CHARLES DE GOLE AIRPORT, France (AP) – On Monday, the US lifted travel restrictions from a long list of countries, including Mexico, Canada and much of Europe, setting the stage for emotional reunions that took almost two years to create and providing momentum for the airline industry and tourism is undermined by the pandemic.
Wives will hug their husbands for the first time in months. Grandmothers will coo over grandchildren who have doubled since the last time they saw them. Aunts, uncles and cousins will cuddle toddlers they haven’t seen yet.
“I’m going to jump into his arms, kiss him, touch him,” Guy Camara said of a husband in New York she hasn’t seen since COVID-19 brought the world of flying here and everywhere in world stop.
“Just talking about it makes me feel emotional,” said Camara, 40, carrying her luggage through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, which could almost masks.
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The rules, taking effect Monday, allow air travel from a number of countries from which it has been restricted since the early days of the pandemic, provided the traveler has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. Those crossing overland borders from Mexico or Canada will need proof of vaccination, but not a test.
American citizens and permanent residents have always been allowed to enter the United States, but travel bans have stalled tourists, thwarted business travelers, and often divided families.
When Kamara last saw her husband, Mamada, in January 2020, they didn’t know they would have to wait 21 months before hugging each other again. She lives in the French region of Alsace, where she works as a secretary. He lives in New York.
“It was very difficult at the beginning. I cried almost every night, ”she said.
Video calls, text messages, phone calls kept them in touch but couldn’t fill the void of separation.
“I can’t wait,” she said. “To be with him, his presence, his face, his smile.”
Airlines are gearing up for a spike in activity following the pandemic, and related restrictions have led to a sharp decline in international travel. Data from travel and research firm Cirium showed that airlines increased their flights between the United Kingdom and the United States this month by 21% from the previous month.
In a sign of the critical importance of transatlantic travel for airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic celebrated the opening by synchronizing their morning flights to New York on parallel runways at London Heathrow Airport. BA CEO Sean Doyle was aboard his company’s aircraft.
“Together, even as competitors, we have fought for the safe return of transatlantic travel – and now we are celebrating this achievement as a team. Some things are more important than superiority alone, and that’s one of those things, ”Doyle wrote in an address to customers, noting that the flight had a number that used to belong to the supersonic Concorde.
READ MORE: The European Union has excluded the United States from the list of safe travel and recommends limiting American tourists
For Martina Kercherve, separation from loved ones in the United States was filled with fears that they might not survive the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people worldwide.
“We told ourselves we could die without seeing each other,” said Kerherve, who was en route from Paris to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “We’ve all had periods of depression, anxiety.”
Before the pandemic, it was Kercherv and her partner, Francis Pasquier, on a trip once or twice a year. When they lost it, “we lost our orientation,” said Pasquier.
Meanwhile, Maria Giribet has not seen her twin grandchildren Gabriel and David for about half of her life. Now three and a half years old, the boys are in San Francisco, which at the height of the pandemic could be another planet for 74-year-old Giribet, who lives on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca.
“I’m going to hug them, strangle them, that’s what I dream of,” Giribet said after checking in for the flight. A widow, she lost her husband to a long illness before the pandemic, and her three adult children live abroad.
“I was all alone,” said Giribet, who was flying alone for the first time in her life.
The change will also have a profound impact on the US borders with Mexico and Canada, where round-trip travel was a way of life until the pandemic broke out and the US closed non-essential travel.
High street malls, restaurants and shops in US border cities are devastated due to the lack of visitors from Mexico. On the border with Canada, cross-border hockey rivalries that were social traditions have been turned upside down. Churches with members on both sides of the border look forward to welcoming parishioners they haven’t seen in nearly two years.
River Robinson’s American partner was unable to travel to Canada due to the birth of his son 17 months ago. She was thrilled to hear about the resumption of work in the United States.
“I am planning to pick up my baby for Thanksgiving in America,” said Robinson, who lives in St. Thomas, Ontario. “If everything goes smoothly at the border, I plan to kill him as best I can.”
“It’s crazy to think that he has a completely different side of the family that he hasn’t even met yet,” she added.
The United States will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those used in the United States. This is a relief for many in Canada, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is widely used.
But millions of people around the world who have been vaccinated with the Russian Sputnik V, the Chinese CanSino, or others not approved by the WHO will not be able to travel to the United States.
The move comes as the U.S. COVID-19 outlook has sharply improved in recent weeks following a sharp jump in the summer delta that has pushed hospitals in many places to the brink.
Tourism industry officials hope this will give a boost after COVID-19 travel bans have brought the sector to its knees.
Travel agent Francis Legros, who was flying from Paris to the travel industry convention in Las Vegas, flew away, determined to breathe life into his company.
“We are recovering,” he said. “This is a new chapter, a new professional life.”
Associated Press writer Rob Gillies of Toronto contributed to this report.