September 28 2021  |  Aviation Trends

Industry associations respond to US opening international air travel

By Jane Hobson

After nearly 19 months of closed borders and advocacy by industry associations, the Biden Administration announced in mid-September that the country will allow fully vaccinated travelers to enter starting in November.

The White House decision to open the borders allows fully vaccinated travelers from 33 previously barred countries to enter, including China, India, Brazil and most of Europe. These travelers must have a negative COVID-19 test result before travel.

The Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) called on U.S. President Joe Biden to end the traveler blockade in a mid-August letter. APEX cited that refusing entry to fully vaccinated travelers goes directly against Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, which says fully vaccinated people can travel safely within the United States. APEX continued working closely with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeffrey Zients to move the needle on the issue.

APEX CEO Dr. Joe Leader tells PAX International the decision benefits travel worldwide.

“We have a bar being set across multiple nations that vaccination is required for travel,” he says.

Now airlines face the challenge of ramping up to support the demand.

“Millions retired during COVID-19 without an interest to return to work. Some lost jobs and moved to other sectors. Unfortunately, rising labor costs may trigger catering costs to increase. That’s the last element expected as an impact of COVID-19, the need to broadly increase pay and bonuses,” Leader says, referencing a recent Delta SkyClubs US $2,000 signing bonus advertisement.

“When our industry needs more workers, we take the economic steps to find them. Eventually, these higher costs may appear in lounge fees and tickets, but that will be in time. Right now, we simply need to focus on getting airport and airline service levels to what our passengers expect.”

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released a statement on the decision, calling it a major step forward.

“This is excellent news for families and loved ones who have suffered through the heartache and loneliness of separation. It’s good for the millions of livelihoods in the US that depend on global tourism. And it will boost the economic recovery by enabling some key business travel markets,” said Willie Walsh, Director General at IATA.

Walsh says those who do not have access to vaccines must also be considered, adding that testing is a solution backed by data.

“We must get back to a situation where the freedom to travel is available to all,” said Walsh.

Airlines have expressed a welcome response to the easing of entry provisions. SWISS International Air Lines released a statement September 21 saying it is already seeing an increase in demand for leisure and business travel.

"North America is the most important air travel market of all for Swiss International Air Lines," said the release.

While still operating at lower capacities, SWISS has restored its route network to cover more than 90 percent of the destinations it was serving from Zurich and Geneva in 2019.

"We warmly welcome the easing of the US entry provisions that have recently been communicated,” said SWISS CCO Tamur Goudarzi Pour.

The airline has expanded its lounge offer at Zurich Airport and offers flexible rebooking provisions and status extensions. There are testing facilities at Zurich and Geneva airports, as has been the case to date.

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