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Coronavirus travel restrictions around Europe: Which transport remains available?

Dutch airline KLM planes parked on the tarmac of the Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, on March 19, 2020 as several airlines cancel their flights related to the COVID-19 outbreak hitting Europe. Air France-KLM is slashing 90 percent of its flights.
Dutch airline KLM planes parked on the tarmac of the Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, on March 19, 2020 as several airlines cancel their flights related to the COVID-19 outbreak hitting Europe. Air France-KLM is slashing 90 percent of its flights. AFP - PETER BAKKER

Much of Europe has closed its external borders to non-citizens – and within the continent’s borders, there are drastic restrictions and severely reduced traffic on major transport routes. FRANCE 24 tells more about what’s moving and what’s stuck around the continent.

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Countries around the EU have adopted different sets of measures, including full lockdowns and shutting down airports, to contain the novel coronavirus. On Tuesday, March 17, the European Commission announced that the Schengen free-travel zone was closing its external borders for 30 days– meaning that only citizens and resident of the Schengen zone would be able to enter.

This received unanimous agreement from the affected countries’ heads of state and government. There are a few exemptions to the border shutdown: “essential workers” – such as healthcare workers or medical experts, can still travel into and out of the Schengen zone. However, for essential travel by air, railway or road, options are getting more and more limited.

Air travel

Airlines around the continent have drastically slashed their routes and grounded planes, and many airports have closed or shuttered terminals. Some of the major airport closures are listed below:

As of Wednesday April 1, all flights originally scheduled to arrive at Paris’s southern airport, Orly (ORY), are being redirected to the bigger hub of Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG).

Europe’s busiest airport, London Heathrow (LHR) says it is now operating at 25 percent of its normal capacity. All terminals are still open “on a scaled-down basis”, with the airport saying it is focusing on repatriating British nationals and transporting air cargo. London’s second airport, Gatwick (LGW) is temporarily closing its North terminal – similarly, terminals 2 and 3 at Manchester airport (MAN) in the north of the UK were shut on March 25 “until further notice”.

Europe’s third-busiest airport, Amsterdam Schiphol, has reduced its capacity. Only two piers are now in use for passenger flights, and check-in is limited to two departure areas only. Frankfurt airport (FRA), operated by Fraport, has partial closures of Terminals 1 and 2. Most of the airport’s shops are closed, and restaurants are operating reduced hours. The airport recently reported that passenger traffic is down by just over 90 percent on this time one year ago, reflecting the drastic cuts in flight capacity by most airlines.

In Italy, Terminal 1 at Rome’s Fiumicino airport (FCO) is temporarily closed while flight capacity is reduced. Spanish airport operator Aena has announced it will keep only terminal 4 open at Madrid’s its Adolfo Suarez airport (MAD).

In Barcelona, all traffic at El Prat airport (BCN) is being transferred to terminal 1. Other regional airports in Spain are also set to move to reduced opening hours.

Railways

The cross-channel Eurostar service has been drastically slashed. At the time of writing, Eurostar is running just one train each way per day, on only two routes: Paris – London, and Brussels – London. In line with French and British government restrictions, passengers are advised that the service is currently only for essential travel, and only for permanent residents of the UK, Republic of Ireland, and the Schengen travel zone.

Thalys operates the other major international rail service running from Paris. It is currently running two round trips per day on two routes: Paris – Brussels Midi and Amsterdam – Brussels Midi. All passengers are advised that Belgian police are organizing checks on arrival in Belgium “to verify the essential and necessary nature of your trip”. Low-cost Thalys IZY trains are not running. 

Connections to Germany and “Thalys Snow” destinations have been cancelled, as well as services to Marne-La-Vallée (Disneyland Paris) and Paris Charles-De-Gaulle airport. Thalys notes that it could make further timetable changes, and says that it will “do its utmost” to proactively inform passengers by email and SMS if they need to rearrange any travel.

France’s SNCF national rail operator is offering free rail travel to medical staff during the coronavirus crisis, on TGV Inoui and Intercités services. In line with French government restrictions on non-essential travel, SNCF says it is operating a “strict minimum of services, to allow essential services and goods to circulate”.

Low-cost OUIGO services are entirely suspended until further notice, as are routes operated jointly by SNCF and Germany’s DB, and Spain’s Renfe. Passengers can still travel along SNCF Lyria routes between France and Switzerland, though this timetable has been reduced. 

Road travel

French-operated BlaBlaBus coach services in France and Germany are suspended until further notice. The pan-European low-cost coach operator Flixbus has suspended services within a number of countries: France, Italy, Germany and Belgium.

Cross-border Flixbus services are also suspended between a number of states: certain cross-border services into Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal. Meanwhile all Flixbus connections into and out of France, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain, and Ukraine are cancelled, as well as all cross-border services between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegonvina. All Flixbus cross-border services into and out of Germany are suspended except for certain routes which remain open for Polish citizens.

Spanish coach operator Alsa has suspended its international services, and is running a reduced domestic timetable. It is also advising that passengers should only travel if their journey is “essential and urgent” as per the Spanish Royal Decree of March 14, 2020 which set out the national “state of alarm” conditions.

Ireland and the UK

The United Kingdom and Ireland are outside the Schengen travel zone – and therefore the decision to close the Schengen borders to external travellers had no impact here. It is still possible to travel into the UK and Ireland from inside and outside the Schengen zone – but the British and Irish governments are advising their own nationals against all but essential travel.

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