Wednesday

14th Apr 2021

How the EU thinks summer holidays can be done

  • 'The resumption of cross-border travelling is not risk-free,' warned commissioner Stella Kyriakides as she unveiled the plan (Photo: Visit Greece)

The European Commission has proposed a package of measures for the tourism sector aimed at allowing travel within the EU "in a responsible and coordinated way".

The long-awaited guidelines announced on Wednesday (13 May) focused on lifting travel and border restrictions across the EU in time for the sumer with a set of preconditions - such as sufficient testing and health care capacity, and ensuring that the number of coronavirus cases is not only decreasing but also stabilised.

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"These are going to be a different type of holidays. We must open our economy but our priority should remain to protect public health," said the commissioner for health Stella Kyriakides.

However, Kyriakides warned that "the resumption of cross-border travelling is not risk-free".

Planes and trains

Travelling will be resumed in three phases subject to certain preconditions, such as countries having similar epidemiological situations, guaranteeing enough health care and testing capacity, and having contact tracing systems in place.

The commission recommends buying tickets, reserving seats and doing check-ins online, regardless of the transport.

To avoid crowds, service suppliers should inform citizens about the average occupancy rates for particular connections or times.

In general, only passengers from the same household can sit together, disinfecting gel should be freely available during journeys (including in taxis and similar services), and foods or drinks should not be served aboard.

And all passengers are expected to wear a face mask, especially where distancing measures cannot be fully respected all the time.

The commission recommends to increase the frequency and capacity of trains, make a compulsory seat reservation on long-distance and regional trains and require passengers to leave seats empty between them for short-distance trains.

In addition to social distancing and hygiene measures, other measures on urban public transport include passengers not entering or leaving buses by the front door, opening the doors by default, disinfection of trays or appropriate ventilation.

The commission also welcomed the effort of many European cities to promote walking and cycling as a safer and more attractive option.

Aviation - the 'middle seat'

The commission does not explicitly recommend leaving the middle seat empty - the guidelines, instead, advise exploring "the most appropriate allocation of seats based on technical constraints".

However, the movement in the cabin would be reduced by, for example, allowing less cabin baggage.

Likewise, operators should minimise social contact at baggage drop-offs, security and border control points, at boarding, and during baggage collection.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the EU's Aviation Safety Agency will announce specific guidelines for airlines in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the EU's executive body insists that airlines are obliged to fully refund passengers when a flight has been cancelled.

Hotels

The commission advises hotels and other hospitality establishments to function with a reduced number of staff and develop an action plan detailing the role and responsibilities of staff members in case of a suspected case of Covid-19 among guests or staff.

The commission recommends online solutions for paying, self-check-in and check-out to minimise contact between guests and staff, as well as to establish a (digital or traditional) system for guests to book slots for meals or visits of pools.

In addition to hygiene measures, such as easy access to hand-washing facilities, the establishment should ensure that physical distancing is maintained in communal areas, such as restaurants or gyms - where a maximum number of guests should also be established.

These rules will also apply to outdoor areas, such as a beach or a pool.

If physical distancing cannot be guaranteed, alternative measures such as the use of glass or plastic panels, or wearing of masks, should be granted.

However, staff and guests are encouraged to use face masks but "only as a complementary measure".

Likewise, large scale events, such as concerts, should be postponed.

Quarantine?

A few EU countries, such as Spain, Italy the UK and the Baltics, have recently imposed or plan to require a 14-day quarantine on travellers entering their territory.

However, the commission warned member states that quarantine measure must follow the principles of "proportionality and non-discrimination".

This also applies when lifting border restrictions, which means that all EU citizens should be allowed to cross a border once it is open, regardless of their nationality.

"If the measures of containment are aligned among member states, it should not be necessary to impose quarantine when people [EU citizens] arrive," said commissioner Kyriakides.

Additionally, the commission's guidelines indicate that this set of measures should be regularly re-evaluated and adjusted to remain aligned to the public health needs.

Yet, how these recommendations will apply across Europe still remains in the hand of each EU country.

EU to unveil summer holiday plans amid Schengen fears

The European Commission is set to announce a three-phase approach on Wednesday to gradually reopen internal borders. However, concerns over how the principle of free movement in the EU will be affected is growing - as countries announce different approaches.

EU Commission clash with countries over travel refund

Twelve EU countries have asked the commission to temporarily suspend rules that require travel operators to provide cash refunds for cancelled trips. The commission argues consumers have to be protected - and that vouchers should be made more attractive.

'Passengers' became 'lenders' to airlines hit by pandemic

When airlines ignore refund claims, reject them or are only willing to offer vouchers or rebooking, they act against EU regulations. "In each of these cases airlines use their customers as lenders," warns one legal expert.

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