The Latest on COVID-19: Canada Prepares to Reopen its Borders This Month
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The Latest on COVID-19: Canada Prepares to Reopen its Borders This Month

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. 

 

Canada Prepares to Reopen Its Borders This Month

Thursday, June 10 at 8:30 a.m.
After 15 months of continually extending bans on travel, officials in Canada are preparing to reopen the border between the U.S. and Canada later this month.

It’s not a done deal yet, but Politico reports that border town mayors in Canada have been getting signals from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration that a change could be coming soon.

“He didn’t put it in stone but he suggested that (June 22) is the date they’re looking at,” Jim Diodati, mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario, said after a meeting with top Canadian officials. “We’re hoping to get some more confirmation this week.”

All nonessential travel between the U.S. and Canada has been banned since mid-March of 2020. The U.S. and Canadian governments have regularly extended that freeze each and every month for more than a year.

But after a rapid vaccination campaign in the U.S. and an initially sluggish rollout in Canada gaining steam, both countries are itching to restore some travel and tourism between the two countries. In Canada, Trudeau has pegged a 75% first dose rate and 20% full vaccination rate as the point at which restrictions like travel bans could be rolled back. As of late May, nearly 70% of Canadian adults had received a first dose with less than 10% fully vaccinated, according to data from the government.

But exactly what reopening borders between the countries means for visitors and travelers remains unclear, as does how the U.S. may handle Canadian citizens coming south.

Citing sources familiar with the discussions, Bloomberg reported that Canada may only allow fully vaccinated visitors to enter the country without being subjected to the current 14-day quarantine. And even then, they may be required to quarantine for a shorter period and present a negative COVID-19 test.

A formal plan is expected to be announced in the coming days. The current ban on U.S.-Canada travel is set to expire June 21.

Read all our coverage of traveling and the coronavirus.
 

Airlines Shelve Alcohol Service Due to Unruly Passengers

Friday, May 21 at 11:30 a.m.
At least two major U.S. airlines are pausing plans to resume serving alcoholic drinks inflight after a recent slew of unruly incidents in the skies, including a flight attendant who lost two teeth after being assaulted by a passenger.

Most airlines suspended drink service altogether last spring as the COVID-19 pandemic first struck, and regular alcoholic options have been slow to return – at least for the average traveler flying back in economy. Southwest Airlines announced earlier this month it would begin selling alcohol onboard starting in mid-June. American Airlines, meanwhile, was set to offer booze options inflight as of June 1.

But both airlines have hit the pause button, citing a disturbing rise in incidents between passengers and crew in recent weeks. That includes a Southwest flight attendant who suffered facial lacerations and lost two teeth after being punched repeatedly by a passenger who repeatedly refused to follow the flight attendant’s directions. That passenger was arrested and charged with felony battery.

“Based on the rise in passenger disruptions in flight, I’ve made the decision to re-evaluate the restart of alcohol service on board,” a Southwest official wrote in a memo obtained by CNN.

American Airlines says it won’t resume selling alcohol in economy until at least Sept. 13 – though it will continue to be available in premium cabins. Southwest hasn’t said when it will revisit its buy-on-board drinks.
 

 

The Federal Aviation Administration said last week that it had received 2,500 reports of unruly passenger behavior just since Jan. 1, 2021 – up drastically from past years. That includes 1,900 violations of the federal mask mandate.

But alcohol won’t disappear elsewhere. After a year of giving passengers only prepackaged bags with water and snacks, Delta resumed selling alcoholic drinks in economy in mid-April and has made no announcements about plans to curtail that service. United is still on track to restart selling alcohol onboard some flights as of Tuesday, June 1.
 

Major Hotel Chains Are Dropping Mask Mandates for Vaccinated Guests

Friday, May 21 at 11:30 a.m.
Some of the nation’s largest chains are dropping their yearlong indoor mask mandates for vaccinated guests after recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that vaccinated Americans can stop wearing masks or social distancing indoors.

Marriott, Hyatt, and Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) have all dropped their policies for guests to wear masks indoors this week. Of course, there’s little chance staff at any of these hotels will require proof of vaccination from maskless guests. In practice, that means mask requirements are dropping altogether.

“At our U.S. hotels, guests who are fully vaccinated are no longer required to wear face coverings or follow social distancing, unless mandated by a local jurisdiction or state,” Marriott said.

Hyatt, meanwhile, quietly updated its policy to exclude vaccinated guests from masking requirements in U.S. hotels.

“At all Hyatt hotels in the U.S., guests who are unvaccinated are required to wear face masks or coverings in hotel indoor public areas, as well as outdoors where social distancing is not feasible (with some limited exceptions),” the hotel chain said.

Those moves come after major nationwide retailers like Target, Walmart, and Trader Joes have dropped their own mask policies in stores. Earlier this week, the hotel trade group the American Hotel & Lodging Association called on its member hotels to drop mask requirements for vaccinated travelers.

But not all the major hotels are ditching mask requirements just yet. Most notably, both Hilton and Wyndham still have mask mandates in place.

And they’re not alone in the travel world. While the CDC relaxed its masking requirements last week, masks are still required on planes and in airports through early September – regardless of vaccination status.

 

CDC Says Vaccinated Americans Can Ditch Masks Indoors (But Not on Planes)

Thursday, May 13 at 3:30 p.m.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave fully vaccinated Americans the all-clear on Thursday to stop wearing masks or social distancing indoors in most cases. But masks will remain mandatory on planes, in airports, and on other forms of public transportation – at least for now.

Thursday’s announcement from the nation’s top public health agency is the clearest signal yet from federal officials that a return to normal life is somewhere around the corner. And it’s a long-awaited change as a rapid vaccination campaign in the U.S. has helped crush COVID-19 cases across the nation even as other countries continue to struggle with the virus.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday, CNN reports. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

But it won’t reach into every corner of American life just yet. The guidance applies only to fully vaccinated people, which the CDC defines as two weeks after the second dose of a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine – or the first and only dose from Johnson & Johnson. State and local masking requirements are still valid, and businesses can still individually require masks. The CDC also still urges wearing a mask in crowded spaces.

For travelers, the change will take longer to set in. Just weeks ago, the Transportation Security Administration extended the federal mask mandate on planes, in airports, and on other forms of transportation through Sept. 13. That mandate remains in place until it expires. And while some travelers may be eager to shed their masks inflight as travel rebounds, the TSA says it has no plans to rescind that mandate early even after the CDC’s new guidance on masks for vaccinated travelers.

Airlines began requiring more than a year ago as the pandemic first unfolded. Along with airline employee unions, they pushed unsuccessfully for months for a mandate the backing of the federal government until President Joe Biden put it into law shortly after taking office in January.

That gave flight attendants more muscle to enforce mask requirements onboard. But there have been more confrontations and flareups between passengers and flight crew in recent months, leading the Federal Aviation Administration to crack down on unruly behavior in the skies with hefty fines.

 

TSA Extends Air Travel Mask Mandate Through Summer

Friday, April 30 at 3 p.m.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has extended the mask mandate on planes, in airports, and on other modes of public transport until at least Sept. 13.

Airlines have required masks on planes for more than a year. But after taking office in January, President Joe Biden’s administration made it a federal rule at the request of airline industry groups and flight attendant unions. The TSA’s original mandate was set to expire May 11, but airline unions pleaded for another extension.

On Friday, the agency extended that requirement until at least Sept. 13. Offenders could get hit with a $250 fine – and repeat offenders could see fines of up to $1,500.

“The federal mask requirement throughout the transportation system seeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” Darby LaJoye, the current acting TSA Administrator, said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to evaluate the need for these directives and recognize the significant level of compliance thus far.”

Read up on the federal mask requirements – including who needs one, which masks work, and which won’t.

The extension comes as travel rebounds after a year stuck at home. Federal health officials have given the green light to vaccinated Americans to travel at low risk to themselves. And as the last U.S. airline fills middle seats and many scale back some of their cleaning and social distancing procedures, masks have become a primary focus to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Airlines have banned thousands of passengers throughout the pandemic for failing to wear a mask. Delta alone had banned more than 1,000 passengers as of February.

But even as millions of Americans get vaccinated every day, the mask mandate on planes could easily extend beyond September 2021. President Biden’s executive order signed in January authorizes the mask mandate until it’s removed – or until the Secretary of Health and Human Services rescinds the public health emergency declaration for the pandemic.

Read all our coverage of traveling and the coronavirus.
 

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.

“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.
 

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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