The Latest on COVID-19: Biden Administration will Tighten Reentry Requirements for Unvaccinated Americans
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The Latest on COVID-19: Biden Administration will Tighten Reentry Requirements for Unvaccinated Americans

Editor’s Note: This post will be regularly updated with the latest news and updates on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on travel. Scroll down or click for previous updates and stay tuned for additional coverage. 

 

 

Biden Administration will Tighten Reentry Requirements for Unvaccinated Americans

Thursday, Sept. 23 at 12:30 p.m.

Earlier this week, a White House spokesperson announced the U.S. would be reopening to vaccinated foreigners seeking to enter the U.S. starting in November. What wasn’t clear at the time is what the Biden Administration has planned for unvaccinated Americans looking to reenter the country while abroad.

Currently, all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, need to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their return flight back to the United States.

According to reporting from the Associated Press, White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients said the Biden Administration is planning to tighten rules for unvaccinated Americans returning home by making them test twice.

Unvaccinated American citizens will need to be tested for COVID-19 within one day of returning to the states and again after they arrive back home. It remains unclear how the government plans to enforce the second test stateside.

The updated policy comes as the Biden Administration has dug in on vaccination and testing requirements in other sectors to regain control of the COVID-19 pandemic across the country.

“Early November” was the timeframe first announced by the White House Monday, but a more official announcement which will likely include more detail should come as early as next week.

 

Reports: U.S. Travel Ban on Vaccinated Foreigners to be Eased in November

Monday, Sept. 20 at 10:30 a.m.

A White House spokesperson told reporters Monday morning that vaccinated foreigners looking to enter the U.S. will be able to do so in November, ending a months-long travel ban.

The Associated Press reported the news Monday morning that White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients announced a long-awaited easing of restrictions for foreign travelers who wish to enter the U.S. The updated policy does not affect Americans looking to travel abroad or return home. And so far, no announcements have been made about removing the testing requirements for vaccinated American citizens returning home from abroad.

It does, however, create a reciprocal policy to the European Union and the U.K., which have both started allowing Americans.

The new policy means vaccinated foreign travelers coming to the U.S. will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival, but still must provide a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of travel.

Previously, foreign travelers from the U.K., the European Union, China, India, Iran, Ireland, Brazil, and South Africa were restricted from entering the U.S. The new approach will allow individuals who are vaccinated and test negative to enter the U.S. regardless of where they are from.

Notably, the Associated Press also says the CDC is instructing airlines to collect COVID-19-related data from foreign travelers, including contact information for tracing purposes.

Zients told the Associated Press that the policy will be implemented in “early November” and an official announcement on the matter could come as soon as next week.

Many travelers think this policy update is long overdue, as Europe and other destinations have been allowing American travelers for months. Only now is the U.S. reciprocating.

Again, this does not affect Americans looking to travel abroad or return home, but it is undoubtedly good news. This change is likely to reconnect families and friends separated by the pandemic since March 2020.

 

President Biden, TSA Double Fines for No Masks on Planes

Friday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 a.m.
Travelers who refuse to wear masks onboard planes will pay twice as much in fines after President Joe Biden’s latest executive order meant to curb unruly passengers.

On Thursday, Biden directed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to raise fines for noncompliance with the federal mask mandate. Effective Friday, that means first-time offenders would pay $500 to $1,000. Repeat offenders could pay $1,000 to $3,000. Those fines previously topped out at $1,500.

“If you break the rules, be prepared to pay,” Biden said from the White House Thursday.

Mask requirements have been a hallmark of travel since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Biden put those requirements into federal law immediately after taking office in January. The federal mask mandate on planes, in airports, and on other forms of public transport was recently extended through Jan. 18, 2022.

But masks have become a major flashpoint, fueling a surge of unruly passengers this year. Countless viral videos show passengers shouting at flight attendants and fellow travelers – even brawling. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has received more than 4,000 reports about unruly travelers this year, with a vast majority concerning mask requirements.

Biden called on Americans to behave better on planes.

“And by the way, show some respect. The anger you see on television toward flight attendants and others doing their job is wrong. It’s ugly.”

But just because the penalties are increasing doesn’t mean travelers who refuse to wear masks will actually pay them. Data shows that most noncompliant passengers eventually wind up receiving a warning rather than actually paying a fine.

Read all our coverage of traveling and COVID-19.

 

Some European Airlines are Cracking Down on Cloth Masks

Monday, Sept. 6 at 8:30 a.m.
Several European airlines are requiring medical or surgical masks to be worn on their flights, forcing some travelers to ditch their homemade or cloth masks when flying to or from Europe.

The latest airline to up its mask requirements is Scandinavian carrier Finnair. Its website says passengers must wear a surgical mask, “a valveless FFP2 or FFP3 mask or another kind of valveless mask following the equivalent standards (N95).”

Finnair says masks made of “fabric, face shields, masks with a valve or scarves used as a mask” are not allowed.

Finnair is joining Air France, which for months has had a very strict requirement: The French flag carrier explicitly requires surgical masks onboard its flights. Air France policies also spell out that surgical masks are required throughout the airport and duration of the flight – no matter the origin or destination.

The French airline recommends passengers bring several surgical masks on the trip. During an Air France flight earlier this summer, our team saw Air France flight attendants handing out surgical masks to passengers without them.

Read more: What’s It Like Flying to Europe Right Now? A Firsthand Look

Way back on Feb. 1, Lufthansa introduced a similar requirement for passengers flying to or from Germany, with limited exceptions. And in the months since, Germany as a whole has begun requiring FFP2 or KN95 masks throughout the country.

In the U.S., the federal mask mandate hasn’t gone quite that far. It explicitly bans masks with valves, bandanas, scarves, and ski masks. But cloth and homemade masks still currently qualify on planes, in airports, and on other forms of public transportation.

Some have wondered if mask mandates during air travel were heading toward an end just a few months ago. Instead, the U.S. extended mask requirements until at least January 2022.

There is no indication if domestic airlines would do the same as the Delta variant continues to spread through the country.

 

CDC Urges Unvaccinated Americans to Stay Home Over Labor Day Weekend

Thursday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 a.m.
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is telling unvaccinated Americans to stay home over the typically busy Labor Day travel weekend as COVID-19 cases continue climbing.

“Given where we are with disease transmission right now, we would say that people need to take their own these risks into their own consideration as they think about traveling,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Wednesday, according to CNBC. “If you are unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling.”

While Walensky said vaccinated Americans who wear masks are free to travel, she also urged everyone to consider their own risks – and perhaps even reconsider travel plans.

After crushing the pandemic this spring with a rapid vaccination campaign, the fast-spreading Delta variant has caused COVID-19 cases to skyrocket to nearly 170,000 per day on average – higher than any point since late January. Hospitalizations have surged, particularly in southern states with lower vaccination rates.

The resurgence of COVID-19 combined with the end of summer has put the brakes on the return to normal in travel. After climbing steadily throughout 2021, travel numbers in the U.S. are trending downward once again.

The U.S. saw less than 1.4 million travelers moving through airports on Tuesday – the lowest figure since early May. For the last 31 consecutive days, those daily travel figures have been lower than the week prior.

Still, airlines are bracing for a fairly busy weekend. United Airlines said it expects to handle more than 2 million passengers from Thursday through next Tuesday. That would be triple the amount of flyers the airline saw last year, but down by more than 25% compared to 2019.

After an extension last week, masks are still required on airplanes, in airports, and on other forms of public transportation until Jan. 18, 2022.

Walensky urged all Americans to plan outdoor activities and wear masks inside over the holiday weekend.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that the vast majority of transmission takes place among unvaccinated people in closed indoor settings,” Walensky said. “Masks are not forever, but they are for now.”

Read all our coverage of traveling and COVID-19.

Hawaii Governor Asks Travelers to Stay Away Until November

Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 7:30 a.m.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige is pleading with tourists to stay away from the islands until November, as a surge in tourism and a wave of COVID-19 cases strain the state.

After shutting down to nearly all tourists last March, Hawaii has reemerged as a tourist magnet since reopening in October 2020 in spite of COVID-19 testing requirements. In July, Hawaii began allowing travelers with proof of vaccination to bypass those testing requirements.

That’s not changing – at least not yet. But Ige told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser this week that now’s not the time to come to Hawaii, saying he’d like to curtail travel to the islands through the end of October.

“Now’s not a good time to visit Hawaii,” Ige said. “We have limited capacity in the restaurants, we see continuing case counts here.”

Hawaii is in the midst of the biggest surge in COVID-19 cases of any point in the pandemic, fueled by the fast-spreading Delta variant. While nearly 75% of Hawaiians have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and deaths remain low, hospital capacity across the islands has been stretched thin.

With restaurant capacity limited, rental cars hard to come by, and a new ban on indoor gatherings of more than 10 taking effect on Maui starting Wednesday, Ige also made the case that travelers may not get what they want out of a trip to Hawaii right now.

He has stopped short of imposing new hurdles for travelers to curb tourism to the islands but clearly didn’t rule that prospect out. Ige called another round of lockdowns a “last resort.”

Ige’s comments come after weeks of locals asking tourists to stay away from the islands, citing overtourism amid the pandemic.

American Airlines Won’t Resume Onboard Booze Sales Until 2022

Thursday, Aug. 19 at 12 p.m.
American Airlines says it won’t resume selling alcohol inflight to economy passengers until at least mid-January 2022, citing the recent extension of the federal mask mandate.

Airlines big and small cut back nearly all inflight service last year to limit maskless moments and interaction between passengers and crew. But by late 2020, United began reintroducing alcohol service on select flights. And after passing out only prepackaged bags of water and snacks, Delta reintroduced more beverages including beer, wine, and pre-canned cocktails for sale in mid-April.

American and Southwest were planning to follow suit until a rise in unruly behavior in the skies this spring led them to put off alcohol sales. American had said it would reintroduce alcohol sales next month – or whenever the federal mask mandate on planes ends.

And that’s exactly what they’re doing. After federal officials this week extended masking requirements until Jan. 18, 2022, American has announced it will do the same for alcohol sales to economy passengers. Premium cabin passengers with American have been getting free booze for months.

“We are doing all we can to help create a safe environment for our crew and customers onboard our aircraft,” Stacey Frantz, American’s senior manager of flight service policies, wrote in a memo to staff explaining the decision, according to CNBC.

Southwest hasn’t yet shed light on its plans for bringing back a full drink service.

Whether at the airport or onboard, alcohol has become a focal point as airlines grapple with unruly passengers onboard. Flight attendant unions were instrumental in halting the return of onboard alcohol sales. And just this month, the Federal Aviation Administration pleaded with airport officials to help ensure travelers weren’t being overserved or bringing drinks with them.

Two-Thirds of Americans Support Vaccine Passports for Flying, Poll Finds

Tuesday, Aug. 17 at 8 a.m.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans would support vaccination requirements for flying on a plane, according to a recent poll.

Many countries around the globe have reopened to travelers with requirements for vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test, or both. But there’s no overarching requirement to show a vaccination card or so-called “vaccine passport” just to step on a plane in the U.S.

A Harris Poll performed earlier this month found that 64% of Americans would strongly or somewhat support a vaccination requirement for air travel. And support for vaccine passports largely hinges on vaccination status: 75% of those surveyed who had already received their shots said they supported such a requirement. That fell to just 22% among those who do not plan to get the vaccine.

In fact, support for a vaccination requirement for air travel was higher than any other activity the poll asked about, including going to college or attending indoor concerts. The Harris Poll of 2,080 Americans was conducted Aug. 6 through Aug. 8.

President Joe Biden’s administration had considered vaccination or testing requirements for domestic flights earlier in the pandemic but eventually decided against it. And while some airlines including United and Frontier will require all their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, airlines have shied away from imposing such measures on their customers.

“It’s very difficult for us to come in and mandate a vaccine that isn’t even federally approved yet, the authorization hasn’t been final yet, so stay tuned,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a previous interview with CNBC.

So for the foreseeable future, any vaccination requirements for a flight are likely to depend on where you’re going. From Germany to Iceland and Italy, many countries open for travel across Europe require proof of vaccination – and airlines are in charge of ensuring their customers have the proper documentation to get into the country before boarding.

Even Hawaii still requires either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to skip a 10-day quarantine period upon arrival to the islands. And several major cities including New York City, San Francisco, and New Orleans now have vaccine passport requirements in place to eat, drink, or gather at many indoor venues.

 

From San Francisco to New Orleans, More U.S. Cities Impose Vaccine Passports

Friday, Aug. 13 at 7:30 a.m.
On the heels of New York City becoming the first American city to require proof of vaccination to visit bars, restaurants, more major towns are joining the fold with strict requirements to battle back against COVID-19.

Starting next Monday, Aug. 16, New Orleans will become the second city to require proof of vaccination for many indoor settings – though enforcement won’t begin until the following week. Visitors and residents alike will have to prove they’re fully vaccinated to enter bars, restaurants, gyms, concert halls, sports stadiums, and many other indoor venues. A negative COVID-19 test taken within the last 72 hours will also be accepted.

“The situation is dire and we are simply out of time,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at a press conference announcing the requirement, according to Fox News. Louisiana has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and COVID-19 cases are surging throughout much of the south.

Meanwhile, San Francisco will implement even tougher restrictions by the end of the month. Come Aug. 20, all staff and patrons at bars, restaurants, gyms, and sports venues will have to show proof of full vaccination. Either a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination card or a photo of that card will suffice, but the state of California is working on a digital system to show vaccination status. And unlike New York and New Orleans, San Francisco won’t make an exception for people with a recent negative COVID-19 test.

New York was the first major U.S. city to mandate proof of vaccination for bars, restaurants, and other indoor venues earlier this month. But even as San Francisco and New Orleans join that list, it’s likely to keep growing as COVID-19 cases climb nationwide fueled by a fast-spreading Delta variant.

Los Angeles is reportedly considering a similar requirement. Across the pond, France and Italy recently implemented similar requirements. But several states have banned so-called vaccine passports outright, including Texas, Utah, Montana, and Idaho.

 

United Will Require All Employees to Get Vaccinated

Friday, Aug. 6 at 7:45 a.m.
United Airlines will require all 67,000 of its U.S.-based employees to get vaccinated by this fall, the first major U.S. Airline to mandate staff

United’s top brass announced the mandate in a letter to employees on Friday. The new policy requires all U.S.-based United employees to upload proof of vaccination with either two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson. As an incentive, employees who prove their vaccination status will get an extra day of pay.

That requirement would take effect no later than five weeks after the Food and Drug Administration gives full authorization to a COVID-19 vaccine. That is expected sometime in early September.

“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees. But we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated,” United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart wrote in the letter.

Other airlines have pressed crews and frontline staff to get vaccinated for months, but United is the first to require them. That decision comes amid a growing tide of vaccination policies and the return of masks at major employers across the country as the fast-spreading Delta variant fuels another wave of COVID-19 cases.

Requiring flight attendants, pilots, and airline support staff to get vaccinated is one thing. But a broader vaccine mandate for all air travel – including passengers – would likely present a host of legal and logistical hurdles.

Earlier this week, Delta CEO Ed Bastian hinted at that prospect in an interview on CNBC.

“It’s very difficult for us to come in and mandate a vaccine that isn’t even federally approved yet, the authorization hasn’t been final yet, so stay tuned,” Bastian said.

 

New York City Announces 1st Vaccine Passport Program in U.S.

Tuesday, Aug. 3 at 12 p.m.

New York City will soon require proof of vaccination to dine indoors, work out at gyms, and enter other venues, becoming the first major city in the U.S. to mandate so-called vaccine passports.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the brewing requirement on Tuesday. Anyone who wants to enter an indoor dining establishment, fitness centers, or entertainment facilities like theaters or cinemas must prove they’ve had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

That requirement will take effect Aug. 16. The city says it will begin enforcing vaccine requirements Sept. 13.

New York had already rolled out a so-called vaccine passport smartphone app called the Excelsior Pass for New Yorkers to prove their vaccination status, but no government mandate requiring at least one dose was in place. Some private businesses, including fitness chains like Equinox and Soul Cycle as well as Broadway theaters, recently began requiring proof of vaccination on their own.

But with COVID-19 cases surging nationwide due to a fast-spreading Delta variant, de Blasio said: “If we’re going to stop the Delta variant, the time is now.” New Yorkers and visitors alike can prove their vaccination status to meet the new requirement with the Excelsior Pass or their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination card.

“We know this will encourage more vaccinations,” the mayor said.

 

NYC Pass vaccine passport

 

No other major American city has made a similar move yet, but New York City’s announcement could start a trend in major hubs across the U.S.

Across Europe, similar vaccine passport requirements are rolling out already.

France’s new health pass goes into effect Aug. 9 and is required for access to bars, restaurants, malls, planes, trains, or coaches. Proof of full vaccination, negative COVID-19 test results within 48 hours, or a positive COVID-19 test from at least 15 days earlier all qualify you for a health pass in France.

A similar “Green Pass” program goes into effect Aug. 6 in Italy. Denmark pioneered the practice and Belgium is set to roll out its own passport policy by September.

The announcements of the passes in France and Italy sparked protests in many major cities, but the announcements yielded the response public officials hoped. The Associated Press reports that vaccine demand increased by 200% in some Italian regions after the announcement of the Green Pass. In France, nearly 5 million people got their first vaccine dose and more than 6 million got their second dose in the two weeks after the health pass requirements were

Back in New York, de Blasio called the new requirement the “Key to the city,” saying: “If you’re vaccinated, you have the key and you can open the door,” to all New York has to offer.

23 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.

  • 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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