MIAMI – Unrestricted travel between the US and the EU may soon be possible for vaccinated passengers, according to the European Commission.

EU President Ursula Von der Leyen cited in an interview with the New York Times from April 25 the fast pace of vaccination in the United States, along with advanced discussions among EU officials about vaccine certificates, as the primary reasons for this development and the positive comments from the EU representative.

As expected, Von der Leyen’s comments have drummed up considerable enthusiasm within the airline industry.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said Willie Walsh, Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “It gives hope to people for so many reasons—to travel, to reunite with loved ones, to develop business opportunities or to get back to work.”

An American Airlines Boeing 737-800 touches down. Could American be the first airline to bring American travelers back to Europe for tourism after a year of travel restrictions? Photo: Michael Rodeback/Airways

Cautious Optimism, Travel Pass Adoption

Walsh is optimistic, though he also impressed the need for clear goalposts and regulations that would permit unrestricted travel. One solution would be for the EU to adopt the IATA’s own Travel Pass. The IATA Travel Pass, according to Walsh, would allow for “clear, simple, and secure digital processes” to verify vaccination status.

“We are still awaiting the development of globally recognized standards for digital vaccine certificates,” Walsh admitted. “As a first step, it is vital that the EU accelerates adoption of the European Green Certificate.”

The European Green Certificate, first proposed in March 2021, would use QR codes to provide digital proof that a person has either been vaccinated, received a negative COVID-19 test result, or recovered from COVID-19. These digital certificates are booked for a mid-June release, if all goes according to plan.

IATA would also like to see protocols that would allow unvaccinated passengers to enter the EU, such as verification of negative COVID-19 test results.

“The freedom to travel must not be restricted to only those who have access to vaccinations,” Walsh said. “Vaccines are not the only way to safely re-open borders. Government risk-models should also include COVID-19 testing.”

Walsh would also like to see the EU open their borders to other countries with similar vaccination programs.

KLM Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner PH-BKC. Miles Aronoviz/Airways

Approved Vaccines Conducive to Relaxed Travel Restrictions

Von der Leyen pointed out in her New York Times interview that the chief medical bodies in the US and the EU both approved the use of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. This, she believes, is a reason to relax travel restrictions.

According to Walsh, many countries have approved at least one of those three vaccines for use.

“…it is imperative that the EC works with the industry so that airlines can plan within the public health benchmarks and timelines that will enable unconditional travel for those vaccinated, not just from the US but from all countries using vaccines that are approved by the European Medicines Association.”

The EU has also permitted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which could open the door to other countries.

Featured image: BLufthansa D-AIXO Airbus A350-941 – Photo: John Leivaditis/Airways