The growing “patchwork of restrictions” on travel in Europe has sent the recovery in air traffic this summer into reverse

KLM chairman and chief executive Pieter Elbers hit out at the restrictions, saying: “Over the last couple of weeks we see a real alteration in the trajectory of recovery which started in June.”

Speaking at the World Aviation Festival, Elbers said: “July was already much better and the recovery continued into August.

“In the leisure market we saw a real quick return of summer holidays and summer was not too bad. We have been able to return to 90% of our European network – not the capacity, we build the capacity later.

“But since mid-August we see restrictions and we have to go back on some of our network.”

Elbers said: “First and foremost customers want to have some certainty and predictability. Is it OK to arrive in a country? Do I have to quarantine? This unpredictability is mentioned by all our travellers.

“We see a lot of hesitation to return on the business side precisely because of the restrictions. This patchwork of European restrictions is very difficult to explain to customers.”

He said KLM had joined other major carriers in Europe in “pleading for some sort of travel corridor” to the US “where testing can take place”.

Elbers noted: “Roughly 25% of our long-haul seats are to the US and we have a massive joint venture as Air France-KLM with Delta Air Lines.”

But he acknowledged no comprehensive testing regime could be in place quickly, saying: “It will take a while before that is in place worldwide.”

Elbers insisted: “Governments need to make up their minds. The financial impact of this is creating such a heavy burden. There should be an incentive here for governments to speed up lifting restrictions or allowing testing facilities.”

He defended the state support KLM has received. The carrier secured €3.4 billion in funds from the Dutch government this summer through a loan and state-guaranteed credit facility.

Partner Air France similarly had €7 billion in cash facilities made available by the French government.

Elbers said: “Some direct support mechanisms are provided for within the framework of the EU. When the dust has settled, things will get back to a more stable situation and a level playing field.”

He pointed out: “For the Netherlands, KLM is the second-largest private employer. The economic spin-off for the country is enormous, which is why the government decided to step forward – the same for Air France and Lufthansa.

“It is not charity. Airlines with large networks will be integral to recovery.”

Lufthansa is on course to receive €9 billion through a German state-aid package.