Pressure is mounting on the US to lift all COVID travel restrictions, with hundreds of travel organizations issuing a fresh plea to the government yesterday (5 May).
Currently, nearly all passengers have to take a test within one day of their journey. Most unvaccinated foreigners are barred. But with a busy summer season round the corner, how long will these strict measures hold?
In the latest pushback from the travel sector, more than 260 firms signed a letter to the Whitehouse on Thursday, demanding an “urgent repeal” of the pre-departure testing rule.
“It is time for the Biden administration to lead the country toward a new normal for travel and on a faster road to a full economic recovery,” according to the letter from the US Travel Association (USTA).
It follows a major development on 18 April, when a federal judge blocked President Biden’s plan to extend mandatory mask wearing on planes, trains and other public transport. That means masks are now optional as far as the US transit authority is concerned.
A White House press secretary called the decision “disappointing”, in a sign that the Biden administration is not ready to deviate from the USA’s public health agency’s advice just yet – which still recommends face coverings on public transport.
“We are always reviewing our guidance and new science that becomes available,” a spokesperson for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) told Euronews Travel in response to a question on when the entry rules are likely to ease.
In the meantime, here are the current US entry rules – and the indications that they could change soon.
When will the US drop its pre-departure testing rule?
At present, all travelers – regardless of vaccination status or citizenship – are required to get a COVID-19 test no more than one day before traveling by air into the US. This is distinct from 24 hours: it means the test can be taken at any point on the day before you travel.
Rapid antigen, PCR and a number of other kinds of tests are accepted. Only children under two years old are exempt from this requirement.
On arrival, fully vaccinated visitors do not have to quarantine, but are recommended to take another viral test within three to five days of arrival. All air passengers are also required to provide contact information to their airlines before boarding.
It’s not too onerous a rule – compared to peak pandemic admin – but the costs involved may mean that some European tourists choose test-free destinations instead, such as Thailand, for their long-haul summer break. Not to mention the cost of having a major trip derailed at the last minute.
But despite the CDC giving little away, US airlines have hinted that the rules could ease in a matter of weeks.
“We are hearing good things from Washington,” US airline Delta president Glen Hauenstein reportedly told analysts during a meeting on 13 April. “Hopefully that [the testing requirement] gets rolled back in the next few weeks. “
According to the i paper, the company’s chief legal officer added, “We are getting a strong indication that pre-departure testing will be phased out in the near future, which is quite encouraging.”
Could a legal campaign get rid of America’s testing rule?
This will be good news for America’s long-suffering travel industry, when it happens. ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) recently dubbed the pre-departure test “the single biggest barrier” to travel’s recovery.
The Society is behind efforts by a group of lawmakers to lift the testing requirement by legal means. California congressman Lou Correa has asked the White House to exempt fully vaxxed inbound travelers from having to provide proof of a negative test.
“While we understand the rationale behind the inbound testing order when it was put in place in January 2021, it continues to present a number of challenges to our constituents who must, or desire, to travel internationally,” the group wrote in a letter to Biden dated 12 April (which mistakenly described it as a ’24 hour ‘rule).
With American travel to Europe set to soar by 600 per cent this summer, compared to 2021, there will be pressure from holiday-makers across the States to ease this rule.
“Travelers are scared of being stranded abroad and having their vacation plans wrecked, which is preventing the revival of our domestic travel and tourism industries,” Rep. Correa added. “It is past time for our testing criteria to be brought into line with those used by other countries.”
The new letter from USTA to White House COVID response co-ordinator Dr Ashish Jha also points to the example of other countries with similar infection, vaccination and hospitalization rates – such as the UKGermany and Canada – which have already dropped pre-departure tests.
“Further, since the federal government does not require negative tests for entry at our land-border ports of entry with Canada and Mexico, it no longer makes sense to keep a pre-departure Covid testing requirement in place for vaccinated international air travelers to the US, ”the letter adds.
When will unvaccinated tourists be allowed back to the US?
Generally speaking, the US is not open to unvaccinated tourists. The EU Digital Covid Certificate (EUDCC) and the UK’s NHS Covid Pass are both acceptable forms of proof that you are double-jabbed, with the second dose administered no less than 14 days before departure. Booster jabs are not currently required in the US.
Being recently recovered (having tested positive for the virus in the last year) is not enough to gain entry, either.
Children under 18 years old do not need to be vaccinated to visit America, and there are a few other exceptions for non-US citizens.
“If there are any changes, we will update the public accordingly,” a CDC spokesperson said.
But one sign of relaxation on this front again comes from airlines. Last month, United Airlines dropped the requirement for its own staff to be vaccinated.
Travel experts aren’t sure if unvaccinated citizens will be welcomed back before summer, but with the world in an increasingly strong position against the virus, 2022 is likely to be the year the US fully reopens.