Looking to visit the United States in the next month? If you’ve been in Europe’s Schengen zone that is going to be a problem. As of 13 March 2020 the US will block arrivals for all non-residents that spent time in Schengen in the 14 days prior to entering the USA.
US President Donald Trump announced the new policy in a national address from the Oval Office on Wednesday night. Except he didn’t. Rather than announcing the policy he announced something rather different than the policy.
The briefing included at least four major points incorrect or truth-adjacent. And so not only is the US implementing questionable global policies, established without consultation of the affects foreign governments, but it also managed to announce them more broadly than they really are, creating further troubles. He was, indeed, the “fake news” he so often laments.
The claim: No flights from Europe.
The reality: Non-residents that have visited the Schengen zone will not be admitted to the US within 14 days of that visit. While airlines will almost certainly cut flights as a result, flights are not prohibited.
The claim: Cargo & goods are blocked.
The reality: Cargo flights are permitted under the policy.
The claim: The UK is exempt.
The reality: This one is very much truth-adjacent. Yes, visits to the the UK are excluded as it is not in the Schengen zone. But neither is Ireland, so it is also exempt. But because the announcement was so poorly presented on air travelers to Ireland late Wednesday night were presented with a gate agent telling them they might not get back to the US if they go.
The claim: Health insurance companies “have agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments.”
The reality: The waiver applies only to testing, not to treatment. And that doesn’t address the uninsured.
Beyond dispelling the lies, it is worth examining whether the changes announced can help stem the spread of COVID-19 within the USA. And on that front the news is mixed. Limiting the flow of people can help slow the spread of any disease. That is well-established science. But the spread right now does not appear to be coming from outside the US borders. It is coming from so-called “community” related incidents. People already in the USA are ill and transmitting the disease to others. Stopping travelers from the Schengen zone may slow one pathway but that is the smaller and less significant pathway. Efforts to reduce community spread or to properly test suspected cases would likely be more effective at this time but were not addressed.
The administration also failed to identify why only the Schengen zone is included and why all of the Schengen zone is included. The UK and Ireland also have cases reported, more than some Schengen countries. The distinction does not, at first glance, make much sense.
Not surprisingly, the European Union was upset by the news. From a joint statement by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel:
The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation. The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus.
How will airlines react?
Airlines on both sides of the Atlantic will almost certainly trim flights as a result of the new rules. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are more exposed on the US side than American Airlines given the latter’s partner hub in London with British Airways.
Still, a significant portion of AA’s London traffic historically connected onward into Europe on the BA network. Demand will be down significantly. Ditto for the European side, with the Lufthansa Group carriers already reeling from other cuts now facing the loss of another significant market.
Finnair appears to be the first carrier cutting US routes wholesale for the duration of the ban.
Others will undoubtedly follow.
Hundreds of flights each day will be cancelled representing tens of thousands of seats and millions of dollars in revenue. They also represent thousands of jobs at the airlines, in the airports and at all the associated support companies. This is a massive economic blow at the global level. And what the endgame looks like remains terribly unclear.
The flights that do operate are expected to funnel through designated gateway airports on the US side, similar to how the China arrivals operated last month. Passengers should expect slower processing times as they are screened on arrival. But exactly which airports are included has not been disclosed. Likely because the decisions were not made by the time the announcement was. Oopsie.
More on COVID-19 and the airlines affected
- Alaska Airlines offers elite bonus earning in face of COVID-19 booking weakness
- Massive cuts, uncertain recovery timelines for aviation in the face of COVID-19
- Qantas cuts international 25% through September facing coronavirus-induced demand drop
- Spirit Airlines plans 5% growth reduction for April as COVID-19 hurts demand
- American Airlines slashes schedule, increases flexibility for customer rebookings
- US to block some European visitors
- Two key takeaways from American’s latest schedule cuts
- Regulators suspend slot rules, opening door to deeper airline cuts
- Beyond route cuts, airlines initiate extended suspension of operations
- Gogo looks to ride out coronavirus-related dip in demand
- Trans States Airlines: The first US airline victim of COVID-19
- JetBlue removes 40% of capacity, delays new deliveries as demand drops
- Airlines get a break on coronavirus EC261 comp, looking for more
- Airport lounges shutter as airlines slash capacity
- Will COVID-19 delay the opening of Berlin Brandenburg Airport?
- Qatar Airways plans 75% capacity cut in response to COVID-19
- Emirates, Turkish Airlines slash route networks, ground aircraft
- JetBlue plans additional draw down in service
- Is it time for US airports to start closing terminals??
- Converting to cargo: Putting passenger planes to use in the COVID-19 era