Tears of joy as families reunite at JFK as COVID travel curbs are lifted
At John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, a child held a sign reading, “Do I look bigger?” as he waited for the first British Airways flight from London’s Heathrow on Monday (November 8), the day the United States eased travel restrictions imposed on much of the world since the COVID-19 pandemic began. “730 days missed u! Aunty Jill + Uncle Mark,” his sign said.
The travel ban, imposed since early 2020, barred access to non-U.S. citizens traveling from 33 countries – including China, India and much of Europe – and had also restricted overland entry from Mexico and Canada.
While travel continued for residents of other countries and visitors falling under exceptions, the ban eliminated the sources of more than half the visitors to the United States in 2019, according to trade group U.S. Travel, primarily tourists and other non-essential travelers to the United States.
Aysha Mathew struggled to hold back tears after her mother and sister arrived at New York’s JFK airport on Monday, fresh off the first British Airways flight from London’s Heathrow.
Aysha was holding her toddler, Adam, and her husband Vincent was pushing a stroller with their infant, 3-month-old Aaron, whom her mother and sister were meeting for the first time.
“15 months, and she hasn’t met him (Aaron) before so it’s the first time,” Vincent said. “And she hasn’t seen her mom or sisters in 15 months so this is surreal and we’re happy it’s here.”
For many arriving on packed flights from Europe or lining up at border crossings in Canada and Mexico, Monday’s was an emotional journey that ended in the arms of joyful relatives clutching flowers, balloons and homemade signs.
Months of pent-up demand triggered a major spike in bookings on Monday, with travelers only required to show official proof of vaccination and a recent, negative viral test. Travel bookings for the holiday season in the United States continue to rise rapidly, according to airlines and industry data.
“You can see the buzz around JFK today and a lot of lovely stories about people reuniting for the first time in nearly two years,” said British Airways CEO Sean Doyle. “Today we’re flying to 17 cities in the United States, by December, we will increase that to 23. So we’re looking to build quickly to restore those travel links to make sure that we capitalize on this recovery. It’s an important milestone and an important turning point. We’ve made more progress in the last five or six weeks than we did in the previous 17, and I think it recognizes the importance of aviation and rebuilding our economies. And also, I think, recognizes the progress we’ve made in allowing travel to be reinstated safely.”
No major issues at airports were flagged in an early morning call among airlines and U.S. government officials although authorities have warned about possible long queues and delays.
U.S. allies had heavily lobbied the Biden administration to lift the rules.
UWhile cheering the resumption of the two-way transatlantic traffic, airline officials stressed that tourism and family trips alone will not be enough for carriers whose profits depend on filling the most expensive seats.
UAccording to U.S. Travel, declines in international visitation since the start of the pandemic resulted in nearly $300 billion in lost export income and a loss of more than one million U.S. jobs.