vaccinations to visit hotels and gyms, a move that the UK government has said it is also exploring. actually. Israel’s borders are still effectively closed to foreign visitors.
The European Union plans to present a “digital green pass” for EU citizens later on Wednesday that records Covid-19 test results and vaccinations to allow travel within the EU for both work and tourism. Governments across the Mediterranean are pushing for the measure to be implemented in time to avoid a lost second summer season for their ailing tourism industry.
—Alison Sider in Chicago contributed to this article.
Write to Benjamin Katz at [email protected]
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