Why The US Likely Won’t Ban Flights From The UK

Filed Under: Travel

While there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to coronavirus, the past couple of days has thrown us for a loop. Since yesterday we’ve seen dozens of countries impose UK travel bans through a variety of measures. Let me share why I don’t think we’ll see a similar policy from the US.

The UK’s faster-spreading COVID-19 mutation

Over the weekend there started to be widespread attention brought to a faster-spreading COVID-19 strain. It’s believed that it’s 70% more transmissible than existing strains of coronavirus, and it’s believed that this is one of the reasons the UK is seeing a big increase in coronavirus cases.

As of now there are more questions than answers about this development, including how long it has been around, and just how widespread it is.

For now parts of the UK have gone into full lockdown, and we’ve seen dozens of countries restrict flights to & from the UK:

  • We’ve seen some countries specifically ban nonstop flights from the UK (meaning travelers would need to connect for UK travel)
  • We’ve seen other countries ban people arriving from the UK (meaning that people can’t even travel to the UK via a third country)
  • Then some countries (like Saudi Arabia) have closed their borders altogether

The whole thing sure gives me flashbacks to earlier this year, when much of the world started closing to China.

While this situation is rapidly evolving, several readers have asked about the odds of the US adding further restrictions against the UK, either in the form of banning nonstop flights, or in the form of banning entries from the UK.

Many countries are adding UK travel restrictions

Why I don’t think the US will add further restrictions

I certainly could be wrong, but I doubt we’ll see the US add further travel restrictions against the UK, simply because we don’t actually have a practical way to do so.

Keep in mind that since March the US has had a UK travel ban, and that still hasn’t been lifted. With this:

  • Flights are permitted between the US and UK
  • Anyone who has been in the UK in the past 14 days can’t enter the US, with the exception of US citizens, permanent residents, and select other eligible travelers

With that in mind, what kind of a travel ban could the US really institute against the UK, at least based on our current approach towards coronavirus?

  • At no point during the pandemic has the US restricted entry to the US for citizens and permanent residents, and I don’t see that changing now; in other words, the current UK travel restrictions already accomplish that
  • If the US banned flights between the two countries, that wouldn’t accomplish much, since it would just cause people to connect; it’s not like many people are currently flying between the US and UK for leisure
  • It’s one thing if the US had ever had an actual international testing and quarantine program, but it hasn’t and that’s not something that will change overnight; so it’s not like the US could even force Americans returning from the UK to quarantine, beyond any of the current unenforced self-quarantines we see in the US

Could the US ban flights from the UK?

So yeah, while much of the world has now closed its borders to the UK, I just don’t see a practical way for the US to do that at this point. And frankly I’m not sure if that’s for better or worse:

  • Presumably there are already some people who made it to the US with this new faster-spreading strain, so it’s unlikely we can keep it out of our borders completely (we’re not Australia or New Zealand, after all)
  • At the same time, there’s something to be said for having as few people as possible with it, since it will ultimately slow the spread a bit, which is especially valuable at a time when people are starting to be vaccinated, hopefully leading to decreased infection rates in the coming months
  • The problem is that unless travel restrictions are effective immediately, they create a mad rush for people to travel, which is counterproductive

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says that if he had the power to do so, he’d ban all flights from Europe right now, or at least require a negative coronavirus test to get on the plane. While the latter is practical, the former is highly unlikely.

Bottom line

There’s a faster-spreading COVID-19 mutation in the UK. Presumably it’s also in other parts of the world, but the UK seems to be acknowledging this the most. As a result, we’ve seen countries around the world add new UK travel restrictions, including banning entry for travelers from there.

I certainly could be wrong, but I highly doubt we’ll see the US add further UK travel restrictions. The US already bans non-US residents from entering the US if they’ve been in the UK in the past 14 months. Without a proper mandatory quarantine or testing program in the US, I’m not sure what else the US could really do. Banning nonstop flights won’t do much, after all.

Maybe we’ll see a pre or post-travel testing requirement, though I suspect that’s about the biggest restriction we’ll see.

What do you think — will the US restrict travel from the UK?

  1. I’m interested in whether it would actually be legal for local municipalities or States themselves to ban flights from the UK. Thus, de Blasio could perhaps do what he wants. Seems like our country has turned into a state by state ad hoc patchwork of Covid responses, so why not this?

  2. I think the UK is the first to acknowledge the new variant of covid 19, I certainly don’t think it is exclusive to the UK.
    The USA appear to care not with regards to the spread of covid 19, well at least that’s what I see from all those I know, follow and the media outlets that report the record spread of the disease.

  3. In the UK, they announced they would be locking down in a few hours, and they urged everyone NOT to travel. Result? Huge crowds in London immediately headed to the train stations, and the superspreaders fanned out across the UK, taking the virus with them.

    People lie, people cheat, people don’t think the rules apply to them, and they’ll do whatever the hell they want, no matter how much it risks killing countless others.

    We see this every day, everywhere. People can not be trusted. You want a rule to work, you need to enforce it, period.

  4. @Stuart. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3. Better known Interstate Commercial Clause. Pretty much blackletter law in US that any activity crossing state or national boundary is the domain of federal regulation. Some clever commenter may dig up an exception but in general this is settled law. Requiring 200-day quarantine at traveler’s expense might be doable for the most lackluster mayor in America but he cannot ban a single international flight. Ditto for Governor Andy “where’s my press conference” Cuomo. Sadly, constitution never foresaw situations like covid.

  5. Flights between the US and the UK and specifically London can and should be suspended for at least the next 2 weeks until there is more information.

  6. I wonder if a mayor or governor could legally prevent a non US citizen or permanent resident from leaving customs and entering their city/state? Since everybody has to have a passport and/or green card to pass through immigration, it wouldn’t be hard to require that to be shown to exit customs. It would effectively ban any foreign national from entering from a certain country unless they have Preclearance thereby rendering US entry guidelines useless for a period of time …

  7. Gov Cuomo announced BA is adding NY flights to its current testing regimen and implored DL and VS to agree to it as well.

  8. @ Stuart — It’s complicated. Each of the 2600+ State, local, and Tribal health authorities broadly has the legal standing to shut down travel as long as it doesn’t “unreasonably burden or restrict” commerce (not movement, only commerce), with the historical precedent being that it isn’t “unreasonable” for those authorities to go to what would normally be extreme measures to protect the health of their constituents.

    But aviation agreements are done at the Federal level; both for domestic and international flights, so there are fewer levers to pull, and it would be hard to stop the actual flights without closing the airport entirely. Which, in some places they could theoretically do — closing the terminal to passengers and effectively making the airport commercial cargo only — but that’s unlikely to happen. And it wouldn’t necessarily help much anyway, especially if neighboring districts aren’t on-board with similar restrictions.

    What Hawaii has done this year is the realistic extreme end of what is possible for a health authority to do on their own, and they were only practically able to do that because of their isolation.

  9. All these sudden travel bans against the UK, including lorry-driven freight, are not exactly a good way to react to a country who honestly reported something to the WHO. While I have a little sympathy for the holiday makers who travelled knowing the risks and travel warnings, there are surely some with urgent needs to travel. If only the UK with Europe had strictly enforced quarantines, mandatory arrival testing and locked down earlier, then the cases could well be lower now and freight would still be flowing. On the upside, the UK is now able to test out its no deal post-Brexit plans.

  10. The US can ban flights if we want to – but the variant is almost certainly in the US anyway. The UK has done 45% of the world’s genome sequencing of the virus – far more than any other country – hence why it was the first to detect it, analyse it and raise the alarm. That in no way means that it’s exclusive to the UK, or even that it originated there. It remind me a lot of mad cow disease, where the UK detected it through its testing regime, and the US banned British beef. Meanwhile the US refused to test its beef, for fear of the impact to the industry if it was detected there…

    Personally I think it should be a moot issue at the moment as no-one should really be travelling internationally except in VERY limited circumstances.

  11. @AlanD a mayor can recommend but wouldn’t have any legal power. Airlines can self regulate Very few people are permitted to travel to/ from the USA anyhow. There are no tourists.
    One l solution is to mandate covid tests 3/4 days in advance.

  12. I’m trying to get to London as soon as possible . I have 1 doctors (PHD) appointment on Wednesday then I am heading out. I’m flying American from DFW to LHR. Flagship first in one direction and business class in the other. My plan is to fly into heathrow and self quarantine at a hotel for 7 days. Order uber eats , watch some football matches on the tele , and then do some duty free shopping at Harrods. I really want to fly. I will uber directly to and from the airport to hotel. I have fresh N95 masks and will follow all the protocols.

    Surfers are always searching the world for the ultimate wave. Flyers look for the ultimate ride.

  13. My guess – is that this variant is already in the US and has been for some time. Wouldn’t be surprised if this is partially behind the big surge places in like LA. The UK is the first to acknowledge it/talk about it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the place where the new variant arose, or that it is possible to contain it.

    Shutting down flights won’t do much.

  14. D3kingg what rubbish. Quarantine is also 10 days and Americans should not permitted into the UK unless it’s essential. London is in tier 4 anyhow
    What p— me off is how the US doesn’t allow British citizens , unless they meet a certain criteria and visa, yet Americans don’t need a visa etc to visit the UK Even in normal times British need to pay for an ESTA.

  15. @Icarus

    I’m open to being talked out of going .just trying to enjoy my life.
    All I know is I have to register with the UK 48 hours before arrival and show a QR code or printout at the airport.

  16. Well, the US have sort of preempted that measure way back in March. Most countries have already announced that they will resume flights in order to allow their own citizens/residents to get back home – which is equal to the US regime since March.

    @Steve/Tiffany: I don’t see any difference between international and domestic travel. In most countries, the epidemiological situation is very different in different parts of the country. As is the situation internationally. I do support that people from high risk areas should not travel, but I do not support the nationalist approach (international travel bad, national travel good). The virus tries to infect people, but couldn’t care less about borders.

  17. There was talk of lifting the UK travel ban a few days ago:
    “U.S. President Donald Trump could lift the U.S. travel ban on the UK and Europe as early as next week, The Telegraph reported on Friday, citing industry and aviation sources.”

    That has been rumored a few times in recent months however. With this added factor, it seems less likely. That said, not all decisions being made are entirely based on public-health interests.

  18. We’re great at closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.

    We underestimate this virus at every turn.

  19. I am in Sweden and my flight to London next week was just cancelled. I thought I might still be ok transiting in London to get to the US, since I am a UK citizen, but they are just cancelling the flights. Hopefully I can connect through another European city instead. What a mess, will call tomorrow to get this sorted.

  20. @ D3kingg — I mean, regardless of anything else, if you’re doing this only for the flight, American’s awful international product hardly seems worth the hassle, much less the risk to others?

  21. A developing story is that the Governor of New York has asked VS, BA Delta etc to have incoming passengers from the UK screened with a pre departure CV19 PCR test. So far BA and DL have agreed and it’s expected the other airlines will follow in the coming hours.

  22. PCR testing now required on BA flights bound to JFK
    Source: CNBC:
    “British Airways will start requiring passengers bound for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to have tested negative for Covid-19 before boarding, as a highly contagious strain of the coronavirus spreads through the U.K.

    The measure was in response to a request from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the airline said. Cuomo said he also asked Delta and Virgin Atlantic to take similar measures.

    U.S. and foreign carriers have already cut much of their international service because of Covid-19 and travel restrictions. Since March, for example, the U.S. has barred most foreigners who have been in the European Union or Britain from entering the country.”

    This week there are 122 flights between the U.K. and the U.S., down from 752 last year, according to flight data provider OAG.”

  23. @d3kingg you should not be travelling to/from a tier 4 area hence you would
    be one of the minority who probably doesn’t care. Common sense
    I for one think Americans sd not be permitted travel until it’s reciprocated, especially given the high number of cases there.

  24. IF I was a crew member from a US carrier flying to London I would REFUSE to take the trip! ALL air travel should be closed off until this is figured out!

  25. This is all theater – the mutation was detected in September so there has already been extensive travel. It has been detected in both continental Europe as well as Australia (even though you made a comment about not being “Australia or New Zealand” like that somehow stopped it).

    Bottom line is the mutation may be more contagious but does that mean if you still wear a mask and distance you are fine or does it change that process? If mask/distance work just carry on. This won’t end until there is herd immunity through a combination of infection and vaccine so to think anything else is simply foolish.

  26. More fear mongering headlines are always at the ready. Is anybody actually dying of this new strain or even showing symptoms and what population is it supposedly spreading through so quickly? There is no common sense or critical thinking at all anymore. There is no way that it is limited to the UK so everybody rushing to close their borders is completely asinine.

    D3kingg – All retail is currently closed. Actually considering that nothing is open other than take-away you can get outside and never come in contact with others.

  27. I’m scheduled to fly from ATL to LHR and onto GLA on the 29th via BA. (I’m starting my PhD and have a visa that cost me a few thousand dollars). Fingers crossed my flight holds. And yes I have a residence and am prepared to quarantine for the 10 days

  28. At the very least we should require a negative test, either before travel or after arrival. The faster the cases are found, the less chance of spread there will be. But i think your right. There won’t be any overall change in national strategy till after Jan 20th.

  29. News from Washington state:

    Governor Inslee’s new proclamation requires anyone arriving in Washington from those countries (the United Kingdom, South Africa and other nations where a new variant of the novel coronavirus has been reported) within the last 14 days to quarantine for 14 days — and the restriction applies to those who have recently arrived. It also urges those people to get tested for the virus.

    The quarantine is mandatory and legally enforceable, but the state is not likely to take many enforcement measures, Inslee said.

  30. @George – the NY Times has had record subscriptions the past few years, and MSNBC/CNN ratings keep going up too. But feel free to keep spreading the false narrative about the “sagging MSM”.

  31. The US won’t ban anyone to/from anywhere.
    What’s the point? It’s totally out of control in the US.
    The only sensible option is for every country to prohibit travellers from the US for the duration.
    Merry Christmas!

  32. Well, apparently, Tiffany, you found your outlier. Your own governor just banned flights from the U.K. to the state of Washington. This should get interesting.

  33. This is so ridiculous. Countries acting like this is something new. The virus is spreading out of control everywhere. The new “strain” has nothing to do with it. Banning flights will do nothing but disrupt people’s lives.
    Set up whatever quarantine you want. People won’t follow it. I’ve been traveling a lot in the last 6 months including to Europe. I don’t quarantine.

  34. @ Stuart @ Rico — Yep, but without enforcement (and sitting here in view of the Idaho border, I can attest to the complete lack of any enforcement), it’s just a nice press release that continues to shift the consequences of systemic governmental failure onto individuals. Very tedious.

  35. @ D3kingg

    Just landed from my second roundtrip from LHR to the States and back in a month two days ago. No one asked to see my travel form or my QR code. They have some new system whereby if you want a covid check upon arrival at T5 – I was on BA – you can reduce your quarantine to 4/5 days or something like that. You need to register for it before leaving the States. I did not but went to see how the process was working. There were maybe 50 people there. I don’t know the wait time. If you do it, it’s at the end of the arrival area. Turn left when you exit customs.
    Just FYI, Boris has invented a new ‘Simon says’ for everyone’s Christmas enjoyment, Tier 4. London is pretty much closed.

  36. @D3kingg

    Forget about duty free shopping in Harrods or any other shop outside and even airside for a wide range of goods at LHR because the VAT reclaim scheme ends on the 31st December.


    Not that Harrods is open for general sale. It’s only physically open for food and pharmacy. But you could always order online I guess.

    But unless your visit to the UK is really essential please just don’t come.

  37. @Airfarer

    Thanks for the info. I don’t think I would be denied entry into the UK. It’s touch and go. Airlines and hotels are flexible if I decide to cancel. Not so sure I’m any safer here in the southwest area of Houston. No one wears masks here. Chinatown is always packed.

  38. I agree with Steve!! chances are this variant is already spreading in other countries who aren’t looking. I do find it rather unfortunate that countries are penalizing the UK for being transparent. I live in Singapore and they have just banned long term pass holders who have been in UK in the past 14 days despite the fact that they already impose a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a facility. Meanwhile I could travel back to my African country (subject to govt approval) where there isn’t any sequencing and would be allowed back with the 14 day quarantine!!

  39. As a resident of NYC I am astounded that there are now rules affecting flights and pax arriving to JFK but not EWR. Many NYers travel through EWR routinely for price or schedule convenience. It is utterly amazing because at the beginning of Covid19 the States of NY, NJ and CT officially announced all their decisions would be made in unison to avoid situations like this.

  40. Crikey. This is harder than I thought. It’s not so easy to route from the EU to the US without touching LHR.

  41. EU has just ordered countries to reopen to U.K. for essential travel and to and fro of essential supplies. A testing regime is being put in place.

    Macron is playing politics to try and force a Brexit deal that lets Frog fishermen continue to rampage through British waters.

    In the process he has trapped thousands of European truckers on a British motorway and an overflow airfield. He is also cutting Europe off from British exports they prize. I’m surprised the usually volatile French farmers haven’t erupted yet.

    We can do quite nicely without French produce and the rest of European supply can come via other ports. My local supermarket was all but overflowing with British vegetables yesterday. Le Grand Frog Fromage is shooting himself and his fellow countrymen in the foot.

  42. @Dkingg What a waste of time to fly into Heathrow which will be dead as barely any flights in or out , Harrods not open for general shopping , all restaurants in London closed due Tier 4 . Why spend time in quarantine in a London hotel watching TV ??? Why not fly to a safer city in USA ?

  43. @Experienced Traveler

    Out of boredom. 2 flights on the 77W in the premium cabin. It’s 9 hrs outbound and 10 hrs on the return to Dallas. I picked up some Harry Potter books lol. I’ll be getting 17X with my Barclays Wyndham card currently with their 10X promotion. I leave tomorrow and the bags aren’t packed. I’m 90% sure :))))))
    The flights I’ve felt most safe on during the pandemic have been on the empty 777s.

  44. @ D3kingg
    as long as you are happy having nothing to do London and staying in your hotel room it is a ghost town everything closed i just left for my family place in the countryside. many hotels have now closed in last couple of days as per tier 4 restrictions

  45. These mutations will continue to occur. It’s just what viruses do. We have at least 3 new mutations I’m aware of. One in Australia, one in England, one in Denmark I think.

    We can’t just shutdown borders and lockdown the world every time a new mutation comes out. If we react like that to every new virus or virus mutation that emerges this will never end.

  46. CNN now reporting that U.K. travellers will be personally visited to ensure they are observing quarantine and abiding by instructions. I wonder if this will be rolled out in other US states.

    “ The sheriff’s deputy office will visit the home of every single UK traveler coming into New York City to make sure they are adhering to the mandatory travel quarantine, or they will be penalized, de Blasio said.

    “UK travelers will be personally served DOH commissioner’s order to quarantine by the sheriff’s office,” de Blasio said. ”


  47. ” so it’s not like the US could even force Americans returning from the UK to quarantine, beyond any of the current unenforced self-quarantines we see in the US” – dunno if this is the case then it seems to totally make the argument that the flights should be stopped all together. If we are going to let covidiots who refuse to quarantine come here and spread a variant of the virus that could be up to 70% more infectious and which the vaccine might not work on then that would be a complete failure of leadership.

  48. Really excited for my flight to LHR in J today. They checked to make sure I had that UK form filled out before I boarded in Houston to Dallas.

    During the pandemic Christmas traveling is still Christmas traveling. My flight to Dallas was delayed 2 1/2 hrs and people started losing it because they would misconnect. 30 people left the airport. A gay couple ran over to United to hop on a 445pm flight that was leaving in 20 minutes. That was kind of baller. Guess they weren’t having any of it lol

  49. I did not go to London. 1 hour before my flight I get a FaceTime from a family member. I mention the trip they expressed their opinion to not fly but I assured them I had everything in place for a safe trip and quarantine in UK. Still excited at this point that there were only 9 /52 pax in business class. Then 25 minutes from departure I am within minutes of boarding I get a text from a relative. My dad was in the hospital since yesterday. He is ok but i flew to Boston instead to visit him so God Save the Queen I’m in snowy New England and not UK. Wow I flew the oasis first class from dfw to bos. What a joke with those seats. The $14 wifi was amazing. Well worth it. No way Doug Parker used the lavatory when he flew this configuration. Ahhh the holidays.

  50. d3kingg is telling tall tales. The over the top, overly descriptive posts were dumb and suspect enough. I’m sorry but New England is actually not snowy – actually it was 50 F and raining when his/her last post took place. To him/her: Quit filling a site that actually has informed, educated conversation with garbage talk!

  51. @Erik The Viking

    Huh ? It was 57 and rainy Christmas Eve and day in Boston and Manchester. But freezing out in the country. I’ve got photos of frozen ponds for ya. What’s with the south end mentality ? Tough guy. Your Pats are getting destroyed. Getting a call that my father has been hospitalized just as I’m about to board a flight to London is garbage talk lol ?

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