Airlines have welcomed comments by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen suggesting vaccinated travelers from the US could be granted unrestricted access to Europe this northern summer.
But the International Air Transport Association has warned the devil will be in the detail.
Von der Leyen told The New York Times that she would propose that the EU’s 27 member states accept visitors who have received EU-approved vaccines. The vaccines so far approved by European Medicines Agency are Pfizer, Astra Zeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” von der Leyen told the Times in an interview. “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union.
Although von der Leyen did not give a timeline or details, the comments were seen as a shift in policy and were welcomed by airlines. The newspaper said her comments suggested the EC would recommend the travel policy change soon.
“This is a step in the right direction,’’ said International Air Transport Association director-general Willie Walsh.
“It gives hope to people for so many reasons—to travel, to reunite with loved ones, to develop business opportunities or to get back to work.”
However, Walsh noted that details of the EC’s intentions are essential.
“To be fully prepared, it is imperative that the EC works with the industry so that airlines can plan within the public health benchmarks and timelines that will enable unconditional travel for those vaccinated, not just from the US but from all countries using vaccines that are approved by the European Medicines Association,’’ Walsh said.
“Equally critical will be clear, simple and secure digital processes for vaccination certificates.”
“The IATA Travel Pass can help industry and governments manage and verify vaccination status, as it does with testing certificates.
“But we are still awaiting the development of globally recognized standards for digital vaccine certificates.”
Walsh called on the EU to accelerate the adoption of its Green Certificate, which will offer proof that a traveler has either been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from the disease.
The EU is proposing the free certificate will include a QR code, be in a traveler’s national language and English and valid in all EU countries.
But the IATA boss said the freedom to travel should not exclude those who are unable to be vaccinated.
“The presentation of negative COVID-19 test results should also facilitate travel,’’ he said.
“Central to this is acceptance by EU governments of rapid antigen tests that the Commission has approved for use and which fulfill the critical criteria of effective, convenient and affordable.”