Today is a banner day for the international travel industry.
On Monday, the United States will take the next major step in its post-COVID-19 return to normalcy when it lifts pandemic travel restrictions, finally allowing international travelers, who have been largely absent since March 2020, to enter the country.
There will be strict rules for inbound passengers—all inbound non-citizens will need to show proof of vaccination (only WHO and FDA approved vaccines qualify) before they board their inbound flight. They will also be required to provide proof of a negative COVID test taken within three days.
U.S. citizens won’t be required to provide proof of vaccination before their return flight, however, they will need to show proof of a negative COVID test. If they are vaccinated, that test can be taken within three days of departure, and if they are unvaccinated, that timeline shrinks to 24-hours.
Even with the rules, Monday is expected to mark another milestone in the recovery of the international travel industry, “a monumental day for travelers, for the communities and businesses that rely on international visitation, and for the U.S. economy overall,” U.S. Travel Association president Roger Dow said.
While passenger numbers from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have come a long way since the low of 2020, they are still not up to the levels from 2019. Nov. 7, for instance, saw 2.1 million people travel through checkpoints, up from 973,000 in 2020 but off of the 2.35 million from 2019. A week prior on Oct. 31, the TSA recorded 1.84 million people, up from 930,000 in 2020 but still off the 2.45 million from 2019.
That could all begin to change starting Monday.
According to Travelport, flight bookings to destinations in the U.S. reached 70% of pre-pandemic levels over the last month, with international travel accounting for more than half of those searches (52%). The most popular day to travel to the U.S. within those searches was Monday, Nov. 8, the first-day restrictions are lifted.
Those travelers are mostly coming from the U.K., which had the most booked flights into the U.S. from Travelport, and then Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said late in October that Delta, and other U.S. airlines, are currently preparing for an “onslaught” of travelers. Bastian added that the experience could be “a bit sloppy at first” with more lines at security and ticket counters, but that’s a short-term effect of the return of demand, something that should be celebrated within the industry.
Other carriers, including United Airlines, have said that Monday could mark a big boost in inbound international passengers, possibly up to 50% compared to a week prior. United and other U.S. carriers have been slowly ramping up international service in preparation for Monday’s reopening.