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Travel experts are slamming the Biden administration’s failure to set a date for reopening the US to land and air travel by vaccinated travellers.
The White House announced the plans to reopen the US to vaccinated air travellers on 20 September, and on Tuesday expanded those plans to include reopening of the US’s northern and southern border ports of entry. Most foreign travel to the United States has been prohibited since mid-March 2020, when then-President Donald Trump announced that he was closing America’s borders to all but essential travel in hopes of stemming the spread of Covid-19 pandemic.
But while the White House says travellers who’ve received a full dose of one of seven World Health Organisation-approved Covid-19 vaccines will be able to enter the US upon a showing of proof that they’ve been vaccinated beginning in early November, administration officials have so far refused to specify when the new protocols will take effect.
“We said we’ll have this in coming days,” a White House official told The Independent in response to a query on when exactly America’s borders would reopen. Another suggested that the date would be sometime around the second week of November.
At the White House’s daily briefing on Thursday, press secretary Jen Psaki said the US remained “on track” for an early November reopening, but she declined to be more specific after several questions on the issue.
Asked about when travellers could expect to be able to enter the US during an appearance on CNBC, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg replied: “I can tell you that we want this to be done as soon as it safely can and we’re looking toward that November goal”.
The lack of a date certain for lifting the travel ban has been a point of contention between the US and European Union countries, the latter of which have allowed vaccinated Americans to enter for some time. The lack of certainty has exacerbated the pain caused by more than a year of closed borders, particularly for those who’ve been yearning to visit family they’ve been kept from seeing during the pandemic.
The Independent travel correspondent Simon Calder said the White House’s lack of candour on when travel to the US can resume in earnest has been “extremely stressful for travellers, especially those who are desperate to see loved ones in the US,” as well as for airline executives looking to maximise use of expensive aircraft and allocate resources such as fuel and personnel.
“They could schedule flights in the hope that the rules will change on 1 November, as some reports have suggested. If the bet pays off, the carriers can look forward to solid, profitable bookings in a month where demand is traditionally low. But if the White House doesn’t start opening things up at the start of November, they run the risk of flying near-empty flights at great cost,” Mr Calder explained. “The US has now banned travel from the UK – and elsewhere in Europe – for 19 months, and its reputation as a welcoming destination is shot”.
Tori Emerson, an executive vice president at the United States Travel Association, told TheIndependent that the announcement of a reopening sometime in November “is a major step forward,” but expressed concern that a lack of certainty would hurt the industry’s plans.
“The travel industry thrives on certainty and a specific date is needed – ideally November 1 – to ensure airlines, travel businesses and the traveling public have time to determine plans,” she said. “With a date unknown, we risk a slower ramp-up and return of travel”.