Wednesday 12/8/21
TRAVEL

US reopens borders to international visitors after 20 months

It is the first time since March 2020 that direct entry via land or air has been possible for foreigners undertaking non-essential travel.

08 November 2021, United Kingdom, London: British Airways ambassadors Elysa Marsden (L) and Eugenia Okwaning stand at London Heathrow Airport ahead of the departure of British Airways flight BA001, which departs synchronously with Virgin Atlantic flight VS3 on parallel runways to New York JFK to celebrate the reopening of the transatlantic travel corridor. After more than 600 days, the travel ban in the USA due to the Corona pandemic is lifted. Photo: Anthony Upton/PA Wire/dpa.
British Airways ambassadors stand at London Heathrow Airport ahead of the departure of British Airways flight BA001, which departs synchronously with Virgin Atlantic flight VS3 on parallel runways to New York JFK to celebrate the reopening of the transatlantic travel corridor. Photo: Anthony Upton/dpa.

The United States was expecting a surge of international visitors on Monday as foreigners who had been barred for nearly 20 months from entering once again took to the skies.

The US lifted bans on travellers from 33 countries who can prove they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 using a jab approved by the US Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization.

It is the first time since March 2020 that direct entry via land or air has been possible for foreigners undertaking non-essential travel. A special exception had previously been required.

The moment has been eagerly awaited by beleaguered long-haul carriers, which have now upped their route offerings.

"We have a load factor for the coming weeks like in 2019," Lufthansa manager Klaus Froese said.

The German carrier has 160 connections a week from Frankfurt and Munich to 19 US destinations in its winter schedule - a huge increase after just 30 connections were offered in the summer, when only US citizens, diplomats and people with exemptions were being allowed in.

Delta said it has seen a 450% increase in bookings by travellers outside of the US since the reopening was announced. A spokesperson for United told US media the airline expected to fly 30,000 people to the US on Monday.

Travellers have been warned to expect hours-long lines at departure airports and upon arrival in the US.

European travel hub Frankfurt had 19 flights scheduled to depart for the US by the afternoon. Singapore Airlines kicked the day off at 8:20 am with a flight to New York. Lufthansa, American, Delta and Condor followed with their own flights.

Festive atmosphere

Friends Sarah Borchardt and Karin Deges were on the Singapore Airlines flight to John F Kennedy International Airport.

"We are really happy to be on the first plane and finally be able to get over," said Borchardt, who had postponed the trip several times due to the restrictions.

Deges said they will be "spending time together, enjoying the city, the beautiful weather, the people; just enjoying and soaking it all up."

Elsewhere, there was a festive atmosphere at gate Z54, where a Lufthansa flight was also bound for the Big Apple. The gate agents handed out small US flags and glossy postcards to passengers.

"I'm so glad it's finally leaving," said 23-year-old Hannes Joos, who is going to visit his uncle in New York with a friend.

Countries affected

The countries affected by the restrictions had included Britain, Ireland, the 26 Schengen Area countries in Europe, South Africa, Iran, Brazil, India and China.

In London, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic celebrated with a synchronized morning departure from Heathrow.

Britain's Press Association reported that a total of 3,688 flights are scheduled to operate between Britain and the US this month, according to travel data firm Cirium. This is a 21% jump compared to October but still well below pre-pandemic levels.

US Travel, a tourism industry association, estimated that declines in international arrivals since the start of the pandemic resulted in nearly 300 billion dollars in lost spending by visitors.

Land borders opened

The US also opened its land borders with Canada and Mexico on Monday to fully vaccinated travellers.

Former US president Donald Trump had ordered an entry ban in March 2020, as the pandemic began locking down countries across the globe.

The restrictions were then kept in place by President Joe Biden, citing the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.

Many Europeans have been frustrated by the exclusion, especially after EU states started lifting restrictions on entry by US citizens this summer.

As of Monday, foreigners can enter as long as they have been vaccinated using preparations of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm and Sinovac.

A combination of two of these preparations is also allowed.

Travellers must prove their vaccination status to the respective airline before boarding a plane, and must also present a negative coronavirus test no more than three days old.

There are only a few exceptions to the vaccination requirement for international travellers, for example for children or people who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons.

US citizens are exempt from the vaccination requirements.

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