Airlines quickly cancel flights amid changing European entry regulations

Sep 6, 2021

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It’s like March 2020 all over again.

On Friday, news broke that the Netherlands would reimpose stringent entry restrictions on Americans. The country will only allow vaccinated Americans to visit with a recent negative COVID-19 test — along with a mandatory 10-day quarantine (that can be shortened to five days subject to a strict testing regimen).

Of course, the strict testing and quarantine requirement all but closes the country to American tourists. While the implications are far-reaching, airlines are already pivoting less than 24 hours since the rule has been in place.

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The flag carrier of the Netherlands, KLM, quickly responded to the news with a strongly worded, three-paragraph statement. Most notably, the airline will cancel service from Amsterdam (AMS) to Orlando (MCO), Miami (MCO) and Las Vegas (LAS) — three routes that were on the docket to take off this winter season from Oct. 31, 2021, through March 26, 2022. In fact, Orlando was even going to be a new pin for the airline’s route map, served in a triangle route along with Miami.

Travellers with confirmed tickets on any of the affected flights can request a full refund once the cancellations are loaded into the airline schedules next week.

Other than KLM, the three major U.S. carriers serve Amsterdam with multiple daily transatlantic flights from various hubs in the U.S. It remains to be seen if American, Delta or United will pull down service.

If history is any indication, odds are that they will. Leisure traffic to Europe is especially quiet in the winter, as schools go back to session and temperatures cool down. Combined with a restrictive entry policy, demand for flights to Amsterdam will likely plummet, leading to additional flight cancellations.

“The decision by the Dutch government is a big step backwards,” KLM’s press release reads. In late June, the Netherlands reopened to Americans with little restriction: no vaccine, negative COVID-19 test or quarantine required upon arrival.

The move to clamp down on American visitors follows the EU’s recommendation on Monday to remove the U.S. from the bloc’s “safe list.” Following the removal, each member nation must make its own decision about updating entry requirements.

So far, it appears that other EU countries will largely remain open to Americans — and KLM notes that the Netherlands’ decision is something of a canary in the airlines’ coal mine.

“Health and fighting COVID-19 are paramount but the measures taken must be effective and proportionate. It looks like other EU member states, such as Italy, France and Belgium are not putting a triple lock on the door for [travellers] from the U.S.,” the release says.

As the Netherlands closes once again to Americans, other EU nations and flag carriers should take note: Restrictive entry policies are a blow to the tourism industry.

While the Netherlands is reimposing restrictions on Americans after the EU recommendation, it’s important to note that there’s an element of reciprocity to the move. Since March 2020, EU citizens have been largely barred from entering the U.S. — with no immediate signs of the rule changing, despite Europe’s high vaccination rates.

Feature photo by Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg/Getty Images.

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