Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas (Center) has told daily Postimees that a temporary lifting of a ban on charter flights, imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, was to allow Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) to travel to Sweden to discuss a recent documentary on the 1994 sinking of the MS Estonia.
Aas told daily Postimees' English-language portal that the prime minister's flight to Sweden was a charter, meaning the general ban on charter flights – as opposed to scheduled flights whose rules changed at the end of last week and which are now permitted to most European countries – was lifted, a fact confirmed to airline companies who inquired, but which led to mayhem as customers found booked flights canceled, once the ban was reinstated.
Aas added that this was the only answer the ministry could have given – both logically and legally – though the situation remains changeable both in Estonia and in other countries, including its nearest neighbors, and while conceding that the ban on charter flights had been lifted simply to allow the prime minister's flight to Sweden to go ahead.
Forecasting COVID-19 rates was not within the competence of the ministry, Aas says, though he agrees with both the Health Board (Terviseamet) urging people not to travel abroad during the school half-term break the week after next, and decisions made by Finnish tour companies simply to issue blanket bans on charter flights outside the EU/EEA.
The main complaint had concerned package tours to Turkey which were sold while the window was open for charter flights, only for customers to be told these were canceled when the restriction was reimposed.
Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise had also said that the manner in which the ministry has acted was not an example of best practices, including also the sudden change in basis on which direct, scheduled flights which reversed the situation from nearly all European countries being off-limits, to most of them being permissible for direct, scheduled flights in the space of a weekend.
Aas himself conceded to Postimees that communication could have been "different", but also said that travel agents should have taken into account the rapidly changing situation, reiterating the Finnish example – which came from the private sector and not the authorities, adding that the cabinet would further discuss the matter at its regular sitting today, Thursday.
Editor: Andrew Whyte