KLM Will Not Be Suspending Long-Haul Flights After All

a plane parked on a runway

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Last week, the government of the Netherlands voted to introduce new strict domestic restrictions on the movement of its citizens and, following that announcement, there were strong indications that the national airline, KLM, was set to suspend all international flights from last Friday.

Friday came and went and KLM didn’t announce a suspension and then, over the weekend, we saw an announcement that an agreement had been reached between the airline and the Dutch authorities that should see the airline continuing to operate its reduced international services.

The Issue

Among the new measures announced in last Wednesday’s press conference, the Dutch government confirmed that from Saturday, 23 January 2021, it will require all passengers traveling to the Netherlands or the Dutch islands in the Caribbean to produce a negative result from a rapid COVID-19 test that was taken no more than four hours prior to boarding their aircraft or ship.

Not only does this new rule come in addition to the requirement for a passenger to show proof of a negative test result from a PCR test performed no more than 72 hours before arrival in the Netherlands, and on top of the requirement for all travelers to self-quarantine for up to 10 days on arrival in the country, but it applies to airline crews as well as to passengers.

With only a limited number of ports around the world offering rapid COVID testing that can return a result within 4 hours, the new rule places severe restrictions on travel to the Netherlands and, in KLM’s view, places unworkable restrictions upon the country’s airline industry (hence the threat to suspend all international flights).

The Agreement

On Saturday (the day the new rules came into effect), KLM announced that it had reached an agreement with the Dutch authorities that would allow it to continue to operate its international schedule. This is what the airline had to say:

“After constructive consultations with the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), KLM has developed a safe alternative testing protocol for crews leaving the airport in countries that are not on the governmental list of safe countries. This includes an alternative whereby, among other things, the rapid antigen test for this crew will be arranged at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol before departing from and after returning to the Netherlands. In addition, there are local safety guidelines at the destinations. The government has indicated that this protocol meets the requirements.”

The key issue had been that KLM crews would not have access to rapid testing at most of the international destinations that the airline currently serves, but the Dutch authorities have now said that crew members returning from countries in which the required tests cannot be performed, will still be in compliance with the new rules if they take a rapid antigen test immediately upon their return to Amsterdam.

While this agreement makes life a lot easier for KLM’s crews and allows the airline to continue operating its international routes, it doesn’t appear to make life any easier for international travelers.

KLM’s statement confirms that “for a number of customers, the imposed 4-hour limit for this antigen test also causes practical problems” and goes on to say that it will help customers where possible, but there’s no indication that travelers will be allowed to take a rapid antigen test upon arrival into Amsterdam if such a test was not available in the country they’re traveling from.

This may change in the coming days as the rules are further clarified (and possibly refined) but for now, travelers should assume that a negative result from an antigen test taken no more than 4 hours before departure is required for entry into the Netherlands.

Bottom Line

The threat of KLM suspending all of its international routes appears to have been averted but the strict new testing requirements imposed on international travelers by the Dutch government are still in place. As of 23 January, flights from the UK, South Africa, and South America are banned, and travelers are now expected to produce a negative result from a rapid antigen test taken no more than four hours prior to boarding.