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Airlines and Tourist Hot Spots Prepare to Safely Welcome International Travelers

Date: November 2, 2021

By Harriet Baskas, NBC News

Starting Nov. 8, the United States will begin welcoming fully vaccinated international air travelers under a new, less restrictive set of Covid-19 regulations.

The new rules require that, with very limited exceptions, non-U.S. citizens flying to the U.S. from more than 30 countries must be fully vaccinated and test negative for the coronavirus three days before they board their flight.

“For passengers who are not fully vaccinated, the rules will tighten to require a test taken no more than one day before departing to the United States,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement this week.

The CDC is also requiring airlines to collect contract tracing information from passengers boarding flights to the United States.

The relaxed restrictions are good news for a U.S. travel industry that has been hammered by the pandemic — and (mostly) good news for international travelers hoping to visit the U.S. for business or leisure. 

Already, airline searches — and sales — for flights to the U.S. have spiked.

“We have seen an increase in ticket sales for international travel over the past weeks, and are eager to begin safely reuniting the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer,” Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of airline trade association Airlines for America, said in a statement.

Along with increased tickets sales, though, come increased prices. The cost of an international flight is up by an average of 12 percent from last month, Adit Damodaran, economist for travel booking app Hopper, told NBC.

“We expect international prices to rise another 15 percent from now until the holidays,” he said. 

Travelers heading to the U.S. are likely to find crowded airports and long check-in lines.

Many airlines are still struggling with staffing and retraining issues, said Daniel Burnham, senior member operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights. And because airline personnel will now be tasked with verifying vaccine records and Covid-19 test results at the check-in counter and collecting contact tracing information, “this will likely cause crowding in the early days of implementing these new rules at many European airports.”

“Travel searches on Expedia and Hotels.com have been simmering in anticipation of the borders reopening and came to a full boil the moment the U.S. pinpointed November 8,” Melanie Fish of Expedia Brands told NBC News. “Increased demand in 2022 is likely going to mean fewer travel bargains are out there,” she said. 

The bargains are likely to fade first at hotels in popular U.S. cities. “It’s expected that city hotels in the U.S. will be in high demand — a reverse in trend over the past 18 months,” says Misty Belles, vice president for global public relations at Virtuoso travel network. “So, say goodbye to low rates and flexible cancellation policies.”

The bargains are likely to fade first at hotels in popular U.S. cities.

Cities such as Orlando, New York, and Seattle are excited to welcome back international visitors, who contributed significantly to local economies in typical, pre-pandemic years.

Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, notes that the new requirements for vaccinated international travelers visiting the U.S is “especially valuable for families traveling with children under age 18, who will be exempt from the vaccination requirement and allowed entry as long as they meet the negative testing requirements.” That's a plus for the theme-park-rich Orlando area.

Kauilani Robinson, director of public relations for Visit Seattle, said “we hope to see our international visitations climb back to pre-pandemic levels, but know it will take some time to get there, since travel booked right now is largely cautionary travel and booked at the last minute. But we’re expecting to see that increase as we get into November.”

In New York City, international travel typically generates 50 percent of tourism spending and 50 percent of hotel room nights. “International visitors stay longer and spend more,” said Fred Dixon, president and CEO at NYC & Company, the city's visitors bureau. “The decision to open international borders safely is the news we have been waiting for and the shot in the arm for our industry.”

There is not yet a universally recognized mobile travel pass or travel passport for vaccine and COVID-19 test results. But there are tools, to help travelers figure out what will be required of them at the check-in counter. These include Delta FlyReady, United Airlines' Travel-Ready Center, and Verifly, which is used by American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and others. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, has developed a Travel Pass currently recognized by more than 50 international airlines. 

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