America has finally eased its Covid travel ban for fully vaccinated British tourists today, as thousands jet off for long-awaited reunions with family and friends for the first time in 20 months.
Rival airlines British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will operate synchronised departures at 8.30am from London Heathrow to New York JFK to celebrate the end of the travel ban imposed by Donald Trump in March last year as Covid spread across the planet.
Under rules first announced by President Joe Biden in September, fully vaccinated visitors from countries including the UK, Ireland, China, India and South Africa will be allowed to enter America. They must also provide proof of either a negative test taken no more than three days before travel, or that they have recovered from Covid in the previous three months.
The easing will see thousands of Britons flying to America to reunite with loved ones for the first time in more than 600 days. British traveller Alison Henry, 63, who plans to fly to see her son in New York today, said: ‘It’s been so hard, I just want to see my son.’
Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said it was a ‘significant moment’ as transatlantic travel has ‘long been at the heart of UK aviation’. He added that the ‘vitally important’ UK-US flights routes boost the economy, create British jobs and help develop plans to reduce carbon emissions from flying.
Industry leaders expect the easing of restrictions to provide a significant boost for the travel sector which has been hammered by the virus crisis, but have warned of massive queues at airports all throughout November due to an ‘onslaught of travel all at once’.
Speaking to MailOnline today, Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, praised the relaxation as ‘the pivotal moment when travel out of the UK is far closer to normality’.
But with 49 per cent fewer flights scheduled this November than there were in the same month in 2019, he urged governments to continue ‘winding back restrictions and make it easier for consumers to travel without a myriad of online forms and tests’.
He said: ‘The transatlantic air corridor was one of the top three busiest routes in the world and today marks a giant leap back towards levels of travel pre-pandemic. But statistics from data analysts Cirium show that, despite the US borders re-opening, there are still 49 per cent fewer flights scheduled this November than there were in the same month in 2019.
‘Global travel is back to some 60 per cent of what it was Pre-Covid so there is still a long way to go before the sector is firing on all cylinders.’
Transatlantic travel finally reopens today as the US ban on British travellers is lifted after more than 600 days. Pictured: People wait for a flight in New York City on January 25 this year
In March last yearm Donald Trump (left) banned visitors to the US from countries including the UK, Ireland, China, India and South Africa due to the pandemic. President Joe Biden (right) announced in September that America would reopen its border this month
What are the new US travel rules?
- Fully vaccinated travellers can visit the US for the first time since March last year, the start of the pandemic.
- Vaccinated people who have had a negative test within the previous 72 hours can enter without quarantining.
- You must take another test three to five days after arriving in the US, unless you have proof of recovery from Covid in the past 90 days.
- Covid vaccine certificates including the NHS Covid Pass are accepted.
- Unvaccinated visitors can enter the US, but they will be required to quarantine for a week on arrival.
- Children under 18 do not need to be vaccinated, but should also take a test after arriving.
Airlines have ramped up UK-US flight schedules to meet the increased demand for travel. A total of 3,688 flights are scheduled to operate between the countries this month, according to travel data firm Cirium – which is up 2 per cent compared with October, but down 49 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.
A survey of 2,000 UK consumers commissioned by travel trade organisation Abta suggested that the US is only behind Spain in the foreign destinations that holidaymakers say they plan to visit.
Around 3.8million Britons visited the US every year prior to the pandemic, according to the Foreign Office.
British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said the reopening of the US borders was a ‘moment to celebrate’ after ‘more than 600 days of separation’.
He went on: ‘Transatlantic connectivity is vital for the UK’s economic recovery, which is why we’ve been calling for the safe reopening of the UK-US travel corridor for such a long time. We must now look forward with optimism, get trade and tourism back on track and allow friends and families to connect once again.’
His counterpart at Virgin Atlantic, Shai Weiss, said: ‘The US has been our heartland for more than 37 years and we are simply not Virgin without the Atlantic.
‘We’ve been steadily ramping up flying to destinations including Boston, New York, Orlando, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and we can’t wait to fly our customers safely to their favourite US cities to reconnect with loved ones and colleagues.’
Hotel prices in New York are also returning to normal levels after a summer where discounts abounded, with Tim Hentschel, HotelPlanner’s co-founder and CEO, telling The Guardian: ‘The pent-up demand from overseas to visit the US will remain strong for at least several years.’
The White House’s assistant press secretary, Kevin Munoz, confirmed on October 15 that double vaccinated foreign nationals would be able to visit the US from November 8.
The new rules will apply to all individuals that have received vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and vaccines Listed for Emergency Use by the World Health Organisation.
Starting Monday, vaccines will be required for ‘non-essential’ trips – such as family visits or tourism – though unvaccinated travelers will still be allowed into the country for ‘essential’ trips.
A second phase, beginning in early January, will require all visitors to be fully vaccinated to enter America by land, no matter the reason for their trip.
US health authorities have said all vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization would be accepted for entry by air.
Washington has not yet commented on Europe’s recent Covid-19 case increase.
The WHO has expressed ‘grave concern’ over the rising pace of infections in Europe, warning the current trajectory could mean ‘another half a million Covid-19 deaths’ by February.
US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Sunday on ABC he’s ‘cautiously optimistic about where we are,’ while adding: ‘We can’t take our foot off the accelerator until we’re at the finish line.’