Pandemic milestone: U.S. ends international travel ban, opening the door to vaccinated tourists

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  • The old rules restricted international visitors from 33 countries, including Britain, South Africa, Brazil and Europe.
  • Airlines, hotels and others stand to benefit from the end of the restrictions.
  • With a recent negative COVID-19 test, visitors must show proof of vaccination to enter the US, although this is exempt.

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The United States on Monday ended a pandemic travel ban it had in place for more than a year and a half, a relief for the tourism industry and for families who have been torn apart by rules since the crisis began.

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At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, passengers arriving from London on British Airways Flight 1, the same number used for Concorde, were greeted by airline staff and ballooning applause.

Some business travelers said they are ready to give up video calls for personal meetings and work.

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“We’ve been desperate to get out and see our employees for two years,” said Giles English, co-founder of luxury watchmaker Bremont, which has a store in midtown Manhattan.

English told CNBC shortly after arriving at JFK on British Airways Flight 1 that the video technology “is amazing but I think face-to-face is so important.”

Katherine Donnelly, 52, of London, who flew on that flight, said she has not been in New York for more than two years and is looking forward to visiting her aunt, who is ill.

“I can’t wait to see him,” she said.

The ban, imposed by then-President Donald Trump in early 2020 and later expanded by President Joe Biden earlier this year, banned visitors from 33 countries, including the UK, Europe, China, Brazil and South Africa.

Now, visitors can fly into the US with proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, although there are discounts for travelers under the age of 18 and travelers from countries with low vaccination availability. (Read about the new rules here.)

European countries had relaxed rules for international visitors, including US citizens, starting in the spring. However, US officials did not respond, although airlines and other travel industry companies on both sides of the Atlantic urged the Biden administration to reopen the borders.

British Airways CEO Sean Doyle said: “It’s a day we wished had come sooner, but we’re happy to be back after 604 days of not being able to travel to the US.” The ban was lifted on Monday.

Airline officials have said bookings have soared as the Biden administration said it would lift the ban.

American Airlines bookings from Brazil and the UK grew nearly 70% over the past week, most of them for flights in the fourth quarter, Vasu Raja, the carrier’s chief revenue officer, told CNBC in an interview at John F. The airline provides UK service jointly with British Airways.

King said American and British Airways are ramping up London service and expect to get closer to a pre-pandemic schedule in early 2022.

The airline, as well as rival United, are among customers affected by manufacturing issues with Boeing’s 787, which has suspended deliveries for more than a year.

“It’s going to have a very meaningful impact on how fast we can build internationally,” King said.

Boeing did not provide a timeline for when deliveries could resume as it works through its review with federal officials.

“While we never want to disappoint or delay our customers, quality and safety always comes first,” the company said in a statement. “We are proud of our team for the detailed and rigorous work we do to ensure we meet the highest standards.”

Shares of United and Delta Air Lines ended the day up 0.8% at $53.11 and $44.65, respectively. American Airlines closed 2% higher at $22.25, while the S&P 500 gained less than 0.1%. Those carriers have the most international service from US airlines and stand to benefit from resuming US-bound travel.

Airline workers carry American and British flags to celebrate the end of travel restrictions at London’s Heathrow Airport.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said today its US flights are 98% full. British Airways Flight 1 departed Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic Flight 3 in a synchronized takeoff on a parallel runway shortly before 8:30 GMT GMT for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. British Airways said the flight had taken off.


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