Why Most US Airports Still Can’t Accept Flights From “Travel Ban” Destinations

Filed Under: Misc.

Update: It looks like this restriction will finally be lifted as of September 14, 2020.

I was recently trying to help someone book a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia for October. The flight showed as bookable and wide open, and then a few days later it didn’t show in the schedule anymore.

I was initially confused about that, but then realized what was going on, and figured it was worth a post. This is worth being aware of if planning future travel.

The United States’ outdated travel bans

Towards the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we saw the US introduce some travel bans:

These bans generally apply to anyone who has been in those countries within the past 14 days, with the exception of US citizens and their immediate family members.

Putting aside the merit of the travel bans as such, one thing I can’t wrap my head around is why the bans haven’t been adjusted. The China travel ban has been in place for seven months, while the European travel ban has been in place for nearly six months.

As circumstances change, shouldn’t any ban be updated to reflect current circumstances? Does it make sense that there’s a travel ban for Germany, but not Colombia or Peru or Russia?

The United States has a travel ban against Germany

15 US airports “approved” for international flights

Now let’s get into the main topic of this post. In mid-March, around the same time that the Europe travel ban was added, the US added restrictions on which airports could handle select international flights.

With this restriction, Americans returning from all restricted countries (listed above) would need to fly only to “approved” airports. There are currently 15 airports on the list, which are as follows:

  • Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS), Massachusetts
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Florida
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Texas
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
  • Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX), California
  • Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia

The intent, in theory, is that there would be CDC officials screening arriving passengers at these airports. However, based on my experience I wouldn’t exactly call the health checks extensive.

Boston Logan is one of the airports approved for international flights

Other airports are excluded…

The problem is, a lot of airports want to be able to accept these international flights, but can’t get the permission. This is causing a problem for both airlines and airports.

15 airports are on the approved list, but several of the country’s 15 highest traffic airports aren’t on the list, including:

  • Denver
  • Las Vegas
  • Orlando
  • Charlotte
  • Phoenix

Admittedly the above airports are primarily domestic hubs, which is how they get most of their traffic. But to give another example, Philadelphia is the 20th busiest airport in the US, but in 2019 it was the 10th busiest US airport in terms of transatlantic flights, with more than 4,600 flights to 22 destinations on five airlines.

Airport management is unhappy about not being approved to accept these international flights, and apparently hasn’t been able to get an answer from the federal government as to what’s needed to get onto this list.

Suffice to say that this makes planning for both airlines and airports extremely difficult:

  • British Airways shows London to Philadelphia flights resuming as of October 1, but that has been pushed back several times now, and it depends on Philadelphia being added to the above list
  • American can’t operate any transatlantic flights out of its Charlotte and Philadelphia hubs until these rules change
  • Similarly, Lufthansa was supposed to resume flights to Philadelphia soon, but that has now been pushed back to the end of October

British Airways keeps pushing back resuming Philadelphia flights

Bottom line

Only 15 US airports are allowed to accept flights from destinations on the US travel ban list. This policy has been in place for about six months now, and there’s no end in sight.

Obviously this presents a major problem for both airports and airlines as they start to plan, since it’s not clear how airports can be added to the list, and it’s also not clear under what circumstances this policy would be lifted. Would the travel bans have to be lifted altogether for the airport list to be expanded?

This is something to be aware of if you’re booking an international flight for the future that isn’t on the current 15 airport list.

  1. What needs to happen is that airlines and airports need to book a segment on Fox and Friends to get trump’s attention.

    How is it that these execs haven’t figured out how to get their agenda pushed in this administration

  2. Ben – a family member of mine was supposed to fly from SEA to FRA on LH in early October, yet that flight was also pulled from the scheduled. I don’t see any flights from SEA on LH next month. Any idea why?

  3. @Greg – I’m with you on this. By now you know you have to get on FnF to get attention or appeal to Tucker.

  4. I recently flew into EWR and the health check took all but 10 seconds. I think the travel bans will remain in place until mid-November and will then be lifted. PHL and CLT are really the only major airports which have been hurt by not being included.

  5. The problem is that the US doesn’t currently have a government that bases these decisions on science or facts. These bans seem more political than anything and I’m sure they will stay as-is until the EU allows Americans to visit. So it’s all politics and tit-for-tat that’s driving such decisions. I doubt anything will change until after the election.

  6. Do travel bans contribute to controlling the spread. Sure, but not the way US has been doing. An early AND comprehensive blanket ban is what‘s necessary to limit the initial importation. Since US failed that long ago (and then has been failing the domestic effort to contain the virus) the current travel ban is creating way more burden than benefit.

  7. All of these travel bans anywhere in the world, not only in the US, are ridiculous at this point. The virus is already everywhere. A test requirement is the only solution that makes sense for now. With that said, clearly it’s a political decision. The US government will maintain the bans as long as the UK and Europe continue banning Americans (and this is an important point, if you are an European citizen coming from the US apparently you don’t have the capacity to transmit the virus). Is all pretty ridiculous.

  8. As others have pointed out, the travel bans have become a purely political measure, at least ofter most of the countries have reduced infection rates below the ones in the US (some of them, e.g. Finland, much below). Therefore, I also suspect that the definition of entry airports to be a purely political measure. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the mayors of all the cities listed in the article are either Democrats or Independent.

  9. I’m fine with them staying in effect. We are protecting those countries by keeping them out of a country they think is so bad off that we can’t travel to theirs.

  10. It doesn’t matter. No people in their right minds would let travellers from the US IN until they get some semblance of control over the spread of the virus.

    Maybe I’m biased because I live in an area that does have things under control. Here in the Atlantic bubble of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador we can travel freely within the bubble, but anyone arriving from outside of the bubble must self-isolate for 14 days. Cases are in the single digits in each province. All of the new cases in the last two months can be traced to out of region travel, and almost all of those people were properly self-isolating so there has been very little spread.

    We’ve worked very long and very hard to get things under control and keep things under control. We’d be nuts to open our borders to let US travellers in.

  11. @Ryan is right. This isn’t based on facts at this point, but rather national pride.

    Americans are now banned from China and most of the EU. In the case of China, that makes a lot of sense – with COVID resurgent in some EU countries, perhaps less so there (but broadly they are still currently doing much better than the United States). But there is no way the Trump administration will lift these bans if the decision is not reciprocal, particularly in the eight weeks prior to the election.

    It’d be nice if the Administration put more effort into improving the actual response, which would lead to a resolution of these issues.

    As long as the bans remain in place, however, I’m unsure how much the airline execs actually want additional airports opened. The traffic just isn’t there.

  12. @ Sasha

    Nearly zero corporate demand for travel + tourism season in the US Pacific Northwest would be over + travel bans making most travel impossible unless you have dual EU:US citizenship, or transiting, or special permission, or you’re being repatriated after being overseas = Lufthansa isn’t stupid and won’t be flying empty planes to Seattle.

    The only places where longhaul MIGHT not lose your shirt as a carrier are larger cities like SF, LA, NYC, but Seattle is a second-tier city. BA is flying it out of London but that’s about it (and London is a huge catchment area compared to Frankfurt).

    I would expect LH to start sub-daily service at some point before they go back to full service.

  13. @Mak, I disagree they don’t work.

    Look at Canada v. the United States. Similar countries in many ways, but infection rates significantly lower in Canada than virtually anywhere in the United States. In fact, only three US states (ME, NH, VT) have lower infection rates than any Canadian provinces – and that includes very big places like Toronto.

    Politicians and the population have taken this seriously (at a big cost) and there’s a significantly higher chance of someone from the United States bringing in the infection: travel-related cases are incredibly low now, despite being the most significant source of spread in March/April. The level of support for this policy remains very high.

  14. @23H. I’m not saying they don’t work, I’m saying there are other things you can do instead of a blanket banning of people based on their nationality. I’m not from the US or Canada but I suppose that if you are a Canadian living in the US you can enter Canada, so, what’s the point? I think testing previous to travel, on arrival or some days after you arrived is a much better way to deal with this, and not destroy economies, tourism businesses and jobs in the process.

  15. @ Mak

    ” if you are an European citizen coming from the US apparently you don’t have the capacity to transmit the virus). Is all pretty ridiculous.”

    You are supposed to quarentine for 14 days on arrival no matter your citizenship its based on where you arrived from and been in the previous 10/14 days.

  16. @ChrisC that’s true in the UK. In Europe some countries ask for a quarantine, others like France, Spain, etc, don’t.

  17. “This is worth being aware of if planning future travel.”

    Not to mention planning past and present travel.

  18. If you are a foreign national, just rebook for the end of January 2021. The US will take you then and it’ll be a nicer place then.

  19. Having spent most of my working years in Federal jobs, I have to believe that the relevant Federal Agencies (DoT, DHS, and HHS) developed their list of approved airports in coordination with the airlines. The fact that PHL and CLT are not on the list, but DFW is, means that AA made a conscious decision to focus on “fortress Dallas” rather than on their two logical European gateways, CLT and PHL. Living on the east coast, I would love to fly to Europe from CLT and (to a lesser extent) from PHL. I will never fly 3 hours west to DFW to begin an overnight flight to Europe. I think AA, not the Feds, are the guilty party for this situation. Delta and United seem to have done a much better job of making sure that their key European and Pacific gateways were on the list. (Sorry Denver, but you’re not as important to international travel as the other United hubs.)

  20. It’s simple really – people shouldn’t be traveling right now. The year is wasted due to selfish, ignorant, and incompetent people. Let it go and plan for next year. The world would be a much better place if people had realized this year is wasted.

  21. @ Mak

    ” if you are an European citizen coming from the US apparently you don’t have the capacity to transmit the virus). Is all pretty ridiculous.”

    Most countries allow returning residents regardless of pre-exisiting bans. What is the alternative? To abandon their citizens and tell them to fend for themselves until their funds run out, then what?


  23. CMC: And what miracle will happen the next year? The virus is here to stay and we can’t stop living forever. Even with vaccine, there will always be a chance of catching it, just like with other disseases we have vaccines for. This year is wasted because of mass hysteria and people suddenly expecting 100% safety, even though they were happy to accept that life comes with risks until mid-March.

    People need to move on. Here in Europe we already see things getting back to normal and even though infection rates go up, health care systems are coping well and no disaster is happening. Learning to live with the virus is the only way to go.

  24. @CMC

    I’ve flown through pandemic hotspots such as Singapore, New York, London, Milan and Madrid. Planes are exceedingly safe and I keep my distance from others in terminals (though it’s hard to socially distance on buses). 80,000 Americans died from influenza a couple years ago. Were you wearing a mask and scolding people back then, too? The world would be a much better place if people like you minded your own business.

  25. my husband is an American Doctor in Manila he has been there since October 2019 . He can’t get a flight out of Manila as the American Embassy is closed He has had two HTN emergencies and they will not allow him to come back to the USA . I feel he needs to be here to see a MD in either St.Louis Mo or in NYC .When will those airways be opened so i can get my husband the medical attention he needs

  26. I ve been in the Philipines for over 10 months now. There are hundreds of Americans trapped in the Philipines with flights cancelled and over night quaratines , please people we want to get home enough is enough with this virus stuff , there has been alot more serious epedemics that happened before and they didnt shut the whole world down like it is now.

  27. This person is incorrect about Colombia. Colombia has shut its borders and airport since mid March. As of September 1st some domestic flights have started up. No international flights are available until at least October 1st. I’m American stuck in Mosquera Colombia for 6 months of lock down with the quarantine.

  28. Thanks for the list of approved airports. However I missed “Americans returning from all restricted countries (listed above)” Where is the list please.

  29. I want to go the Philippines ,they keep kocking down everybody ,they only have 2500 death on a 105 millions poeple,people, has been proven in the pst,past, lock down doesn’t work it keeps the immune system for not fighting any infections as long as you are in the house ,as soon as you get out ,any type of infection ,you will get it ,because your immune system as shut down all that time ,and for the Philippines they are financially collapsing ,I know people sn it even buy food ,no work, no business, qhats the point??????

  30. Donna Hughes says:
    September 7, 2020 at 10:38 pm

    Donna, if you’re a US Citizen or a Permanent Resident, your husband is exempt from the travel ban under the specified close family exemptions.

  31. I can’t even marry my fiancee. We have been trying to marry now for 4 months!! I have chosen to move to cuba and I can’t even get a flight. My flight from two different companies have been pushed back 3 times each now.. My next flight is 10/2 from one and 10/12 from the other. I just want to be with my man this is causing major problems in our relationship that shouldn’t be an issue. I have tested negative and I am welling to quarantine for 14 days just to be with him…

  32. @Wye Kay
    Australia more or less does that. A limited number of returning citizens is allowed per day.
    Similar in some Asian countries where spouses of citizens are not allowed to return – and some countries even banned citizens for a few months

  33. There’s a bigger issue – you generally can’t book it with credit card points to/from these destinations, too. For example, Chase will not let people book travel to and/or from China or within China because it is on the government ban list.

    In my opinion, that’s ridiculous.
    1. Because Americans abroad are trying to get home
    2. Because if you have the correct documentation you can still fly to China and if you are prepared to pay for a COVID test upon arrival and pay for and do your quarantine
    3. Some credit card members are in China and would still like to travel

    There is even politics with that and with even economy tickets on Delta and other major carriers to China costing over $15,000 it is with no surprise people want to be able to use points.

  34. The US is definitely not alone in this whole travel ban and restrictions thing. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and parts of Europe have also had travel bans since all the way back in March/April. Indeed, it was this very travel ban (especially flights from the mainland) that helped Taiwan keep itself relatively virus-free. However, it’s been 5-6 months and there have been no changes or adjustments. Indeed, Japan’s extensive list of travel ban countries even goes to include Taiwan (which has had less than 500 cases total of the WuhanFlu) and passengers on board the MS Zaandam, a cruise ship that had an outbreak on it … back in ***March***. Everyone who was on board and got sick has long long long since either recovered or (bless their souls) passed so that ship should have been wiped off its ban list months ago.

  35. Europe is seeing spikes again, Great Britain is the worst hit country in Europe. Much of the virus that came to the East coast in the winter came from Europe. Why should restrictions be lifted now?

  36. yes,i am a U.S. CITIZEN ALL MY LIFE.

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