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The United States reopened its land and air borders to fully vaccinated foreign visitors Monday, sparking warnings of queues as airlines and border agents prepare to welcome large numbers of travelers after 20 months of travel restrictions that separated families, tested diplomatic relations and crippled the tourism industry.
The U.S. lifted restrictions on travel from a long list of countries including the United Kingdom, most of Europe, Mexico and Canada.
United Airlines said it expects more than 30,000 passengers to fly into the U.S. Monday, roughly a peak summer day for the carrier and around 50% higher than the number of passengers it had the week before.
Delta Air Lines—whose chief executive Ed Bastian warned travelers to expect long queues when arriving in the U.S.—said many of its flights Monday are sold out and many planes are likely to be full in the weeks after the reopening.
Delta also said it has seen a 450% increase in bookings by travelers outside the U.S. since the reopening was announced.
Delta’s experience reflects wider interest in resuming international travel around the world—travel site Kayak said searches related to international travel to the U.S. jumped nearly 50% the Saturday after the announcement and German carrier Lufthansa said its U.S. bookings were up 50%, even quadrupling on some popular routes.
Though bookings are still below pre-pandemic levels, airlines are ramping up services to meet demand, according to travel data and analytics firm Cirium, with inbound flights from the U.K. set to increase 21% in November.
Delta chief executive Bastian said travelers should be prepared for long queues when arriving in the U.S. “It’s going to be a bit sloppy at first. I can assure you, there will be lines.”
What To Watch For
Sherry Stein, head of technology for the Americas at air transport telecommunications firm SITA, said travelers could expect to wait up to eight hours, according to the International International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association of the world’s airlines. This figure is based on the anticipated number of travelers and the increased time it is now taking to process each passenger.
The U.S. requires adult visitors to be fully vaccinated and to show a negative Covid-19 test (unless crossing by land). Unlike many countries around the world, the U.S. has delegated the task of checking travelers’ vaccination status to airlines. Lacking a consistent, countrywide approach to proof-of-vaccination, each airline has been left to figure out its own way to check passengers.
The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic as travel firms, airlines and hospitality firms were largely shuttered amid Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Around the world, governments spent billions bailing out airlines and other aligned sectors. Globally, the United Nations estimate the crash of international tourism could end up costing the economy more than $4 trillion in 2020 and 2021, much worse than predictions it made a year ago. The U.S.’ travel restrictions have lasted longer than many in other wealthy countries and have, at times, strained diplomatic relations with countries frustrated at the lack of reciprocation in opening borders. The restrictions have been lifted as Covid-19 cases are soaring across Europe, with the WHO warning the continent is “once again, at the epicentre” of the pandemic. The organization said Europe is now leading the world in terms of cases and deaths and many countries, including Germany, are seeing record highs as they struggle to contain outbreaks.