Opinion

New U.S. International Travel Policies Must Prioritize Safety, Efficiency and Smart Technology

In March 2020, as the reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic set in, the Trump administration enacted a ban that prohibited travelers from numerous countries — including the United Kingdom and the European Union — from traveling to the United States. The move separated families, forced businesses to revamp how they work with global partners and sent the travel industry into an economic tailspin that’s lost an estimated $1 trillion worldwide. The U.S. ban was like treating a patient with a hammer, while what’s needed now is a scalpel.

Since the travel ban was first put in place, innovations have been made including COVID-19 vaccines, rapid PCR testing and smart technologies that make it easy to share health information, alongside other mitigation measures like mandatory masking. While we are still living in the middle of a pandemic, and the end remains stubbornly out of reach, these advances allow a new normal to begin, where activities like travel can resume far more safely. And yet, while Europe and the United Kingdom found ways to open travel, U.S. policy has remained frozen in time.

Given that reality, we along with fellow leaders at the Travel Management Coalition were encouraged by the Biden administration’s announcement that it would finally end the ban and allow travel between the United Kingdom and European Union and the United States to resume. The United States will require a contact-tracing system, vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test for every foreign traveler coming to the United States, with some limited exceptions. Americans returning home will still need to present a negative COVID test regardless of their vaccination status.

The ban lifts Nov. 8, which gives the administration time to implement new rules for international travel. As the administration does that work, we believe it’s critical that it seeks to make the policy clear and safe and that the government takes advantage of smart technologies available to ease the burden on airlines who will be enforcing the new guidelines. We need policies and procedures that take as much of the pain of travel away while keeping us all safe.

That means giving travelers coming to the United States a way to communicate their vaccination or testing result easily and reliably without having to wait in a line at check-in. This can be verified at the same as other credentials for those travelers that desire an electronic check-in, much like we do domestically with TSA pre-check. Travelers need clear procedures to speed clearances and limit fraud, ones that don’t put an undue burden on airlines to review documents at the time of check-in that may be in different languages and formats.

And finally, fully vaccinated U.S. citizens should be exempt from COVID-19 testing requirements. As long as American travelers are vaccinated, they should be cleared for travel. Not only will this ease the burden on airlines in terms of testing verification volume, but it’s backed by science. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that transmission is most likely to occur between two unvaccinated individuals.

While we wish that the end of this ban signified reaching the finish line in the pandemic, this moment marks a rare positive turning point. It is impossible to measure the true loss due to missed business opportunities, family weddings and births of grandchildren over the last 18 months, but those connections and reunions can now go forward thanks to all that we’ve learned about safety, vaccines and innovations. We look forward to this new chapter and stand ready to work with the administration to make it as efficient and safe as possible. We urge the administration to issue the new guidance with a date certain for lifting the travel ban as soon as possible.

 

Peter Vlitas is the SVP of Airline Relations at Internova Travel Group. Stewart Verdery is CEO of Monument Advocacy and former assistant secretary for Homeland Security. They are writing on behalf of the Travel Management Coalition, a coalition that represents thousands of U.S.-based travel agents and services millions of corporate and leisure travelers.

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