Airlines see easing of US entry rules as major step in recovery

Airlines in Europe and the US are expecting increased traffic across the Atlantic with the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions for foreign travelers entering the US. 

Airlines on both side of the Atlantic welcomed the likely boost to transatlantic travel that the US government’s decision to ease restrictions on foreign travelers is expected to bring, and IATA urged governments to avoid “blanket” COVID-19 rules going forward. 

The Biden White House will lift the across-the-board restrictions it has kept in place throughout this year on almost all travelers from 33 countries, including the UK and most member states of the European Union, in early November. This will allow passengers from these countries to enter the US if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure. The so-called ban on non-essential travelers from these countries, including Brazil and China, has largely been in place since early 2020.  

The double requirement—vaccination and testing—will allow foreign passengers entering the US to avoid quarantine, US officials said.

IATA DG Willie Walsh called the US government’s decision “a major step forward,” adding: “Allowing access to the US for those vaccinated will open travel to the US for many who have been locked out for the past 18 months … It’s good for the millions of livelihoods in the US that depend on global tourism. And it will boost the economic recovery by enabling some key business travel markets.”

Walsh said the easing of US entry restrictions marks a turning point to “managing the risks of COVID-19 from blanket considerations at the national level to assessment of individual risk.”  

He added: “The next challenge is finding a system to manage the risks for travelers who do not have access to vaccinations. Data points to testing as a solution. But it is also critical that governments accelerate the global rollout of vaccines and agree a global framework for travel where testing resources are focused on unvaccinated travelers. We must get back to a situation where the freedom to travel is available to all.” 

UK-based Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss praised the US announcement, saying: “We are simply not Virgin without the Atlantic.” 

“The US government’s announcement that fully vaccinated UK visitors will be able to enter the US from November is a major milestone to the reopening of travel at scale, allowing consumers and businesses to book travel to the US with confidence,” Weiss said, adding: “The UK will now be able to strengthen ties with our most important economic partner, the US, boosting trade and tourism as well as reuniting friends, families and business colleagues.” 

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said he welcomed the Biden administration’s decision, noting that “numerous studies” show that the risk of exposure to COVID-19 on an airline flight is “less than 0.1%” if all passengers have tested negative for COVID-19 within three days of departure.  

“Science tells us that vaccinations coupled with testing is the safest and most responsible way to reopen international travel,” Bastian said. “I applaud the administration’s move to lift restrictions ahead of the holiday season so that families can finally come together again.” 

Moody’s Investors Service predicted that “leisure bookings for the holidays from inbound tourist visits and non-US citizens visiting friends and relatives will accelerate in upcoming weeks. We also now expect a stronger increase in business travel by the first quarter of 2022 than would have occurred if the borders remained closed.” 

Reacting to the announcement from the Biden administration, Airlines for America (A4A) CEO Nicholas Calio said: “US airlines have been strong advocates for a stringent, consistent policy and are eager to safely reunite the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer.” 

Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) CEO Kevin Burke added: “We are encouraged by this latest step that responds to our request for a plan to restore international travel, which is so critical in ensuring a robust economic recovery across the aviation industry. By requiring strict safety protocols on a more individual basis, the administration has provided the aviation industry with a clearer roadmap to recovery.”

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