U.S. Announces Plans To Open Border To Foreign Air Travelers

Beginning this November, the U.S. will allow entry to foreign air travelers who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The White House has announced that it will still require testing for unvaccinated Americans and bar entry for foreigners who haven’t gotten inoculated against COVID-19.

The measures are the most sweeping change to U.S. travel policies in months and widen the gap in rules between vaccinated people who will see measures relaxed and the unvaccinated. The new rules will replace an existing ban on foreign travel to the U.S. from certain regions, including Europe.

While the move will open the U.S. to millions of vaccinated people, the White House cast the measure as a crackdown, pointing to stricter testing rules and a new contact tracing regime. The new policy will take effect in "early November," according to the White House, though the precise date hasn’t yet been announced.

The new rules will replace the current system, which includes outright bans on entry for foreigners who’ve been in certain regions, such as the United Kingdom and the European Union, within the previous two weeks, regardless of vaccination status.

News of the policy change caused U.S. airline shares to rise. The Standard & Poor’s index of the U.S. biggest airlines rose less than 1% in New York trading. American Airlines Group climbed about 2%.

Before the pandemic, the North Atlantic corridor connecting the U.S. and Europe was the single most profitable part of the global aviation market, filled with premium travelers paying top dollar for first- and business-class seats.

British Airways Chief Executive Officer Sean Doyle called the U.S. move an "historic moment" and said customers could now book with confidence.

Biden’s announcement comes ahead of a planned virtual vaccine summit he’ll host this Wednesday (September 22), where he will push for more global donations in a bid to head off criticism of U.S. hoarding, and a decision to proceed with booster shots despite the World Health Organization urging to hold off for now.

Under the new system, vaccinated travelers will still need a pre-flight COVID-19 test, within three days of departure, and will need to provide a phone number and email to begin to create a contact-tracing system that does not exist now.