Patchwork of Travel Restrictions Hinder Asia-Pac Reopening

 - May 29, 2020, 11:26 AM
Singapore's Changi Airport plans to reopen to international traffic on June 2. (Photo: Changi Airport Group)

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

As Asian airlines continue to shift into a phase of recovery, revealing plans to restore domestic routes, the reintroduction of international operations is proving more complex as governments across the region apply divergent policies on reopening borders to the traveling public.

Applying a cautious recovery strategy, China recently announced plans to maintain regular international travel restrictions until June 30 under its so-called “Five-One policy.” The order limits foreign carriers to one flight per week to China and caps domestic airlines at one weekly international flight from one Chinese city to one foreign city.

However, the application of the model drew fire in Washington last week, when the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) accused China of violating its bilateral agreement between the two sides after failing to respond to June passenger flight requests from United Airlines and Delta Air Lines.  U.S. authorities—apparently viewing this as a matter of trade policy, rather than public health—have introduced punitive measures, requiring Chinese airlines to file flight plans at least 30 days in advance for all U.S.-bound flights.

Beijing denounced the newly imposed restrictions and moved on May 27 to extend its “green channel” policy, which allows for international charter flights to the mainland alongside an expedited approval process of three days. South Korea became the first country to adopt the agreement in early May.

Since then, China has allowed business travelers entry into 10 Chinese regions provided they receive an invitation from a local company, screen their own health for two weeks, and get tested for the virus 72 hours before departure. Once in China, travelers must quarantine for up to two days and undergo a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) swab test. Chinese business travelers visiting South Korea must undergo similar screening protocols. Chinese authorities did not confirm whether future charters would undergo the same entry procedures.

Elsewhere in Asia, governments continue to take a more conservative approach to re-opening its borders to foreign visitors. Hong Kong International will begin allowing transit flights from June 1 but will continue to restrict non-residents from entering the city. All transit passengers must wear a face mask and undergo temperature screening upon their arrival. Singapore will enact similar measures at Changi Airport when it reopens to international traffic on June 2. Meanwhile, Cambodia has opened its borders to travelers from six countries (Iran, Italy, Germany, Spain, France, and the U.S.), provided they hold a medical certificate, undergo a PCR swab test, and show proof of an insurance policy with a minimum medical coverage of not less than $50,000.

With masks, medical certificates, and quarantine measures becoming an increasingly ubiquitous part of air travel, the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) is urging countries to take a more streamlined approach as border restrictions continue to relax.

“Whilst severe travel restrictions continue to limit the early restart of aviation activity, there are some encouraging signs in the market,’’ said Subhas Menon, AAPA Director-General in a statement. “However, patchy, uncoordinated measures across countries, including various screening protocols and often onerous quarantine requirements, are deterring passengers from flying, and slowing the process of restarting aviation…The progressive resumption of international air services will only be possible if a globally harmonized, outcome-based mitigation framework is adopted across countries.”