As expected, the U.S. did indeed announce big changes for all international travelers, including fully vaccinated Americans.
President Biden led off his press conference reiterating that the Omicron variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. He then laid out his administration’s plan, which is available on WhiteHouse.gov.
Here’s what travelers need to know:
“Early next week, the United States will tighten pre-departure testing protocols by requiring all inbound international travelers to test within one day of departure globally, regardless of nationality or vaccination status. This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant.”
As I wrote a couple days ago, I don’t think that changing testing requirements from three days in advance to one is a huge deal for most Americans since they’re typically traveling to popular destinations where antigen tests are abundantly available. On top of that, most international travelers were already getting their tests done within 24 hours of their flights and many are done in the airport just hours before boarding. Which frankly, should be the new normal as a lot can happen in the previous time period of three days.
The other major announcement, which should come as no surprise to anyone, is the federal government is “extending the requirement to wear a mask on airplanes, rail travel, and public transportation: The Administration will continue to require masking during international or other public travel – as well as in transportation hubs such as airports or indoor bus terminals – through March 18 as we continue to battle COVID-19 this winter. The Transportation Security Administration will extend its implementing orders to maintain these requirements through March 18. Fines will continue to be doubled from their initial levels for noncompliance with the masking requirements – with a minimum fine of $500 and fines of up to $3,000 for repeat offenders.”
Even if the Omicron strain wasn’t a concern, you know they were going to extend the mask mandate since it’s flu season and more importantly, the Delta variant is running rampant in much of the United States. I’m willing to bet they will extend it again in March through June and hopefully they bring it back annually each flu/coronavirus season.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with wearing a mask on a plane or in an airport and in fact, I prefer it during the winter months since one of my biggest pet peeves about flying, even pre-pandemic, was constantly getting sick on planes from people traveling while sick and worse, not covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze.
I know this won’t be popular with everyone, including those in the travel industry but they’re definitely breathing a sigh of relief because they’re not requiring quarantine on arrival.
The U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes issued the following statement on the Biden administration’s announcement that it’s tightening the pre-departure testing window for entry to the U.S. from three days for vaccinated travelers to one day. “We hope this measure to narrow the pre-departure testing window will be temporary until more is learned about the Omicron variant. In the meantime, the travel industry urges everyone to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible.”