Relaxing travel restrictions to US ‘key shift’ in managing Covid risks

More industry bodies have welcomed the reopening of travel to the US for double jabbed UK travellers from November.

Iata pointed out that this supersedes restrictions which prevented anyone from entering the US if they had been in 33 specific countries including the UK, Ireland, all Schengen countries, Brazil, South Africa, India, and China within the last 14 days.

Iata director general Willie Walsh, former boss of British Airways owner IAG, said: “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.

“This is excellent news for families and loved ones who have suffered through the heartache and loneliness of separation.

“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.”

He added: “This announcement marks a key shift in managing the risks of Covid-19 from blanket considerations at the national level to assessment of individual risk.

“The next challenge is finding a system to manage the risks for travellers 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 travellers.

“We must get back to a situation where the freedom to travel is available to all.”

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) highlighted the difficulty the cash strapped industry now faces as it tries to ramp up to meet demand.

Many pilots remain furloughed and systems and training must be in place to ensure a safe return to operations to meet the increased demand.

Acting general secretary Martin Chalk said:“This announcement will help UK aviation to rebuild after the devastating summer and will provide a much needed boost to public confidence.

“But it is important the government does not underestimate the challenges the sector faces. Aviation was the first in to lockdown and the last out and with little to no flying for such a long time the industry is clearly cash strapped.

“Now we have a chance to get flying again, but it is not cheap to do so. We need to ensure the systems and training are in place so that skilled workers can reskill and operations can resume in a safety conscious manner.

“That’s why we still need investment now to ensure we are ready to make the most of the increased demand and are able to compete with our global competitors.”

The American Society of Travel Advisors (Asta) welcomed the Biden administration’s announcement of “long overdue changes to the myriad inbound travel restrictions that have been in place since early 2020”.

A spokesperson said: “We view this as a key milestone toward restarting the international travel system on which so many of our members depend.

“Based on news reports, the plan incorporates several of the common-sense measures we called for along with our travel industry colleagues recently, including expeditiously developing clear vaccination and testing standards, loosening entry restrictions for fully-vaccinated travellers, and aligning standards with the governments of our main outbound markets, including Canada, the EU, and the UK.

“There are bound to be challenges in implementing this programme between now and November, and we look forward to working with the administration and our members to resolve them as expeditiously as possible.

“The travel industry as a whole will not recover from Covid until international travel restarts in earnest. Today marks a big step forward toward that goal.”

The Global Business Travel Association chief executive Suzanne Neufang said: “Travel bans and quarantines have greatly impacted business travel – a decline in global business travel spending for 2021 is forecast at approximately $550 billion, with a decline in the US estimated at $192 billion due to the ongoing pandemic.

“Gbta has been calling for a framework for re-opening the US to impacted international travellers for months.”

The announcement is “a large step forward in re-starting and accelerating the travel industry’s economic engine”.

Lisa McAuley, managing director of long-haul specialist operator Gold Medal, said: “This is such exciting news and as soon as the rumour began to circulate on Monday afternoon our phones started to ring with agents enquiring about prices and wanting to make bookings.

“We’re expecting some busy days ahead and will be making sure our teams are prepared.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this moment and can now put some great offers live. With our unrivalled product scope and depth, we’re rightly known as the best tour operator for the trade to the USA.

“Although it has stayed one of our top selling destinations throughout the pandemic, we can’t wait to put all our expertise and knowledge to help our agent partners capitalise on the huge demand we know will now be released.”

United Airlines joined other carriers in welcoming the news as the first airline to introduce contact tracing last December in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). United currently asks all passengers to opt-in to provide contact information at check in for domestic and international flights.

A spokesperson said: “The administration’s decision to safely expand international travel to the US is welcome news for our customers and United is ready to implement these new requirements.

“We support this decision and look forward to working closely with the administration as the details of this policy are further solidified.”

Sam Willan, general manager of Flight Centre Travel Group youth travel firm StudentUniverse, said: “Whilst it’s clear that the younger demographics have been disproportionately affected economically and physically by Covid, I think it’s also important to note that aside from general leisure travel, there is a big focus within the younger cohort on study abroad programmes, work abroad, gap years, and volunteering – purpose driven travel – which are horizon broadening experiences that for many are a ‘non-negotiable’ when it comes to their priorities.

“The US is by far the most popular tertiary education destination for British students, with over 10,000 choosing to head across the Atlantic for study abroad programmes each year. In addition, the international student and youth travel market is worth an enormous £25 billion each year to the UK alone – a hugely important market that has the ability to lead the bounce back for our struggling economy.

“With over a third of our annual bookings for travel between the UK and the US, we’re eager to get Britain’s students and youth back to the much-loved US; we expect this announcement will be the catalyst that finally enables the youth travel market to re-ignite, and we’re very excited for what that will bring.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “More travel opening up as a result of easing restrictions, both across the UK and abroad, will be welcome news for both travellers and the industry alike.

“However, it’s important to remember that while the pandemic is ongoing, no travel is risk free and restrictions are liable to change, sometimes at short notice, potentially putting your money at risk.

“Anyone looking to book travel to the US once restrictions are lifted should still book with a provider with a reliable flexible booking policy, or if appropriate, a package holiday as these come with stronger financial protections.

“A good travel insurance policy will continue to be essential, and it’s also advisable to book with a credit card to give yourself further protection.”

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