Full impact of UK flight ban not yet known; Dozens of flights scrapped
About a half-day after the Netherlands banned all passenger flights originating in the United Kingdom from landing in the Netherlands, it was still not entirely clear how many people were immediately affected nor how many people would be affected for the duration of the ban. The Dutch government made the decision at about midnight at the start of Sunday due to a new, more contagious mutation of the coronavirus that has been circulating in the UK, which prompted parts of that country to go into a strict lockdown on Saturday night.
At least three dozen passenger flights set to arrive in Amsterdam were cancelled, according to data from Schiphol Airport, KLM and British Airways. KLM alone cancelled 17 flights from London, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester, and British Airways had nine flights which were annulled. A KLM spokesperson told the NL Times that they are flying passengers from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, but the return leg of those flights, which were originally ticketed journeys, will return as cargo flights without any passengers on board.
Similarly, several British Airways departures from Schiphol were not immediately cancelled, though EasyJet did cross off their round trip journeys.
A spokesperson for Schiphol Airport told the NL Times that the airport’s CEO, Dick Benschop, was notified by members of the Dutch government around midnight, at about the time Health Minister Hugo de Jonge’s letter announcing the flight ban was submitted to Parliament. In his letter, Minister de Jonge adds that “the government is aware of the fact that imposing a flight ban is a very serious measure, but considers this measure to be justified in view of the situation.”
De Jonge said the decision was on the advice of public health agency RIVM because of a new coronavirus mutation. “With a view to limiting the risk that this variant will also spread in the Netherlands, the RIVM has advised to take measures with regard to the United Kingdom.” The advice led the Ministers for Health and Infrastructure “to impose a flight ban for air traffic with passengers from the United Kingdom as of 20 December 2020 at 06:00 local time,” which was initially expected to last until the very beginning of New Year’s Day.
Warnings that travel restrictions could change quickly and become more strict
Data from the RIVM showed that, since the end of August, 164 people tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection within two weeks of traveling from the UK to the Netherlands. The new variant first showed up in the Netherlands in early December.
Additional travel restrictions cannot be ruled out. Minister de Jonge announced that “the government is investigating the possibilities for additional measures for modes of transport other than aviation.” Because of this warning, the representatives of both KLM and Schiphol told NL Times that ticketed passengers should stay in contact with their travel providers, and monitor the situation closely for developments.
In his letter, De Jonge reiterated, “that foreign travel is a substantial risk for the spread of Covid-19 and that, in the light of the current epidemiological situation, travel to and from the Netherlands is strongly discouraged. It is irresponsible to travel abroad if not strictly necessary, and the Cabinet calls on everyone to follow this urgent advice.”
The Dutch government began tightening up its advice that people in the Netherlands not travel internationally except for urgent reasons in the fall. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a press conference that the advice would remain in place until mid-January, and during his televised address on Monday, he extended that period into March.
“And of course, we will also ask our neighboring countries to discourage traveling to the Netherlands. From tomorrow [15 December], all citizens from non-EU countries must be able to submit a negative [Covid] test if they come to our country from outside Europe,” he said. That restriction was only to apply to the United Kingdom from 2021 when the transitional Brexit period expires.
As from Sunday 20 Dec 6:00 AM, there is a travel ban on passenger flights from the United Kingdom to the Netherlands. Flights are suspended until at least 1 January 00:00 AM. Travellers are advised to contact their airline or to visit https://t.co/deq33WSLKT for more information— Schiphol (@Schiphol) December 20, 2020
The announcement came abruptly, and many travelers from different countries took to social media to ask questions about their flight to the Netherlands. Schiphol advised confused passengers on Twitter, stating that “they should consult the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for questions about entry requirements for the Netherlands, travelling from the United Kingdom or vice versa.”
British Airways made similar recommendations, telling one customer, “we’d recommend you check the government website for further information. As always, if a customer’s flight is cancelled they are entitled to a full refund or a voucher, and we always contact any customers whose flights may be affected to discuss their options.”
In early June, when the country opened up more fully after the first wave of infections, Rutte said the Dutch government would not likely assist with repatriation flights if residents of the Netherlands get stuck abroad. “People know what the risks are, even if the situation suddenly changes in a country when it is faced with a sudden major outbreak.”