The Latest on COVID-19: White House Says No Vaccine Passports for Travel
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The Latest on COVID-19: White House Says No Vaccine Passports for Travel

Editor’s Note: This post will be regularly updated with the latest news and updates on the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on travel. Scroll down or click for previous updates and stay tuned for additional coverage. 

 

White House Says It Won’t Require Vaccine Passports for Travel

Tuesday, March 30 at 8:15 a.m.
Officials from the White House and President Joe Biden’s administration said Monday they won’t issue a federal mandate for a specific “vaccine passport” for travel or other activities in the U.S.

Vaccine passports, a digital form with proof of vaccination, have been seen as the key to reopening travel across much of the globe as vaccinations ramp up worldwide. From Iceland to the European Union to Japan, countries are putting requirements in place. And even some individual airlines are working towards adding digital certificates to their apps and websites.

But domestic travel within the U.S. is another issue. While the Biden administration is reportedly working with the private sector to create some forms of digital vaccine passports, Reuters reports that press secretary Jen Psaki said there was no federal mandate coming.

“There are a couple key principles that we are working from. One is that there will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database, and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential,” Psaki said.

Psaki’s statement leaves the door open to the White House eventually requiring some form of proof of vaccination in the U.S. – just not from a single, centralized source. Earlier this year, airlines pushed back heavily against the prospect of a federal mandate for COVID-19 testing for domestic travel. The White House eventually signaled such a mandate was off the table.

But even without a federal mandate for proof of vaccination, travelers should expect ongoing restrictions and entry requirements whether they’re heading abroad … or in some cases, even domestically.

Iceland became the first in Europe to throw open its doors to Americans earlier this month, requiring proof of vaccination such as a CDC vaccination card for entry. The European Union is working on a “digital green certificate” that could eventually allow Americans and other foreign travelers to return to Europe.

In the U.S., a handful of states require a negative COVID-19 test for entry, including Hawaii. And Hawaii officials have said they may soon allow vaccinated travelers to visit and bypass those testing requirements.

Read all our coverage of traveling and the coronavirus.
 

Tokyo Summer Olympics Will Go On … Without Fans from Abroad

Tuesday, March 9 at 7:45 a.m.
Officials from Japan are planning to move ahead with the Summer Olympics in Tokyo but ban overseas visitors from attending the games, according to Kyodo News.

Citing officials with knowledge of the decision, Kyodo News reports that the Japanese government has concluded it’s too risky to welcome spectators from overseas to watch the summer games. Officials from Japan and the International Olympic Committee are expected to finalize that decision later this month and decide on limits for local spectators from Japan in April.

The Summer Olympics had been scheduled for 2020 but that was delayed a year due to the unfolding pandemic. They’re now set to run from July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021.

Japan has been under immense pressure to salvage the Summer Games – especially with China set to host the Winter Olympics next year in Beijing. Continued outbreaks and faster-spreading variants of the virus threatened to upend the games once again.

Japan studied several options to minimize health risks while hosting the Olympics, from limiting foreign visitors to just a handful of low-risk countries to having all events held behind closed doors with no spectators.

“We would really like people from around the world to come to a full stadium, but unless we are prepared to accept them and the medical situation in Japan is perfect, it will cause a great deal of trouble also to visitors from overseas,” Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Japanese committee, said last week.

The ceremonial torch relay is set to begin March 25 – without any spectators.
 

CDC Gives Vaccinated Americans Go-Ahead to Gather Without Masks

Monday, March 8 at 11:15 a.m.
As millions more Americans get their shots each day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new safety guidelines Monday that allow people to gather more freely once they’ve been vaccinated.

The long-awaited guidance from the CDC allows fully vaccinated adults to gather indoors with each other without wearing masks or practicing social distancing, and skip the need to quarantine or test for COVID-19 after a possible exposure unless they’re experiencing symptoms. Vaccinated people can also gather with unvaccinated adults indoors without wearing masks or social distancing, so long as the unvaccinated adults are from a single household and considered low-risk for COVID-19.

Full vaccination occurs at least two weeks after getting the second dose of a Moderna or Pfizer two-shot vaccine – or two weeks after the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

It’s a much-needed jolt of positive news that comes several months into a vaccination campaign that is steadily gaining steam. The U.S. is now vaccinating nearly 3 million people a day, and President Joe Biden recently announced that the country should have enough vaccines for all American adults by the end of May.

Though there were no announced changes to travel restrictions on Monday, that progress should pave the way for a slow-but-steady return to travel, too. All travelers returning to the U.S. from a trip abroad are still required to get a COVID-19 test no more than three days before flying home – even if they’ve gotten their shots. Many countries and even individual states also require proof of a recent negative test for entry.

So-called vaccine passports that allow travelers are expected to become the norm, especially for international trips. Many countries, airlines, and industry groups are working on implementing digital systems that will allow travelers to easily prove their vaccination status.

 

Europe Pushes for Vaccine Passport for Summer Travel

Friday, March 5 at 7:45 a.m.
Top officials in the European Union say they’re working on a so-called “vaccine passport” that would allow travelers to digitally prove their vaccination status, sparking hope for a summer travel rebound.

A year into the pandemic with little to no travel allowed into Europe, there’s still no firm timeline for when that may change. Residents from just a handful of countries are currently allowed to enter the E.U. – and the U.S. has never been one of them. And the situation has grown more uncertain in recent weeks amid sluggish vaccination rates across Europe and lockdowns in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed this week that the European Union will propose creating a “Digital Green Pass” certificate for vaccinated travelers, according to the New York Times. Legislation to set up the green pass is expected to start moving later in March and could take up to three months to get up-and-running.

Europe is clearly focused on resuming travel within the continent – not from abroad. But an overarching health passport system for Europe could eventually provide a framework for Americans and other tourists to visit.

“The Digital Green Pass should facilitate Europeans’ lives. The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad — for work or tourism,” von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

While some countries are eager to welcome tourists back by any means necessary, critics have warned about data privacy concerns and the potential for discrimination against citizens who haven’t been vaccinated.

With vaccinations picking up steam in the U.S. and across much of the globe, it’s clear that travel will return – perhaps sooner than many homebound wanderers thought. But it’s also clear that providing proof of vaccination will be the linchpin for international travel. And as airlines and foreign governments scramble to come up with centralized solutions for travelers to prove their vaccination status, that will take time.

 

Airlines Push Back Against Mandatory Testing for Domestic Flights

Thursday, Feb. 11 at 7 a.m.
Leaders of the nation’s largest airlines and industry groups are urging the Biden administration not to follow through with testing mandate for domestic travel, calling it a “horrible” and unnecessary policy that would further cripple the travel industry.

The Biden administration has been weighing new restrictions on domestic flights and travel for weeks since taking office. While the U.S. has added many new restrictions on international travel and some individual states like Hawaii and Alaska have imposed testing requirements for entry, domestic air travel has continued with few overarching restrictions.

It’s still unclear if a testing mandate will happen, but top federal officials have made clear this week it’s under serious consideration.

“There’s an active convo within the CDC right now. What I can tell you is it’s going to be guided by data, science, medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out,” new Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Axios on HBO. “The safer we can make air travel, in terms of perception as well as reality, the more people are going to be ready to get back in the air.”

But airlines don’t see it that way. One by one, CEOs from airlines like Delta, American, and Southwest have sounded the alarm about the prospect of mandatory testing for flights within the states.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian called it a “horrible idea” in an interview with CNN this week, saying it would set back the already hurting travel industry even further while doing little to curtail the spread of COVID-19. While some industry-backed studies have shown little evidence of transmission onboard planes, others have shown air travel clearly contributes to the spread of COVID-19.

“It would also take probably about 10% of the testing resources that this country needs to do to test sick people away from these people,” Bastian said. “I think it would be a logistical nightmare.”

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly also wrote a letter to the White House pleading not to impose a testing requirement.

“We believe such a mandate would be counterproductive, costly, and have serious unintended consequences, including for millions of people who have travel needs but may not have access to testing resources and for the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on a stable air travel industry,” Kelly wrote.
 

Canada Halts All Flights to Mexico, Caribbean. Could the U.S. Too?

Friday, Jan. 29 at 12:10 p.m.
Canada will suspend all commercial flights to Mexico and the Caribbean until at least May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday as part of a sweeping set of restrictions on international travel.

Countries around the globe are imposing new travel restrictions, trying to keep fast-spreading strains of COVID-19 at bay and buy time until vaccines are widespread. Just this week, the U.S. began requiring a negative COVID-19 before all international flights to the U.S. – including American citizens returning from abroad.

But Canada’s new measures go even further. In addition to Canada’s longstanding ban on allowing travelers from foreign countries, the country’s airlines have agreed to suspend all flights to and from Mexico and the Caribbean starting this Sunday through at least April 30, CTV News reports. Canadian travelers returning from elsewhere abroad will be required to take a COVID-19 test and quarantine for at least three days at a designated hotel – at their own expense.

“With the challenges we currently face with COVID-19 … now is just not the time to be flying,” Trudeu said. “By putting in place these tough measures now, we can look forward to a better time when we can all plan those vacations.”

Canada’s shutdown of travel to Mexico and the Caribbean raises a massive question: Could the U.S. do the same?

While the pandemic has decimated travel across the board, trips to Mexico and other beach destinations in Latin America have continued. The new testing requirements (and possible mandatory quarantines) for international travel was likely targeted at curbing those trips, some of the few international destinations Americans are still traveling to.

“What if I’ve Had COVID?” & More Questions About International Travel Testing Rules

The Biden administration has even raised the prospect of requiring tests before domestic travel. But airlines have pushed back, arguing these new restrictions are ruinous for an industry already pushed to its breaking point.

Read more: We Will Travel Again … But it Will Get Harder in the Meantime

Stopping flights between the U.S. and Latin America would be unprecedented – especially for America’s airline industry, which has vast lobbying power. The Biden administration may be watching how its new testing requirements for international travel play out – while keeping a close eye on its neighbor to the north as even more stringent measures take hold.
 

Biden Administration Pledges to Keep Travel Bans in Place

Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 8 a.m.
Incoming President Joe Biden’s administration says it will keep longstanding travel bans on Europe, the United Kingdom, and Brazil in place after taking office this week, contradicting an announcement from President Donald Trump’s office as he exits the White House.

Trump’s White House announced late Monday that it planned to drop those travel bans on Jan. 26 – the same day that new testing requirements for international flights to the U.S. take effect, and nearly a week after Trump leaves office. Those bans have been in place since the COVID-19 pandemic first upended travel last spring, banning most foreign residents from coming to the U.S. from those countries. Going the other way, most Americans are still banned from visiting much of Europe.

But within hours, the incoming Biden administration made clear it had no plans to lift those travel bans.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26,” Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki said on Twitter. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” Psaki also said.

With Biden scheduled to be inaugurated Wednesday, there’s plenty of time to undo the Trump administration’s order lifting those travel bans. It’s unclear when Biden may choose to eventually lift those bans, but Biden’s team made clear that additional restrictions or safeguards on international travel may also be put in place.

The back-and-forth between incoming and outgoing presidents marks a whirlwind over international travel regulations recently. Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the new testing requirement for all inbound flights to the U.S. – including for returning citizens.
 

How U.S. Airlines Are Preparing for More Unrest in the Skies

Friday, Jan. 15 at 9 a.m.
U.S. airlines and aviation regulators are preparing for more trouble in the skies over Washington, D.C. in the next week ahead of the inauguration President-elect Joe Biden.

After viral videos of unruly flyers heading to Washington before riots at the Capitol last week – and even more footage of passengers getting kicked off flights before heading home – the Federal Aviation Administration is taking a zero-tolerance approach to in-flight disruptions. The agency warned this week that any passenger who interferes with, threatens, or physically assaults the flight crew will face jail times or fines of up to $35,000.

But airlines are going to extraordinary lengths on their own to avoid problems, too.

One-by-one, most of the nation’s largest airlines have said they’ll ban firearms in checked luggage on flights to and from Washington, D.C.-area airports. Those bans on Delta, United, American, Alaska, and Southwest last from Jan. 16 through Jan. 23.

Alaska Airlines has gone farther than any other airline by requiring that all passengers stay seated for a full 60 minutes before landing at Washington, D.C.-area airports – and 60 minutes after takeoff, too. That’s similar to the policies many airlines implemented after the terror attacks on Sept. 11. And the airline is even capping ticket sales on flights to the nation’s capital.

Delta has asked passengers with travel to D.C. scheduled over the next week to reconsider their plans. American Airlines has suspended all alcohol service on flights to and from the capital. And across the board, airlines have said they’ll increase staffing on flights and in airports to handle any issues.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian told investors on Thursday that it has banned “a number” of unruly passengers flying home from Washington, D.C. after the riots last week. And he told the Associated Press that it has banned several passengers captured heckling Utah Sen. Mitt Romney in the airport last week.

“There are six people, and they will never fly Delta again,” Bastian said. “They have already been notified.”
 

Flight Attendant Union Calls to Ban Some Pro-Trump Rioters

Thursday, Jan. 7 at 7:30 a.m.
As rioters supporting President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, the nation’s largest flight attendants union called to ban them from flights after rowdy pro-Trump supporters caused disturbances on flights as hundreds flocked to Washington, D.C. this week.

A Delta flight from Salt Lake City (SLC) full of Trump supporters heading to the nation’s capital was captured yelling “Traitor!” repeatedly at Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who was onboard. American Airlines kicked several Trump supporters heading to Washington D.C. off flights over failure to comply with mask mandates. One video shows another a raucous American Airlines flight, with several Trump supporters screaming, one projecting a Trump logo on the cabin ceiling, and a man threatening to “wipe out” people.
 

 

The head of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International – which represents more than 50,000 flight attendants at airlines like United, Alaska, and others – called the behavior a “mob mentality” and a safety risk for employees and passengers alike.

“The mob mentality behavior that took place on several flights to the D.C. area yesterday was unacceptable and threatened the safety and security of every single person onboard. It will not happen again,” Sara Nelson said in a statement. “Acts against our democracy, our government, and the freedom we claim as Americans must disqualify these individuals from the freedom of flight.”

Airlines have banned hundreds of passengers over refusal to wear masks, but Nelson’s call is unprecedented. It’s unclear exactly how those passengers might be banned, but Nelson called on airlines, the TSA, and federal regulators to “take all steps to ensure the safety and security of passengers and crew by keeping all problems on the ground.”

Already, airlines are bracing for more difficulty in the skies. American Airlines says it is increasing staffing at Washington, D.C. area airports and will stop serving alcohol on flights to and from the capital, CNN reports.
 

U.S. Airlines Want to Scrap Travel Bans, Increase Testing

Tuesday, Jan. 5 at 7:45 a.m.
A group of the nation’s largest airlines is pushing President Donald Trump’s administration to drop travel bans on the European Union, the U.K., and Brazil, favoring a new global COVID-19 testing requirement for international travelers coming to the U.S. instead.

Airlines for America made that case in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence this week first reported by Reuters. The industry trade group represents American Airlines, Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue, and others.

“We believe a well-planned program focused on increasing testing of travelers to the United States will further these objectives in a much more effective way than the blanket travel restrictions currently in place,” the letter said.

The U.S. has banned most non-citizens from entering the country from Europe, the U.K., and Ireland since March – and Brazil since May. But the Trump administration has considered lifting these bans, which would allow some international travel to resume more freely. Most Americans are still currently banned from visiting much of Europe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also backed expanding testing requirements for international travelers coming to the U.S. But the U.S. has struggled with widespread testing, and it’s unclear how the airlines’ proposal would seek to change that.

The U.S. only recently introduced mandatory testing for travelers arriving from Great Britain amid the scare surrounding a faster-spreading variant of the virus.

 

Dozens of Countries Ban Flights from the U.K.

Monday, Dec. 21 at 7:30 a.m.
Dozens of countries, from Colombia to Canada and Italy to India, have banned travel from the United Kingdom as it grapples with a new strain of COVID-19 feared to be much more contagious.

As of Monday morning, nearly 40 countries had banned travel from the U.K. as it entered lockdown over the weekend, leading to hundreds of flight cancellations. The new strain of COVID-19 is spreading up to 70% faster than previous iterations of the virus, the Wall Street Journal reports, driving a surge in cases in London and elsewhere across the country.

While the evolving virus is not believed to be more deadly, it caused alarm about spreading to new countries across the globe. Canada, Italy, Israel, Germany, Russia, France, Sweden, Finland, Morocco, Switzerland, Colombia, and other countries have enacted temporary bans on travel from the U.K.

But the U.S. hasn’t yet joined that list – and top U.S. health officials have suggested it’s unlikely to.

“I really don’t believe we need to do that yet,” Adm. Brett Giroir said on ABC News’ “This Week.” Adm. Girior said the new virus mutation was localized within the U.K., adding, “We have not seen a single (virus) mutation yet that would make it evade the vaccine.”

The U.S. still bans most non-residents from coming into the country from Europe – a provision in place since early March. The U.K. has allowed American travelers to enter the country for months but requires a 14-day quarantine.

Those policies mean some Americans and other essential workers will be allowed to continue flying from the U.K. to the U.S. unless the Trump administration bans travel.
 

United Confirms Man with COVID-19 Died Mid-Flight

Friday, Dec. 18 at 11:30 a.m.
United Airlines has confirmed that a man diagnosed with COVID-19 died in the middle of the flight earlier this week, forcing the airline to divert and causing an outbreak scare for other passengers on the flight.

The story of the man’s death on the United flight scheduled to fly from Orlando (MCO) to Los Angeles (LAX) on Monday evening went viral on social media. Passengers onboard that flight claimed the man lost consciousness mid-flight and was later declared dead after diverting and being taken to a hospital in New Orleans (MSY). One passenger said the man’s wife told first responders that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and had lost his sense of taste and smell.

At the time of the incident, United said it could not confirm whether the man, whose age was not disclosed, had COVID-19. But United told View from the Wing on Friday the man was, in fact, suffering from COVID-19.

“At the time of the diversion, we were informed he had suffered a cardiac arrest, so passengers were given the option to take a later flight or continue on with their travel plans,” the airline said in a statement. “Now that the CDC has contacted us directly, we are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the CDC believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection.”

It’s unclear how many other passengers were on the flight and thus were potentially exposed to the virus. Troublingly, United continued the flight from New Orleans to Los Angeles on the same plane on which the man had died, according to multiple passenger accounts.

Like most other major airlines, United requires passengers to certify that they have not been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19 during the check-in process. The deceased man appears to have lied, and U.S. airlines do not require pre-flight COVID-19 testing for domestic trips. Just one airline, Frontier, checks passenger temperatures before boarding.

While studies have shown COVID-19 transmission to be relatively rare on airplanes thanks to air filtration systems and other health safeguards, that hinges on travelers making smart decisions. If you are suffering from any symptoms or have been diagnosed with or potentially exposed to COVID-19, please do not travel.

This week’s death isn’t even the first COVID-19 death on a plane in the U.S. A woman died of COVID-19 in the middle of a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas (LAS) to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) in July.
 

21 Responses

  • Hi: How do you see the corona virus situation impacting long-term airline tickets prices? Do you think they might increase? I’ve been checking airfares and find them to be about the same price.

    • Short-term, there’s definitely some price-cutting going on in a targeted way – on select routes, by select carriers. Long-term, it’s just too early to say.

  • I am a USA citizen currently touristing Palawan Island, Philippines. We have tickets to fly out through Manila. However, now all flights are on lockdown and we can not go in or out of Manila. Our USA visa is only good for 30-days. The airport lockdown goes well past our time to leave. What happen when our US visa time runs out and we are locked out of flying?

  • AA will not waive their $150 fee to redeposit my miles to my account. Where are you getting the information that they are waiving their fees?

  • Can I begin my paperwork process for Global Entry now, or is that also on hold? If o can apply how long will the info be kept before I get to interview or come back into the US from an international flight in 2021 & complete the process at that time? Thank you

    • You can apply and may even reach the “conditional approval” stage during this shutdown, but you won’t be able to secure an interview any time soon. And you’re required to complete that interview within 1 year of being conditionally approved, so it’s probably best to just wait a bit.

      • I applied for Global Entry in February and am still in “Pending Review”. Hope it gets done before February 17 next year.

  • Kyle,
    We have airline tickets to Barcelona on Canada Air in May. We used rewards miles. We’ve been waiting to see if the flights would be cancelled and are hoping to recoup the miles. Is this likely in light of the travel ban to Spain? Thanks.

    • It certainly seems like it. Keep in touch with Air Canada and monitor your reservation. Depending on how you booked, you may even be able to cancel now and get your miles & taxes/fees back even before the airline itself cancels.

  • I liked the SWA CEO’s idea of temperature screening in mass even though it is not a perfect deterrent or predictor of Covid 19. I think it would make more sense for each airport to do this temporary screening for next two years. I don’t like standing in those stanchion lines close to people waiting to be screened. Airports could hire temporary people at the entry doors- best place to stop them. This may mean fewer entry doors or some doors being only for exiting. Prefer the local approach as we lose so much money with TSA program. That way the airlines and airport businesses would pay for it much like many parking lots are paid for. We do pay for airport parking here, but it is subsidized. Door entry screening will increase public confidence in air travel.

  • I personally would not get into an Uber or Lyft that I cannot see their face. If something happens and I cannot identify you…yeah no thanks lol

  • Can you book first class east bound to Europe and return economy? Or must you book first class both ways?

    • You can always book two one-way flights separately – just beware that it might be fairly expensive to do so.

  • Kyle, 6 emails and 7 phone calls to multiple Spanish Embassy/Consulates locations in the US last week resulted in ONE reply telling my client to contact the Embassy by email. He’s leaving for Spain this week, and of course, has not received a reply. How are we going to know if the EU bans US travelers BEFORE they leave. The airline tells me it’s the travelers responsibility to know the rules. If I can find the rules, how is my client going to find them?

  • In all honesty, there is no reason for Delta to continue to block seats. While the thought is nice (80 segments already this year with them), you cannot socially distance on a plane, without having every other row, and really only window seats filled (in narrow body planes). I believe that United and AA are not blocking any seats anymore.

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