COVID times: Airlines industry awaits guidelines for vaccinated passengers
Many countries, including India, might have embarked on ambitious vaccination drives to curb coronavirus infections, but the airline industry is still waiting for global guidelines on overseas travel for individuals vaccinated against COVID.
An official of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Monday told PTI that regulations and restrictions to travel are determined by governments, but expressed hope that governments will consider relaxing travel restrictions for vaccinated persons.
A global airlines'' grouping, IATA has nearly 290 members, including Air India, IndiGo, Vistara and SpiceJet.
While air traffic is picking up in different parts of the world, regulations on travel are decided by respective governments of countries and there are expectations that the World Health Organisation (WHO) might come out with global guidance that will help air travel of vaccinated passengers.
Currently, countries have different rules for international passengers, including that they need to carry COVID-negative certificates and quarantine themselves for a specific period.
In mid-January, the Travel Agents'' Association of India (TAAI) had written to the Indian government, urging it to come out with guidelines for travellers, both domestic and international, who have been vaccinated against COVID.
The grouping, which has more than 2,500 Indian companies that are actively involved in tourism as members, is awaiting directions from the government on requisite travel protocols.
TAAI President Jyoti Mayal told PTI that it is awaiting directions from the government on travel protocols for people who have been vaccinated against COVID.
"Different countries and authorities have a different set of rules. At present, there is no clarity regarding the travel of vaccinated people to and from India," she said.
IATA Regional Director for Airports and External Relations (Asia Pacific) Vinoop Goel said regulations and restrictions related to travel are determined by governments, adding that it hopes that the governments will consider relaxing travel restrictions for vaccinated persons.
He was responding to a query on whether there are SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for people who are vaccinated against COVID and want to travel abroad.
He pointed out that IATA does not certify vaccinations and that is the purview of respective governments and their departments of health.
"But we are also looking to WHO to provide global guidance to avoid issues such as the one mentioned above. But we also envisage that there will be alternate protocols (e.g. testing) to cater to passengers who may not have been vaccinated as per the destination country requirements," he said.
The reply was to whether there was any particular list of vaccines being recognised globally by the airline industry and IATA. He was also asked what will be the SOPs in case a vaccinated person wants to travel to another country, where that particular vaccine taken by the person is yet to be approved.
IATA is also developing the ''IATA Travel Pass'', a mobile app to help passengers easily and securely manage their travel in line with government requirements for COVID-19 tests or vaccines.
India suspended scheduled commercial international flight operations from March 23 last year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, the suspension has been extended till March 31.
Now, international flight services to and from India are allowed under Vande Bharat Mission since May 2020 and bilateral air bubble agreements with certain countries since July.
India has entered into 27 air bubble agreements, as per data available on the civil aviation ministry website. The pacts are with various European and African countries, the USA and Canada, among others.
Overseas flights are also permitted on select routes on a case-to-case basis.
India started vaccination against COVID for those over 60 years, and within the age bracket of 45 to 59 years with specified comorbidities from Monday.