I’ve got a flight booked from Europe to the United States in April, and I’m not sure if the trip will happen as booked, even though I’m a US citizen. Global health concerns come first, but even if the situation is vastly improved, like many things, international travel is wait and see right now.
I’ve watched this itinerary change a handful of times already, as airlines navigate ever changing demand, amid new travel restrictions across borders, most recently, the US announcement of pre-flight covid-19 testing for all travelers. First, the flight timing was changed as the airline folded multiple daily flights into one, and then cancelled all together, before being reinstated.
With news that President Elect Joe Biden will immediately rescind a travel ban on largely Muslim population countries, there’s increasing hope in the travel community that science based testing approaches will also replace blanket bans in place for Europe, China and Brazil. Here’s what we know today…
New US President, New Travel Policy
The current US President used executive authority to ban travel from regions around the globe, including China, Brazil, many Muslim dominated countries and Europe. As widely reported, President Elect Joe Biden plans to rescind at least one, or a few of those travel bans, with immediate effect among a long list of initial measures.
Joseph R. Biden will be sworn in as President of The United States on Wednesday, January 20th, 2021 and by all accounts, the goal is action on “day one”.
The Biden-Harris team told senior staff they plan to immediately rescind the ban on travel from Muslim majority countries on Wednesday, the first day of the presidency. Words from UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, suggest Europe and the UK believe Biden plans to eliminate the Europe ban in due time as well, stating “it might change with the new president”.
White House Chief Of Staff Ron Klain laid out a variety of travel and covid-19 related “day one” actions in a letter to staff, according to the New York Times, as well as a flurry of activity within the first 10 days.
US Initiates Pre-Flight Testing
As evidence of there being more than just “hope” for the end of Europe bans, the United States will introduce pre-flight covid-19 testing for all international travelers inbound for the USA, including returning citizens from January 26th, as per the CDC. Viral tests, including NAAT and antigen tests will be accepted.
With robust pre-flight testing in place, any risk factors from incoming travelers drop tremendously, as does the case for specifically keeping people out based purely on their location. In other words, science could help replace generic regional bans.
No one wants these pre-flight testing requirements to stick around long term, but if they mean opening up borders in the interim, it’s a fairly small price to pay to safely reconnect with loved ones and economic opportunities. And yes, there is literally a price, since testing costs are born by the traveler at an average of $100 each way.
With pre-flight covid-19 testing, it’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 passengers might later test positive, after registering a negative test within 72 hours prior to flight. Real world data backs up the assessment, and actually indicates odds of around 1 in 1,500.
Big Changes Coming To US Travel?
Travel isn’t the primary focus of the incoming US President. That distinction goes to a raging pandemic which has now killed over 2 million people, an economy on the brink and a variety of geopolitical issues which are above the pay-grade of a travel blogger. However, restoring key ties around the globe certainly is a focus.
Just like my reservations, airlines continue to tweak schedules based on even the slightest indications of change. With governance by Twitter update, that’s proven to be complicated in the last year.
Until airlines have a clearer vision of what the future holds for US borders, any plans remain best guesses, and flights remain placeholders. If there’s anything the travel industry and its many passengers have yearned for, it’s stability and predictability in what the future may bring. With vaccines, hopes are that those goals grow closer.
Test based solutions have worked for countries looking to reinvigorate economies while keeping borders open, including the UAE, which has remained open to visitors throughout most of the covid-19 pandemic, provided they take a pre-flight test.
The rumor mill of speculation regarding when the United States may reopen to neighbors from Europe can’t be understated, but it appears we may begin to see concrete answers and actions, soon.
It’ll all start on Wednesday with the first new Presidential act of rescinding the travel ban against Muslim majority countries. Where it goes after that remains to be seen, but planning US trips for the second half of 2021 doesn’t seem too out of step.