Travellers, industry want more guidance on exactly when and how the US will reopen — here’s what we know so far

Oct 8, 2021

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There was plenty of excitement in Europe on 20 September with the long-awaited news that after 18 months of being blocked from entering, fully vaccinated Europeans would finally be allowed to enter the United States from “early November.”

Since then, nothing.

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In This Post

When will the United States open?

With “early November” now less than a month away, Europeans are eagerly awaiting concrete details on exactly when and how they can cross the Atlantic, as they are very ready to book and travel. British Airways, the European airline with the most flights to the United States, has already seen a huge uplift in new bookings to the U.S. — they’re bringing their largest aircraft, the Airbus A380, out of storage after 18 months to serve U.S. destinations in December, including Miami (MIA) and Los Angeles (LAX).

The delay in announcing the exact date of reopening to Europeans is frustrating and puzzling — what is likely to change between then and now? Why keep travellers waiting?

“The lack of further details is hampering operational planning for the airlines and passenger confidence,” Peter Cerda, the International Air Transport Association’s regional vice president for the Americas, said during IATA’s Annual General Meeting earlier this week.

Some insiders have said President Joe Biden has been working toward a 1 November date, with others saying some date between 8 -13 November is more likely.

So, what’s causing the holdup as Europeans hover their fingers over the “book this flight” button?

The delay is unlikely to be caused by inaction by U.S. officials, or any diplomatic disagreements between President Biden and European officials, but rather the daunting logistical hurdles to be fully bedded down before thousands, if not millions, of vaccinated Europeans enter the country.

How will vaccinations be proven?

With the United States only opening the door to those Europeans who are fully vaccinated from “early November,” the first issue is how travellers can prove they are fully vaccinated.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate allows European Union citizens and residents to produce a formal vaccine certificate within seconds through an easy app. While they may wonder what is taking so long to prove vaccination status to enter the U.S., some countries do not have a convenient way to prove vaccination, which is needed before the Unites States can allow vaccinated visitors.

Will foreign paper vaccine cards be accepted? Can a PDF on a phone suffice? This needs to be set before the first European can enter.

Which vaccines will be accepted?

Another logistical headache to solve before reopening is which vaccines will be accepted for entry. Even within Europe, each country has several different vaccines that have been administered. Many countries hedged their bets by purchasing several different vaccines to ensure any supply delays from one vaccine supplier would not hold up their entire vaccination program.

Those Americans who are fully vaccinated mostly received Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, for example, and those vaccines have been approved in the U.S.

What about the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that is currently protecting tens of millions of Brits? The Chinese Sinovac and Russian Sputnik V vaccines are also yet to be approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How can you consider a foreigner fully vaccinated with a vaccine your own CDC has still not approved?

Related: Everything we know so far about being considered ‘fully vaccinated’ for travel to the US

Will each state have the same entry requirements?

A third issue is ensuring a consistent nationwide approach to the entry of Europeans. Once allowed, they will be flying directly into more than a dozen U.S. airports across the country, from Seattle (SEA) to Atlanta (ATL) to Boston (BOS). Local pandemic restrictions vary from state to state and city to city. Some states are still taking a very strict approach to issues like mask-wearing, vaccination certificates and indoor capacity limits, while others have already moved into more of a post-COVID-19 mindset. Hawaii requires a test for many people coming and will only accept certain vaccines as qualifying for vaccine exemptions.

If individual states set their own entry requirements, will this mean Europeans will try and enter via certain airports because they have fewer restrictions than others? An inconsistent approach could not only help spread the virus in the United States but could also be confusing to European travellers. Virtually every single country in Europe currently has slightly different entry requirements, and there are almost as many countries in Europe as there are states in the U.S.

For example, did you know that even if you are fully vaccinated, to enter Italy you still need to provide a negative antigen/lateral flow test, but while entering neighbouring Spain, no test is required? This kind of inconsistency can be very frustrating.

Related: On the ground: What the scene in Italy is like right now

Will testing be required?

Europeans are used to testing requirements for travel as they have been in place in many European countries for some time. Some countries have kept the test-for-entry rule, others have waived it for the fully vaccinated. After 18 months of being blocked from traveling across the Atlantic, few travellers are going to forgo a long-overdue trip just because they need a test to enter.

But the testing requirements need to be crystal-clear now. Americans need to provide a negative nucleic acid amplification or antigen test taken within three days of departure to the United States. It’s reasonable to think that the same testing requirement will be set for Europeans to enter the country — the exact timing of tests needs to be communicated as soon as possible so that Europeans can organise the correct tests with minimum fuss.

Bottom line

Fully vaccinated Europeans are eagerly awaiting confirmation of the first date they can cross the Atlantic to the United States after an 18-month ban, and under what conditions, such as vaccination certificates and pre or post-departure testing.

As October rolls on, the best-case 1 November reopening date is looking less likely due to the number of parties involved and the complexity of welcoming so many fully vaccinated travellers with varying documentation and varying vaccination types.

Given the American government has had essentially 18 months to prepare for this moment, it is very frustrating for many Europeans (and Brits) that details continue to be few and far between, and as we enter into mid-October that we are still without a firm date for reopening.

Featured photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images.

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