KLM To Halt Intercontinental Flights

Dutch airline KLM will halt all intercontinental flights and some of its European services from Friday this week. The move is part of the government’s requirement that all travelers, including crew, must undertake both a PCR and antigen test before flying. KLM says that the move is necessary to avoid crew being stranded overseas as a result.

KLM 777-300
KLM will stop flying internationally from Friday. Photo: Getty Images

The Netherlands clamps down on COVID

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is set to fall rather quiet at the end of this week as Dutch flag carrier KLM has announced it will bring most of its flying to a halt. The airline has taken the tough decision to suspend all intercontinental flights and some of its European flights in response to the government’s new COVID requirements.

The Netherlands announced today that it would require all travelers, from all countries, to carry both a negative antigen test result and a negative PCR result before boarding a flight to the country. This is an expansion of the tighter testing requirements announced last week.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said today that the Dutch government would ban all flights from the UK, South Africa and South America for one month, starting on Saturday. The country has also implemented a strict curfew from 20:30 to 04:30 each day. The flight ban still has to be approved by parliament, which will be debated tomorrow.

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KLM halts international flights

For Dutch airline KLM, the deal-breaker is the double testing requirement. This, it says, risks leaving a member of crew stranded in a foreign country, should they test positive before the flight back home.

KLM says it will be impossible to operate international flights while this requirement is in place. In a statement to Het Parool, the airline said,

“We don’t want to run the risk of crews getting stuck in a distant country if they test positive. So from Friday, we will stop all intercontinental flights and all flights to European destinations where crews have to stay overnight.”

The airline says that the double testing requirement makes it impossible to continue. Photo: Getty Images

The impact on passenger traffic is unlikely to be significant, given the low numbers of people flying and strict travel restrictions in place. However, it’s a bit more of a concern when it comes to cargo and repatriation fights, as these too will be unable to operate. KLM continued,

“For this, too, the crew is obliged to undergo testing. We actually flew to orange and red countries for essential travel and cargo. But this is no longer possible. Then the crew would have to be excluded.”

Vaccine worries for Latin America

As well as the potential dip in cargo capacity and halt of repatriation flights, there are concerns that the mooted flight ban will have a significant effect on the distribution of the COVID vaccine to Latin American communities. Many of the Russian, Indian and Chinese-produced vaccines are shipped to South America via Schiphol, largely in the cargo hold of KLM planes.

The airline has been key in getting the vaccine into South America. Photo: KLM

Nations such as Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina have been relying on KLM to get the vaccines to their people. Now, the airline says, it must halt these activities.

While the Dutch government is clearly taking strong steps to get a hold on the spread of COVID in the country, without exemptions for airline crew, it will be impossible for KLM to resume its important services. There’s no word on how long the flight shutdown could last.