USA TODAY International Edition

Airports take world on their shoulders

Strict entry rules will create bottleneck­s as tourists return

- Dawn Gilbertson and Bailey Schulz USA TODAY

Planning to travel internatio­nally next week? Be prepared for busier airports and border crossings.

Airlines and U. S. Customs and Border Protection expect a spike in travel starting Monday, the day the U. S. reopens to foreign visitors from dozens of countries, and U. S. land borders with Canada and Mexico reopen to nonessenti­al travel.

Add in a slew of new entry requiremen­ts for internatio­nal visitors that must be verified by airlines – proof of COVID- 19 vaccinatio­n, a negative coronaviru­s test and attestatio­n forms – and bottleneck­s are inevitable.

“It’s going to be a bit sloppy at first, I can assure you,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said last week at a U. S. Travel Associatio­n conference. “There will be lines, unfortunat­ely.”

Flights will be ‘ fairly full’

Airlines are prepping for a big increase in travelers eager to vacation in the United States or reunite with loved ones.

Many of Virgin Atlantic’s U. S.- bound flights on Monday, including its first flight to the U. S. that day from London to New York, are sold out, according to spokespers­on Andrew Scott.

United Airlines expects more than 30,000 people to fly into the U. S. that day. That equates to a peak summer day for the airline.

Most of the flights will be “fairly full,” according to spokespers­on Nicole Carriere.

Delta Air Lines said many of its Monday flights to the U. S. are sold out and that planes are expected to be relatively full in the following weeks. The airline has seen a 450% increase in bookings by travelers who live outside the U. S. in the weeks since the reopening

was announced, spokespers­on Morgan Durrant said. The most popular destinatio­ns: New York, Atlanta, Boston and Orlando, Florida.

British Airways is operating 26 flights to 15 destinatio­ns including New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles on Monday, flights that will now include a mix of passengers from both sides of the Atlantic instead of primarily U. S. citizens.

‘ We know internatio­nal travel feels a bit different right now’

Airlines expect some internatio­nal travelers to be unfamiliar with all the new rules or rusty from 20 months without an overseas flight, which could slow things down at the airport. Most are advising passengers to arrive at least three hours early.

Long lines were common in popular vacation destinatio­ns like Cancun, Mexico, earlier this year when the U. S. began requiring proof of a negative coronaviru­s test or recovery from the virus for all passengers flying into the country, including U. S. citizens.

In emails and on their websites, U. S. and foreign airlines are reminding passengers with upcoming internatio­nal flights from previously banned countries about the entry restrictio­ns and pointing them to mobile apps where they can upload vaccinatio­n proof, test results and other required informatio­n so things go smoothly.

American Airlines sends alerts to travelers about the new U. S. entry rules when they book and follows up a week, 72 hours and 24 hours before departure.

Travelers anticipate ‘ bit of a wait’

Sam Nagy is flying from Manchester, England, to Orlando on Monday with his wife and 2- year- old for a vacation they had to reschedule four times.

Earlier this week, he received an email from Virgin Atlantic outlining the steps he needs to take ahead of the flight “to ensure your upcoming departure and arrival into the US goes smoothly.”

“We know internatio­nal travel feels a bit different right now, with all the measures in place to ensure you fly safe and well during the Covid- 19 pandemic,” the email said. “By carefully checking the entry requiremen­ts for your travel to the US and following the requiremen­ts, you’ll be all set for your journey and can start looking forward to your trip, be it for leisure, business or reuniting with loved ones.”

Nagy said via email that he expects some hassles on his first trip to the United States since 2018.

He expects a long check- in line at the Manchester airport as some travelers struggle with their documents and a “bit of a wait” to clear U. S. Customs and Border Protection at Orlando Internatio­nal Airport as that can be “hit and miss at the best of times.”

He plans to take any issues in stride on the trip to the family’s “favourite place in the world.”

Their first stop in Orlando after picking up the rental car: the Islands of Adventure theme park at Universal Orlando Resort.

“It’s become our go- to thing,” he said.

Flying into the US as travel ban is lifted? Be prepared

For U. S. citizens and internatio­nal travelers from countries not subject to the travel ban, clearing the CBP process upon arrival at U. S. airports has been a relative breeze.

With a much bigger pool of travelers now eligible to visit, those lines are going to get longer especially during peak travel periods.

“Now, are you going to see an increase in wait times ... because we have more people coming in,” said Aaron Bowker, director of Office of Field Operations Communicat­ions for the CBP.

But Bowker said lines will simply begin to return to normal, not become “astronomic­al.”

He said CBP staffing at airports remained the same during the pandemic but workers were given different duties. With travel volume expected to increase, they will head back to the front lines as needed.

Bowker said CBP can match staffing with expected crowds at airports because they know in advance how many travelers are arriving and when thanks to the airline passenger manifests it receives.

That’s not the case at land borders since travelers arriving by car don’t make reservatio­ns.

Another big difference: CBP officers at airports will not have to check for vaccine proof or coronaviru­s test results because that is being handled by airlines in the departure city.

Bowker’s advice for people catching internatio­nal flights to the U. S. in the near future is to be prepared and don’t expect brief pandemic wait times such as an average of 20 minutes at New York’s JFK airport.

Land border officials ask travelers to be patient

It’s a different story for CBP officers at land crossings because they will be tasked with verifying documents.

The U. S. land borders and ferry ports are set to allow travelers to pass through for nonessenti­al reasons for the first time since March 21, 2020, so long as they are fully vaccinated.

“For travelers making the trip to the United States, we ask that you are patient with our officers as we embark upon further reopening cross border travel,” CBP executive director of admissibil­ity and passenger programs Matthew Davies said in a Tuesday press conference.

CBP officials said even though their staff faces an impending deadline for federal vaccine mandates, the department has enough staffing to handle the uptick.

“We know and expect that there will be wait times as traffic increases but we do expect to have a full complement of staffing to handle the surge as travel resumes,” Davies said.

The CBP suggests travelers who are crossing the border come prepared with the correct documentat­ion in hand. Travelers can also take advantage of CBP programs such as its facial biometrics or its CBP One mobile applicatio­n.

Which countries were included in the US travel ban?

The U. S. travel restrictio­ns were first imposed in early 2020 to slow the spread of COVID- 19, and were reinstated by President Joe Biden in January after then- President Donald Trump rescinded the restrictio­ns days before the end of his term. The country prohibits entry for most travelers from: China; Iran; European Schengen area ( Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenst­ein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherland­s, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerlan­d, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City); United Kingdom ( England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland); Republic of Ireland; Brazil; South Africa; and India.


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