KLM to keep long haul flights as COVID testing demands are softened

FILE PHOTO: KLM airplanes are seen parked at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands, April 2, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo

(Reuters) - Dutch airline KLM will keep operating long haul flights, including for vaccine distribution, after agreeing with the government on softer demands for returning air crews to carry out rapid COVID-19 tests.

The Dutch arm of Air France-KLM said earlier in the week it would cancel all its 270 weekly long-haul flights to the Netherlands as a result of new COVID-19 rules, requiring passengers and crew to show evidence of a negative rapid coronavirus test taken just before departure.

KLM at the time said this would make it impossible to keep flying to countries with a high risk of coronavirus infections, as it would risk having to leave crew behind.

It warned this would also hurt vaccine distribution as cargo flights would also be canceled.

But KLM on Saturday evening said it had reached a compromise in which flight crew on high coronavirus risk flights would take a rapid antigen test before departure from the Netherlands and after their return.

Crew would also have to follow strict quarantine rules during their stay abroad, the health ministry said.

The Netherlands last week decided to ban all passenger flights from Great Britain, South Africa and South America for up to a month, in a bid to limit the spread of new coronavirus mutations.

Passengers traveling to Amsterdam from other high-risk countries are still required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid test taken just before departure, in addition to a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel.

Reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Chang