Common travel zone delay casts shadow when reopening
Visiting Dublin Airport over the past 14 months has been a pretty bizarre experience.
I went there several times during this time for business reasons and each time I never failed to realize how strange the place is without passengers.
With departure and arrival lobbies largely empty, and most retail and hospitality units closed, the cavernous expanses of both terminals resonate with the sound of silence.
Fortunately, for the thousands of workers whose livelihoods depend on the occupation, there is now a clearer path to these days of restless return.
After more than a year remained largely entrenched due to the decline in international travel linked to the pandemic, operators of all airports, as well as airlines, tour operators and travel agents now have a date for the resumption of operations. services.
July 19 should, if the public health situation continues to improve, herald the beginning of the end of the biggest crisis affecting all sectors.
From that date, passengers who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 and have an EU Covid digital certificate, will again be able to travel abroad to EU countries and possibly even further afield. .
Although mandatory hotel quarantine will remain in place in some states where Covid-19 levels remain high.
Airlines, ferry operators and airports have been searching for certainty of a recovery date for some time.
Aircraft need to be prepared, personnel prepared, routes planned and reservations made, which takes time.
Companies in the sector would obviously have preferred it to be even earlier, with Ryanair calling for a recovery from early July.
They argued that Ireland is an outlier in Europe and is slowly emerging from the pitfalls when it comes to restoring connectivity, a claim backed up by data.
According to the European air traffic control agency, Eurocontrol, last week flights to and from Ireland decreased by 83% compared to 2019.
By comparison, the average of its 41 member countries is a reduction of 60% from two years ago.
But the government says it needs time to implement the EU’s new certification system, and it also appears that an additional buffer of a few weeks may be helpful in bringing vaccination rates to a level. as high as possible before opening.
Companies in the industry also know it could have been worse, with government officials suggesting as late as last week that passengers may have had to wait until early August before they could board a flight to go on vacation again.
Daa, which operates Dublin and Cork airports, was therefore pleased that there is now a date to be set and is committed to working with the airlines to resume service as quickly as possible.
But he also warned that it could be 2024 or 2025 before traffic levels return to 2019 levels.
Travel agents and incoming tour operators have also welcomed the certainty, although they have warned that with the necessary lead over a period of months that consumers and the industry need, precious time has already been lost. lost for this summer at least.
What has gone far less well, however, is the government’s decision to block the takeover of the Common Travel Zone (CTA) between Ireland and the UK for a bit longer.
As it stands, while passengers arriving in Great Britain from Ireland do not need to be quarantined, those arriving in Ireland from Great Britain do.
Given the strong social and economic ties between the two countries, many believed that CTA would be re-established before EU roads.
In 2019, the year before the outbreak of the pandemic, a third of the nearly 38 million passengers arriving here were from the UK.
But the government is increasingly concerned about the growth in the UK of the Covid-19 variant originating in India, with the number of cases in England having doubled last week.
And so he is cautious, choosing to wait a bit longer before restoring the CTA, even if the duration is unclear.
For airlines, including Ryanair and ferry operators, such as Stena Line, who called for the takeover of CTA, the news fell like a balloon of lead.
“The Indian variant is as common in Northern Ireland as it is in the UK, but the border to Northern Ireland remains wide open,” the airline said in a generally candid statement.
“This Indian ‘scariant’ is a false excuse when all the evidence confirms that Covid vaccines are effective against the Indian variant / scariant.”
The CTA problem is not only an economic inconvenience, but also a personal one for the thousands of Irish residents who have family and friends in Britain, and the very large numbers of Irish living in Britain who cannot return. spend time with people they love. here.
As an island economy and highly dependent on foreign direct investment and tourism, it will be critical to restore connectivity to pre-pandemic levels.
Rebuilding it will be a slow process and there is no doubt that Irish airports will be competing with hundreds of people across Europe to reclaim routes that have been wiped out over the past year.
Getting there will require continued government assistance for some time as travel and tourism businesses are slowly weaned from the financial supports they rely on.
Travel in the future can be very different, with requirements for vaccines, testing, and other protocols in place.
But at least now the clouds are starting to clear and the blue sky is appearing.
Hopefully in a few weeks many will be back in that sky as the recovery in aviation and tourism finally takes off in a meaningful way.