International Travel

Airports Welcome Back International Travelers

The United States began welcoming back vaccinated international travelers on November 8. Here’s how some airports around the country celebrated. (If I missed yours, please send a link and I’ll add it.)

Airlines, tourist hot spots ready for return of International Travelers

(This is a slightly different version of a story we prepared for NBC News)

Starting Nov. 8, the United States will begin welcming welcoming fully vaccinated international air travelers, under a new less restrictive set of Covid-19 regulations.

The new rules require that, with very limited exceptions, non-U.S. citizens flying to the U.S. from more than 30 countries must be fully vaccinated and test negative for the coronavirus three days before they board their flight.

“For passengers who are not fully vaccinated, the rules will tighten to require a test taken no more than one day before departing to the United States,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

The CDC is also requiring airlines to collect contract tracing information from passengers boarding flights to the United States.

The relaxed restrictions are good news for a U.S. travel industry that has been hammered by the pandemic — and (mostly) good news for international travelers hoping to visit the U.S. for business or leisure. 

Already, airline searches — and sales — for flights to the U.S. have spiked.

“We have seen an increase in ticket sales for international travel over the past weeks, and are eager to begin safely reuniting the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer,” Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of airline trade association Airlines for America, said in a statement.

Along with increased tickets sales, though, come increased prices. The cost of an international flight is up by an average of 12 percent from last month, Adit Damodaran, economist for travel booking app Hopper.

“We expect international prices to rise another 15 percent from now until the holidays,” he said. 

Travelers heading to the U.S. are likely to find crowded airports and long check-in lines.

Many airlines are still struggling with staffing and retraining issues, said Daniel Burnham, senior member operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights. And because airline personnel will now be tasked with verifying vaccine records and Covid-19 test results at the check-in counter and collecting contact tracing information, “this will likely cause crowding in the early days of implementing these new rules at many European airports.”

What will happen to airfares and hotel rates?

“Travel searches on Expedia and Hotels.com have been simmering in anticipation of the borders reopening and came to a full boil the moment the U.S. pinpointed November 8,” said Melanie Fish of Expedia Brands. “Increased demand in 2022 is likely going to mean fewer travel bargains are out there.”

The bargains are likely to fade first at hotels in popular U.S. cities. “It’s expected that city hotels in the U.S. will be in high demand — a reverse in trend over the past 18 months,” says Misty Belles, vice president for global public relations at Virtuoso travel network. “So, say goodbye to low rates and flexible cancellation policies.”Cities such as Orlando, New York, and Seattle are excited to welcome back international visitors, who contributed significantly to local economies in typical, pre-pandemic years.

Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, notes that the new requirements for vaccinated international travelers visiting the U.S are “especially valuable for families traveling with children under age 18, who will be exempt from the vaccination requirement and allowed entry as long as they meet the negative testing requirements.” That’s a plus for the theme-park-rich Orlando area.

Kauilani Robinson, director of public relations for Visit Seattle, said “we hope to see our international visitations climb back to pre-pandemic levels, but know it will take some time to get there since travel booked right now is largely cautionary travel and booked at the last minute. But we’re expecting to see that increase as we get into November.”

In New York City, international travel typically generates 50 percent of tourism spending and 50 percent of hotel room nights. “International visitors stay longer and spend more,” said Fred Dixon, president and CEO at NYC & Company, the city’s visitors bureau. “The decision to open international borders safely is the news we have been waiting for and the shot in the arm for our industry.”

There is not yet a universally recognized mobile travel pass or travel passport for vaccine and COVID-19 test results. But there are tools, to help travelers figure out what will be required of them at the check-in counter. These include Delta FlyReady, United Airlines’ Travel-Ready Center, and Verifly, which is used by American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and others. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, has developed a Travel Pass currently recognized by more than 50 international airlines. 

Bonus: Here’s a short spot we did for NBC News Now based on this story.

Ready for International travel? Check the “where” and “when.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris c. 1870, courtesy Ace Architects

[This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News]

International travel is back on the agenda this summer for millions of Americans who have completed their COVID-19 vaccination regime.

But with some countries fully open to U.S. travelers – and many still not – the challenge now is figuring out when and where it is possible to go. And what restrictions may be in place when you arrive and when you head back home.

“For the summer, the countries that have already posted their border openings are the most likely bets.” says Misty Belles, Managing Director at luxury travel network Virtuoso. “Many vacationers are already able to visit Mexico and many parts of the Caribbean,” as well as Greece, Iceland, Croatia, Turkey, and some other countries.

On May 16, Italy began welcoming passengers arriving on government-approved “COVID-tested” flights from several countries, including the United States. Travel requirements for these flights include a negative COVID-19 test before departure, at boarding, and on arrival in Italy.

Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and United Airlines are already offering some COVID-tested flights to Rome and Milan from several U.S. cities. More flights and cities will be added to the schedule later this summer.

Other countries have announced various ‘opening dates’ for when travelers from the United States will be welcome as well.

Spain was going to open its borders to all vaccinated tourists – including Americans – on June 7. But that date has been pushed back to at least June 30th.

More countries will be joining that list. “But it’s going to be a hodgepodge this summer,” says Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights, “For most countries, you’ll need to either bring proof of vaccination or a recent negative test.”

Lending encouragement is the fact that this week seven of the 27 countries in the European Union –Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia, and Poland – began using the EU Digital COVID certificate, known as the Digital Green Certificate, a month ahead of schedule. Other countries will adopt the program that securely verifies the COVID-19 status of EU citizens in the next few weeks and “these countries will be able to decide if they will allow U.S. travelers to participate,” says Keyes.

What about travel to Canada, Japan, the UK, and other countries?

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says it is safe for vaccinated Americans to travel internationally, keeping in mind the COVID-19 travel destination advisories on this regularly updated list. 

Non-essential travel, which includes tourism, is still restricted between the United States and Canada. Ahead of the summer Olympics, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory warning against travel to Japan.

In mid-May, the United Kingdom rolled out a “traffic light system” for international travel. This puts countries on red, amber, and green lists. The lists are set to be reviewed next at the end of June, but for now, the United States is categorized as “amber.” That means anyone arriving from the United States must fill out a passenger locator form, provide notification of a negative test result prior to travel, quarantine for 10 days on arrival, and take a COVID test on day 2 and day 8 after arrival.  

Keeping track, making plans

While countries may be constantly changing their entry requirements in response to COVID-19 cases and conditions, “generally speaking, the one-way ratchet is towards more reopening,” says Keyes. He recommends checking the US State Department website for updates, as well as individual government and embassy websites before making any bookings. 

Flexibility and generous cancellation polities are still the mantras when booking hotel stays, airline tickets and cruises, or buying passes to theme parks, museums, and attractions.

But don’t worry if you are not ready to hit the ‘buy’ button right now.

“Demand is strong, causing availability to be limited in some places while also driving up rates,” says Virtuoso’s Belles. “While Europe is slowly opening this summer, fall is when people will likely feel more confident about setting their travel plans,” and when rates may settle down.  

When can you fly to the UK?

Tower Bridge at night

Note: I was compensated by Project Screen by Prenetics for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Thinking of traveling internationally?

Italy, France, Greece, Croatia, and Iceland are among the countries already opening their borders to vaccinated travelers. And on Friday, the EU is expected to finalize details on how all member countries will move forward to welcome vaccinated Americans.   

But what if you want to travel to the UK from the US?

The UK is using a traffic light system for people traveling to England from outside the UK, with countries categorized on the green, amber, or red lists.

Each color has an accompanying list of rules regarding testing and quarantining.

Courtesy Project Screen by Prenetics

The US is on the Amber List – For Now

The status may change depending on a wide variety of factors, including the spread of coronavirus variants, but as of May 28, the United States is on the amber list.

Here’s what that means:

Whether or not you have been vaccinated, if you want to travel from the United States or have been in an amber country or territory in the 10 days before you arrive in England you must:

Once you arrive in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

You may be able to end quarantine early (after 5 days) if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

You must follow these rules even if you have been vaccinated. And while in England, you must follow the current coronavirus restrictions.

Once the United States moves to green in the UK’s traffic light system for international travel the rules will ease up, but not lift entirely.

Travelers will still have to take a COVID-19 test, book and pay for a day 2 COVID-19 test – to be taken after arrival in England and complete a passenger locator form before traveling to England.

On arrival in England, travelers will need to take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 after arrival.

No quarantine will be required if the COVID-19 test is negative.

Getting a COVID-19 test in England

Many companies offer the required COVID-19 testing in the U.K. One example is Project Screen, a Prenetics owned company that provides private PCR testing via at-home test kits and via walkup testing pods, with results returned securely online within 24 hours of the lab receiving the swab.

Costs can vary, with some airlines and travel agents offer discounts on tests. And there has been an effort to have the VAT tax removed from testing to help lower the costs.

Are you hoping to travel the England sometime soon? Let us know what your experience is with the traffic light system.

EU may soon welcome back US Travelers + Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center to reopen

Sick of being stuck at home? Eyeing Europe for that first post-pandemic trip?

You may be in luck. A New York Times story on Sunday evening offers real hope that you may be able to head that way. Perhaps as early as this summer.

According to the NYT, the EU is Set to Let Vaccinated U.S. Tourists Visit This Summer.

Nonessential travel into EU countries from the US has been shut down for more than a year. But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tells the New York Times that the union’s 27 members will accept people who are vaccinated with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (E.M.A.). The agency gives the OK to the three vaccines being used in the United States: Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson.

“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” von der Leyen said. “This will enable free movement and travel to the European Union.”

No exact timeline for easing the travel restrictions is set. And discussions are still underway on how to create a safe and technologically reliable way for travelers to show a vaccine certificate. But on Monday Greece plans to begin opening its borders to travelers who show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.

More information will likely come out this week. But, yay!? Are you ready to go?

Until the EU is open, how about a trip to space?

Mercury MR-3, “Freedom 7” and Apollo 11 Command Module, “Columbia. ” Smithsonian Photo by Mark Avino

While the National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington D.C. remains closed for now, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Washington Dulles International Airport, announces it will reopen on Wednesday, May 5.

Free, timed entry passes are available. And masks, of courses, are required of all visitors. But this is good news for avgeeks and space fans alike.

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic spaceflight on May 5, 1961, the Mercury capsule Freedom 7 is now on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. That capsule sits next to command module Columbia, which took the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon and back in 1969. (Above)

This Blue Angels F-18 Hornet is new to the collection and is now on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar.

The Blue Angel McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet in the Boeing Aviation Hangar. Smithsonian Photo

Can’t get to the museum just yet? Check out the Air & Space Museum’s online artifact database (including some 3D images), the podcast, and other resources.