U.S. Travel Industry Optimistic As International Restrictions Lift

Targeted bans, rules give way to emphasizing vaccination among travelers

By Matt Neistein

Published November 8, 2021

Read Time: 3 mins


A presidential decree loosening international travel restrictions to the United States took effect Monday, giving the aviation industry a boost ahead of the busy holiday season.

The Oct. 25 proclamation ends country-by-country limits that began to be instituted in January 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before Monday, only U.S. citizens and residents, as well as foreigners with special visas, were allowed to enter the country without quarantining.

Those restrictions on more than 30 countries—including China, Canada, Mexico, India and most of Europe—have now ended, replaced with a policy that relies on individual vaccination status.

“Families and friends can see each other again, tourists can visit our amazing lands and our amazing landmarks,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price in a news conference. “This policy will further boost economic recovery and its impact will be widespread across the United States. We’re excited to see this go into effect.”

The new policy requires nonimmigrant foreign citizens to be fully vaccinated, with proof of vaccination, before boarding planes bound for the U.S.

Exceptions will be made for children, diplomats, plane crews and other very specific groups. Those passengers must present a negative COVID test taken within a day of departure.

Testing requirements remain in place for all vaccinated travelers entering the U.S., including American citizens, who must present a negative COVID test taken within three days of departure.

Positive reaction

The commercial aviation industry, which has been frustrated with the lack of clarity regarding the resumption of international travel, praised the new policy.

“We applaud the administration for identifying a path to begin safely reopening international travel,” said Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America, an industry trade group, in a statement.

“U.S. 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.”

As part of the easing of international travel restrictions, foreign visitors from 30 countries will be permitted to enter the U.S. and must show proof of vaccination upon arrival. (Stock image)

The U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit advocate for the broader travel industry, also welcomed the change.

“Reopening to international visitors will provide a jolt to the economy and accelerate the return of travel-related jobs that were lost due to travel restrictions,” said president and CEO Roger Dow in a statement.

“We applaud the administration for recognizing the value of international travel to our economy and our country, and for working to safely reopen our borders and reconnect America to the world.”

The eased restrictions are a boon to an airline industry that has lost hundreds of billions of dollars during the pandemic, according to the International Air Transport Association, which predicts another $12 billion in losses coming in 2022.

The policy changes are long overdue, said IATA Director General Willie Walsh at the group’s annual meeting last month.

“Travel restrictions bought governments time to respond in the early days of the pandemic,” he said. “Nearly two years later, that rationale no longer exists.”

Travel by U.S. citizens to other countries has been down more than 50 percent compared with 2019, with arrivals from foreign visitors down more than 70 percent, according to Airlines for America.

However, September did provide some good news for international travel, according to IATA: total demand for air travel in September 2021 rose by 2.6 percent from the month before, although it remains down more than 53 percent from September 2019.

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