Full impact of UK flight ban not yet known; Dozens of flights scrapped
About a half-day after the Netherlands banned all passenger flights originating in the United Kingdom from landing in the Netherlands, it was still not entirely clear how many people were immediately affected nor how many people would be affected for the duration of the ban.
The Dutch government made the decision at about midnight at the start of Sunday due to a new, more contagious mutation of the coronavirus that has been circulating in the UK, which prompted parts of that country to go into a strict lockdown on Saturday night.
At least three dozen passenger flights set to arrive in Amsterdam were cancelled, according to data from Schiphol Airport, KLM and British Airways.
KLM alone cancelled 17 flights from London, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester, and British Airways had nine flights which were annulled.
A KLM spokesperson told the NL Times that they are flying passengers from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, but the flights, which were originally ticketed journeys, will return as cargo flights without any passengers on board.
Similarly, several British Airways departures from Schiphol were not immediately cancelled, though EasyJet did cross off their immediate round trip journeys.
Early Sunday morning, Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge sent a letter to Parliament in which he announced the flight ban. “With a view to limiting the risk that [the new variant of the coronavirus] will also spread in the Netherlands, RIVM (the Dutch Public Health Agency) has advised to take measures with regard to the United Kingdom.
The ban was to last until the very beginning of New Year’s Day
Following this advice from the RIVM, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, at the request of the Minister of Health, Welfare, and Sport, has decided to impose a flight ban for air traffic with passengers from the United Kingdom as of 20 December 2020 at 06:00 local time.” The ban was to last until the very beginning of New Year’s Day.
A spokesperson for Schiphol Airport told the NL Times that the airport’s CEO, Dick Benschop, was notified by members of the Dutch government around midnight, at about the time Minister Hugo de Jonge’s letter was submitted to Parliament. In his letter, Minister de Jonge adds that “the government is aware of the fact that imposing a flight ban is a very serious measure, but considers this measure to be justified in view of the situation.”
Additional travel restrictions cannot be ruled out. Minister de Jonge announced that “the government is investigating the possibilities for additional measures for modes of transport other than aviation.” Because of this warning, the representatives of both KLM and Schiphol told NL Times that ticketed passengers should stay in contact with their travel providers, and monitor the situation closely for developments.
As far back as October, the Dutch government began advising people in the Netherlands not to travel internationally except for urgent reasons. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a press conference that the advice would remain in place until mid-January, and during his televised address on Monday, he extended that period into March.
Ask our neighbouring countries to discourage traveling to the Netherlands
“And of course, we will also ask our neighbouring countries to discourage traveling to the Netherlands. From tomorrow [15 December], all citizens from non-EU countries must be able to submit a negative [Covid] test if they come to our country from outside Europe,” he said. That restriction was only to apply to the United Kingdom from 2021 when the transitional Brexit period expires.
The announcement came abruptly, and many travelers from different countries took to social media to ask questions about their flight to the Netherlands. Schiphol advised confused passengers on Twitter, stating that “they should consult the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for questions about entry requirements for the Netherlands, travelling from the United Kingdom or vice versa.”
British Airways made similar recommendations, telling one customer, “we’d recommend you check the government website for further information. As always, if a customer’s flight is cancelled they are entitled to a full refund or a voucher, and we always contact any customers whose flights may be affected to discuss their options.”
Back in early June, when the country opened up more fully after the first wave of infections, Rutte said the Dutch government would not likely assist with repatriation flights if residents of the Netherlands get stuck abroad. “People know what the risks are, even if the situation suddenly changes in a country when it is faced with a sudden major outbreak.”