The U.S. public is ready to travel again–over 1.5 million people took a flight on Sunday, the highest in over a year. According to the TSA, 1,543,115 travelers were screened on March 21, compared to 548,132 on the same day in 2020. The many more that want to head overseas, as well as the U.S. tourist industry, have been given hope in the form of a possible time frame for when international borders might reopen.
According to CNBC, two sources in the administration have reported that President Biden is “looking toward the middle of May” to revoke several of these bans. Namely, to relax restrictions on the land border with Mexico and Canada, and to allow inbound international travel from the U.K., Europe and Brazil.
CNBC reported that there has been no policy memo nor formal codification of the May time frame. The month of May is reportedly the target because that is most likely when vaccinations might reach enough of a threshold to allow travel to begin again. According to one senior administration official, “there is going to be a sea change in mid-May when vaccines are more widely available to everyone.”
The Department of Homeland Security extended the land border travel ban with Mexico and Canada to April 21, for different reasons; Canada asked the U.S. to keep the border closed while it finds enough vaccines to protect its citizens and the U.S. has asked Mexico to enforce mask protocol and improve testing before the borders open.
The Trump administration banned travelers from the EU to enter the U.S. in March 2020 at the height of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. And whilst he was at the point of revoking it at the end of November, it wasn’t to be, because of the spike in Covid-19 rates over Christmas due to the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant discovered in the U.K.
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The news comes at the same time as lobby groups and trade organisations representing the aviation and travel industries called on the U.S. government to outline a roadmap to get international travel up and running again.
Signatories from 26 trade groups sent a letter to Jeffrey Zients, the government’s Covid-19 response coordinator on 22 March saying the “the need for a data-driven, risk-based roadmap to reopen international travel is urgent.” The trade bodies included Airlines for America (A4A), the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the Regional Airlines Association (RAA), IATA, pilot union Southwest Airline Pilots Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The letter did not ask for an end to the necessary health precautions but suggested blanket testing for inbound passengers (vaccinated passengers could be exempt). It asked that a solution be in place for 1 May, so that “the country can open up to non-U.S. tourists before the summer travel season.” It is the busiest travel time of the year and many fear that a second closed summer without international tourism could be more than the industry can take.