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US to open air travel to most vaccinated foreign passengers

Josh Wingrove, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

British Airways Chief Executive Officer Sean Doyle called the U.S. move an “historic moment” and said customers could now book with confidence, while his Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. counterpart Shai Weiss said the industry had cleared a “major milestone to the reopening of travel at scale.”

“We welcome the Biden administration’s science-based approach to begin lifting the restrictions on travel to the U.S. that were put into place at the start of the pandemic,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to welcoming more customers back to easy, seamless international trips for business, for leisure, and to reconnect with family and friends.”

Biden’s announcement comes ahead of a planned virtual vaccine summit he’ll host this Wednesday, where he will push for more global donations in a bid to head off criticism of U.S. hoarding, and a decision to proceed with booster shots despite the World Health Organization urging to hold off for now.

Under the new system, vaccinated travelers will still need a pre-flight COVID-19 test, within three days of departure, and will need to provide a phone number and email to begin to create a contact-tracing system that does not exist now. The vaccine requirement applies to adults, a person familiar with the plan said.

Unvaccinated American travelers will need to test within one day of departure, and will be required to test again once they arrive, Zients said.

Key details of the new system remain unclear, including what vaccines the U.S. will recognize and whether it will insist on two doses in all cases, including for people who’ve previously been infected with the virus. It’s not clear what exemptions will be allowed.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will determine the definition of fully vaccinated for international travelers, Zients said.

There’s no change to the policy along land borders, Zients said. That suggests that, as of November, vaccinated Canadians and Mexicans will be free to fly to the U.S., but that a ban on crossing the border by land for leisure trips will remain in place.

Throughout the pandemic, carriers on both sides of the Atlantic have lobbied forcefully for a relaxation of travel curbs that have been in place since March 2020. While Britain and the EU lifted restrictions on visiting Americans this summer, the U.S. held off from any reciprocal loosening amid a rise in COVID-19 cases. U.S. infections have been leveling off, though cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain high.

The policy change in Washington is coming after Britain indicated it would ease testing requirements for vaccinated arrivals, and simplify its system for regulating travel from different countries.

European countries in particular have complained that the U.S. maintained travel restrictions on their vaccinated citizens even after they began allowing entry to vaccinated Americans.

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