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.
- State Department Will Warn ‘Do Not Travel’ To Most Countries
- White House Says It Won’t Require Vaccine Passports for Travel
- Tokyo Summer Olympics Will Go On … Without Fans from Abroad
- CDC Gives Vaccinated Americans Go-Ahead to Gather Without Masks
- Europe Pushes for Vaccine Passport for Summer Travel
- Airlines Push Back Against Mandatory Testing for Domestic Flights
- Canada Halts All Flights to Mexico, Caribbean. Could the U.S. Too?
- Biden Administration Pledges to Keep Travel Bans in Place
- How U.S. Airlines Are Preparing for More Unrest in the Skies
- Flight Attendant Union Calls to Ban Some Pro-Trump Rioters
State Department Will Warn ‘Do Not Travel’ To Most Countries
Tuesday, April 20 at 7 a.m.
The U.S. State Department says it will update its global travel advisories to the highest “Level 4: Do Not Travel” in nearly 80% of the world’s countries, an unprecedented move as countries around the globe reopen for travel.
The Level 4 advisory from the State Department is typically reserved for countries embroiled in war or experiencing civil unrest or high crime rates. Currently, just a handful of countries are designated Level 4. But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything.
The State Department said the upcoming update would better align its own warnings with health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which maintains its own travel advisory system.
“This does not necessarily indicate a change to the current health situation in a given country. It reflects an adjustment in our system to give more weight to CDC’s existing assessments,” the department said in a notice posted Monday. “After this update, approximately 80% of countries will have a Travel Advisory Level of 4: Do Not Travel.”
State Department travel advisories have no force of law, but they’re generally regarded as an important influence for travelers weighing their plans. As of Tuesday morning, the travel advisories remain unchanged.
“We continue to strongly recommend U.S. citizens reconsider all travel abroad, and postpone their trips if possible,” the department said.
Seeing most of the world’s countries added to an official “do not travel” list could give hopeful travelers whiplash.
As vaccine distribution gained steam through the spring, the CDC gave fully vaccinated travelers the go-ahead to resume traveling at low risk to themselves – though the agency still warned about spiking COVID-19 case rates.
Meanwhile, more and more countries have reopened to vaccinated travelers, including Iceland, Croatia, and, most recently, Greece. Even France has suggested it may reopen to Americans in time for summer travel.
Read all our coverage of traveling and the coronavirus.
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.
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.
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.
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.