Loved ones separated more than a year and a half were reunited Monday with tears, kisses and “welcome back” signs at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City after the United States fell over the Covid-19 pandemic had lifted the travel restrictions imposed.
“This is the best thing that has ever happened to me!” shouted a woman after exiting her British Airways flight from London’s Heathrow Airport and hugging her sister, clutching white flowers and balloons.
British Airways employees queued to clap as UK travelers exited customs and exited the terminal. Some of those waiting said excitedly, “You are here, you are here.” Others held handwritten signs – “We missed you, two years” – including a little boy whose poster said, “Do I look taller? 730 days.
US citizens and permanent residents have always been allowed to enter. However, the travel restrictions resulted in tourists, business travelers and family members being prevented from entering.
The travel restrictions had banned non-US citizens from entering 33 countries – including China, India and much of Europe – and also restricted entry overland from Mexico and Canada.
Foreign nationals must be fully vaccinated against Covid to enter the USA, with exceptions, however, for children under the age of 18 and people who cannot be medically vaccinated. Travelers over 2 years of age must also present a negative Covid test that was carried out within the last three days.
Anyone crossing a land border from Mexico or Canada needs proof of vaccination, but no test. As of early Monday, traffic at many land border crossings in Canada and Mexico was already secured.
Connor Giesbrecht drove from Winnipeg, Canada to Fargo, North Dakota on Monday. He planned to fly to Orlando via Chicago later that morning to visit his brother in college.
“With the border opening, it’s a lot easier to see him,” said Giesbrecht, 21, who often drove to the US to do some shopping before the pandemic. “It saves a lot of money going to the US instead of flying overseas from Canada. The reopening makes traveling so much easier.”
After announcing that the US would reopen its borders, Virgin Atlantic saw bookings to the US rise 600 percent, the airline said in a press release. After confirmation of the reopening date on October 15. Bookings rose again by almost 50 percent compared to the previous week.
“It was an absolute nightmare that we could never have imagined.”
On this occasion, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic took off simultaneously from Heathrow to Kennedy Airport for the first time on Monday morning. At the airport there was a festive atmosphere with actors in red, white and blue costumes entertaining the travelers.
“Today is a day to celebrate,” said Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, at the airport.
British Airways chief Sean Doyle agreed, saying the airline had seen business travelers excited about getting back on the streets.
“Aside from the human aspect, it is very important for business and trade that we get this corridor back on track,” he said. “The connections are very strong and travel is an important part of making this economic activity possible.”
The two airlines have the reopening on their social media accounts as well Virgo posting a photo of a new “US themed cocktail”.
At Heathrow Airport, Gail and Paul Chamberlain said they looked forward to meeting their daughter’s fiancé in person while they prepared for a flight to Los Angeles.
“I’m so glad I could cry,” said Gail Chamberlain, 67. “I am [going] Wedding dress shopping. That I never thought that I could do anything with her. “
Delta Air Lines said that in the six weeks since the US reopening announcement, international bookings had increased 450 percent compared to the six weeks prior to the announcement.
British Sarah Solomon traveled to Sanger, near Dallas, on Monday to visit her daughter, who moved to the city of Texas three years ago.
“It was an absolute nightmare that we could never have imagined,” said Solomon, 55. “We didn’t know we would be two years apart.”
Airlines have warned of long lines and will check vaccination documents for international travelers for Covid test results as they did before.
“It’s a real sign that people are going back to personal events and actually seeing each other and doing their business in person, which is such a breath of fresh air,” said Edward Langley, 34, who works for a trade show company and his own makes first trip to the USA
For the first time on January 31, 2020, then President Donald Trump prohibited travel to non-US citizens who had been in China in the past two weeks. As the pandemic spread, further restrictions on non-nationals followed in March 2020, with an initial ban on European travelers for 30 days.