Today is April 10th, 2020, barely a soul on earth is traveling internationally. Can you believe that? We are grounded.
What has happened? Future TCC members reading this message 50 years down the road need to know that the world has just been brought to its knees by a cunning virus known as Covid-19! This bloody virus is affecting every community on earth and the results are unraveling everything good about travel.
So what can possibly be relevant to readers in six weeks when the Centurian is published? Many of you know I am an “airline guy” with a 25-year career in aviation. I’ve seen a lot having been in the front and centre during SARs, the shoe bomber, and even 9/11. However, this is so much different. The ramifications of this plague feel biblical.
Allow me to offer a perspective of what brought us to this moment. It all started with Australia and the United States becoming the first countries to place a ban on entry to citizens and residents of China at the end of January. How does an airline manage these restrictions?
Airlines and travel agents use an IATA online tool called Timatic. Quite simply, this is a system that verifies a passenger’s details (travel documents) and compares these to his destination and transit requirements. Compliance is key. Border control regulations determine a traveller’s eligibility to continue and it is imperative that both travellers and the airline stay current with changes.
There have been moderate border changes over the past few decades, but most of these have made it significantly easier for passport holders to see the world. Timatic updates usually occur once a month and are barely noticeable.
So what happened in February? Many other countries followed the original ban and did the same. However, this then progressed to isolating residents and citizens of Iran and Italy. Italy? One of our favourite travel destinations on earth?
Timatic updates of systematic closure of borders that happened once a week at first quickly advanced—like the virus—to every few days.The biggest blow was the global pandemic announcement on March 11th. Updates now streamed in daily until it felt logarithmic. Most of my time was occupied with briefing staff on an update and awaiting the next update. It was insanity!
By March, European Schengen nations were being blocked off from the world, and then the unimaginable occurred. Countries ordered their citizens to return home immediately. Phones were busy and the airport lines endless. This worked for most, but for some it resulted in despair. I specifically remember speaking to an Indian family on mixed passports who could not travel back to India because their infant held a Canadian passport.Truly heartbreaking.
Later, TCC members reached out to share their struggle to return home. Avi Ivan was fortunate to catch the last flight out of São Tomé to Lisbon and then home to the United States. It took a small miracle for our most traveled Chinese member Jinsheng Han to get home to Shanghai on April 4th after several attempted routings from Mexico. And then we have Art Smith who has been stranded in Saudi Arabia since March 12th. There is no end to his visit in sight. What does he do?
It no longer feels like the world is closing. It is closed! Mostly domestic flights remain, the airports are empty and travel is now paralyzed.
We have so many questions, but “how do we restart international travel?” seems to be most relevant to global airlines. I don’t have an answer but I predict domestic travel will return first, and then countries will relax Timatic requirements based on similar health policies. This is not going to be easy.
However, I do offer hope which can be found in club fraternity. For the first time in club history, almost every member is at home. I’m already inspired by what I see—so many of you are connecting online and sharing stories. If you have not been able to participate, contact us and we will be pleased to help.
And I challenge you. You are among the greatest world travellers! Better than anyone else, you know how to overcome obstacles. In- spire your family, friends, colleagues and community, and be the leaders in restoring global confidence in travel.
More than ever … World travel is the pass- port to peace through understanding.
Blessings and happy travels (soon)!