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US braces for surge of vaccinated international travelers

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. — Image via Clayton Hauck/Choose Chicago/FCB

WASHINGTON — The United States is expecting a flood of international visitors crossing its borders by air and by land on Monday after lifting travel restrictions for much of the world’s population first imposed in early 2020 to address the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

United Airlines is expecting about 50% more total international inbound passengers Monday compared to last Monday when it had about 20,000.

And Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian has warned travelers should be prepared for initial long lines.

“It’s going to be a bit sloppy at first. I can assure you, there will be lines unfortunately,” Mr. Bastian said, adding that “we’ll get it sorted out.”

Delta said in the six weeks since the US reopening was announced it has seen a 450% increase in international point-of-sale bookings versus the six weeks prior to the announcement.

White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said on Twitter “As we expect high demand when the US lifts its existing air and land travel restrictions Monday, we are taking critical steps to be prepared by providing additional resources.”

The Biden administration has held multiple calls with US airlines to prepare for the influx of additional travelers that will begin arriving at US airports and has warned travelers crossing from Canada and Mexico by land or ferry to be prepared for longer waits starting Monday.

For Bhavna Patel, a flight from London will take her to New York on Monday to see her first grandchild after more than a year of watching him grow via FaceTime.

The rules have barred most non-US citizens who within the prior 14 days have been in 33 countries — the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, China, India, South Africa, Iran, Brazil, Britain, and Ireland.

Trade group US Travel said the countries accounted for 53% of all overseas visitors to the United States in 2019 and border communities were hit hard by the loss of tourists crossing from Mexico and Canada. The group estimates declines in international visitation “resulted in nearly $300 billion in lost export income” since March 2020.

US airlines are boosting flights to Europe and other destinations that were impacted by the restrictions. Airlines are planning events on Monday with executives meeting some of the first flights.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and United Airlines President Brett Hart are holding an event at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Monday to mark the reopening.

US officials plan an Instagram live chat on Nov. 9 to help answer questions.

Many international flights are expected to operate close to full or full on Monday, with high passenger volume throughout the following weeks.

Airlines will check vaccination documentation for international travelers as they currently do for COVID-19 test results. At land border crossings, US Customs and Border Protection will ask if travelers have been vaccinated and spot check some documentation.

Children under 18 are exempt from the new vaccine requirements. Non-tourist travelers from nearly 50 countries with nationwide vaccination rates of less than 10% will also be eligible for exemption.

Also Monday, new contact tracing rules will take effect requiring airlines to collect information from international air passengers if needed “to follow up with travelers who have been exposed to COVID-19 variants or other pathogens.” — David Shepardson/Reuters

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