Forcing airlines to police hotel quarantine rules ‘simply mad’

Europe’s largest airline association says staff are not trained to enforce the new requirements

Jennifer Janzen of Airlines for Europe warns of the ‘practical difficulties’ now facing airlines because of the Government’s action. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Jennifer Janzen of Airlines for Europe warns of the ‘practical difficulties’ now facing airlines because of the Government’s action. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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Making airlines responsible for policing Ireland’s mandatory hotel quarantine rules is “simply mad”, according to Europe’s largest airline association, which expressed surprise at the Government’s move.

The State’s quarantine regime – now one of the toughest in the world – has now been widened to include 16 extra countries including the US, France, Belgium and Italy.

However, Jennifer Janzen of the Brussels-based Airlines for Europe warned of the “practical difficulties” now facing airlines because of the Government’s action.

“The idea that airlines should be expected to deny boarding if passengers do not have mandatory hotel bookings on top of all the other requirements makes no sense and airline staff are simply not trained to police it.”

Airlines, she said, want “a process that will allow travellers upload the necessary documentation to their phones and then get a QR code that can be scanned at the airport”.

However, the Irish Government and others are now trying to put all the responsibility on airlines, she said: “It should not be their job to ensure passengers have negative PCR tests or mandatory bookings in hotels.”

‘Blanket restrictions’

Equally unimpressed, Virginia Lee of the European arm of Airport Council International said her organisation continues to oppose blanket quarantine rules.

“We have long advocated a risk-assessed approach which would see health-safety maintained on the basis of a combination of measures – not the imposition of blanket restrictions,” she told The Irish Times.

Meanwhile, the European Regions Airline Association director general, Montserrat Barriga, said “extreme travel restrictions – in particular quarantines – have been ineffective to combat Covid-19 “over the past year”.

A unified approach across the European Union is urgently needed, she said. “We need a clear path out of this crippling situation, and appeal to the EU member states to implement common solutions and plan ahead in a fully co-ordinated and aligned way.”

The rules, described as the “most severe in Europe”, also run the risk of damaging Ireland’s reputation among international visitors, according to the editor of Travel Extra, Eoghan Corry.

“We have spent 100 years building up a reputation as the land of welcomes and that reputation is now on the line without any clear end goal,” he said.

He suggested the aviation industry was “increasingly bewildered” by the Government’s calls for it to police quarantine rules, adding that they had already been doing it since the system was first introduced last month.

He noted that Ireland’s quarantine system was “most unusual in that includes transit passengers so even if someone spends an hour in Dubai coming from Australia they have to quarantine for 12 nights. That is causing a lot of problems and, as far as I know, we are the only country doing that.”

Self-transfer passengers

He suggested self-transfer passengers – those who travelled from an impacted country via one that was not in category 2 – may be behind a small number of walk-in bookings recorded in the four quarantine hotels in Dublin. “It is not illegal to self-transfer but it is illegal to lie to immigration officials in Dublin Airport.”

This week the Department of Transport “reminded carriers to be vigilant” on passengers from Category 2 countries boarding without a mandatory hotel booking.

However, it accepted there would be practical difficulties in policing the system and admitting that carriers have “limited capacity” to check travel histories of people.

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