Landmark moment for tourism industry

04.05.2021 - 14:38
Fyrsta þota flugfélagsins Delta kom frá Bandaríkjunum að morgni 2. maí 2021 með á annað hundrað farþega.
 Mynd: Þórdís Arnljótsdóttir
130 passengers were aboard a scheduled Delta flight from the USA that landed on Sunday. The airline’s first flight to Iceland since COVID travel restrictions began marked a small but significant milestone for the tourism industry. It was the first in a rapidly-expanding timetable to and from North America. Fully vaccinated travellers are exempt from Iceland’s quarantine rules—as are those who have had and recovered from COVID-19.

The touchdown of the Delta Boeing 757 on Sunday marked the first scheduled passenger flights from the USA in roughly one year—apart from Icelandair’s state-supported minimal service to and from Boston throughout the pandemic.

Vaccinated passengers from outside the EU/EEA have been exempt from quarantine in Iceland since 6th April. All passengers must present certification that they are vaccinated or recovered and undergo COVID testing at the border. They are then free from quarantine as soon as a negative test result is confirmed within no more than 24 hours.  

Delta is flying from New York every day and will add Boston on 20th May and Minneapolis on the 27th. 

Then, in June, United Airlines will start flying to Iceland from New York, and from Chicago in July. Air Canada also plans scheduled flights this summer.  

Icelandair, meanwhile, is expanding its service to North America from one city up to 11. 

RÚV interviewed some arriving passengers on Sunday—most of whom were tourists excited to see Iceland. 

“The wheels are just starting to turn,” said Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, head of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association. “Now we are seeing the reward of vaccination programmes, both here and in the countries around us, that are now going better and faster.” 

“Interest from, for example, the USA, from people who are vaccinated or have previously had COVID is significant. So, yeah, I hope this is now a sign that the travel summer is getting underway,” Jóhannes adds. 

Jóhannes says the stream of American tourists will likely be joined by British tourists from the end of this month when the UK plans to ease travel restrictions. Travellers from mainland Europe are not expected just yet, however, because the vaccine rollout has been slower. 

Non-vaccinated travellers from most areas within the EU/EEA are allowed into Iceland but must quarantine for five days between two border tests. This option is not popular among tourists. Non-vaccinated people from outside the EU/EEA are not allowed into Iceland at all at this time, except for valid and important reasons. Vaccinated or recovered passengers are exempt from these rules, wherever they come from. 

The director of Icelandair Group, Bogi Nils Bogason, says: “The wheels are at least starting to turn. We are seeing bookings. It has naturally been very weak this whole year, but now there’s some life coming into it, especially from the USA. And we’re seeing bookings there and the marketing campaign we engaged in in the USA has gone very well.” 

Bogi Nils says Icelandair is not seeing as many bookings yet from Europe and Canada, but that there is great interest in travel to Iceland after vaccinations there catch up to the levels seen in markets like the USA and UK. 

Icelandair’s recovery in the first quarter this year has been surprisingly strong: “There has been a major improvement between years in the first quarter now, which is very satisfying and has actually even been better than Q1 2019—but it is still a very challenging environment for airlines around the world and travel companies. But it is very positive that things are starting to get going.” 

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