Photo credit: Avianca plane Flickr / Joao Carlos Medau
Latin America’s patchwork quilt of travel restrictions is hobbling the airline industry — and connectivity — as the region enters its peak summer season. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling for an end to quarantines and travel restrictions in favor of increased testing and tracing and the creation of travel bubbles between countries.
“Now is not the time to invent the wheel,” IATA Regional Vice President Peter Cerda told reporters on a briefing call. “The wheel has already been invented.” Instead, governments should follow established protocols for dealing with a public-health emergency.
The region’s recovery has been uneven. Uruguay is the only country the European Union says is not high risk in the Americas. It has kept its coronavirus infections low, partially due to a strict quarantine. Brazil’s domestic market has recovered to about half of what it was pre-Covid. And in Mexico, airlines are operating about 80% of their pre-pandemic capacity.
Meanwhile, several countries remain almost completely closed off. Chile is expected to resume international flights again at the end of this month, but will limit them to Santiago’s airport. Argentina had suspended all flights until this fall, but will now restrict international entry only to Argentine citizens and citizens of neighboring countries. The country imposed a 35% tax on air travel, which IATA says is further dampening already depressed demand. Colombia has eased restrictions, but limits on the number of flights are causing capacity issues in Bogota.
Unlike in Europe, there is very little cooperation among the governments in Latin America, IATA says. This is preventing a comprehensive re-opening and does not provide clarity to airlines or passengers on where they can fly and under what restrictions they will have to operate.
The association implored governments to work together to create ease restrictions and even to create travel bubbles among countries with similar infection rates. And IATA had a warning: Air connectivity will be essential to transporting vaccines when they are available, so it behooves governments to start planning to ease restrictions on the industry now.