US Ends International Traveler COVID-19 Screenings

Filed Under: Travel

Here’s a development that a lot of airports, airlines, and passengers, will be excited about…

CDC will stop screening arriving international travelers

Earlier I shared my experience clearing US immigration after arriving from a country that’s on the US “travel ban” list, which currently includes the following:

Brazil, Iran, Ireland, People’s Republic of China (excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau), Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City), United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales)

For several months now, travelers arriving in the US from one of these countries have been subjected to a very simple CDC screening. Upon exiting the plane, passengers had to present a CDC official a health declaration, and potentially answer some very simple questions. That’s it.

Pamphlet the CDC gives arriving travelers

Well, it’s now being reported that the White House is ending enhanced COVID-19 screenings for passengers arriving from “high risk” countries as of 12:01AM on Monday, September 14, 2020.

The biggest implication of this change

One major consequence of the arrival screening program is that the US has required travelers from “high risk” countries to be funneled through one of the following 15 airports:

  • 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

This has essentially meant that all other airports haven’t been able to accept flights from travel ban destinations, which most notably includes transatlantic flights. This has been a serious issue for airports like Charlotte and Philadelphia, which have been fighting for a return of nonstop transatlantic flights. Airlines like American, British Airways, and Lufthansa, have been forced to cancel service to these airports.

British Airways has had to suspend Philadelphia flights

With this screening ending, it also means that all US airports will once again be allowed to handle all international flights.

This change makes sense to me

The US travel ban in its current form hasn’t made much sense to me in quite a while, so I welcome this change:

  • Should the US do extra screening on arriving international travelers? Maybe/probably, but it would make the most sense with proper contact tracing, testing, mandatory quarantines, etc., based on actual risk factors
  • Does it make sense that there has been extra screening for passengers from Germany and Iceland, but not for passengers from countries with more cases? Absolutely not

While I’m generally supportive of the concept of more thorough airport screening, the current outdated policy hasn’t made much sense to me. The fact that international service will be allowed to resume from more airports is good news, as far as I’m concerned.

Lufthansa will be able to resume flights to Charlotte

Bottom line

As of this coming Monday there will no longer be additional screening for those arriving from countries on the US travel ban list. The screening was extremely simple, so I don’t view it as a huge loss, especially given its illogical implementation.

The good news is that this means flights will no longer have to be funneled through 15 US airports, but rather all US airports can once accept international flights from travel ban countries.

Now here’s to hoping that the US lifts the current nonsensical travel bans, and that Europe (maybe eventually) reciprocates, at least in conjunction with testing.

This is a step in the right direction…

What do you make of the US ending airport screenings for arriving international travelers?

  1. Even though I personally don’t have any trips lined up for at least a year, I’m glad to see this rule changed. I flew back from Germany on March 15th, originally through Charlotte but then rebooked through DFW. Temperature was not checked, just had to fill out a questionnaire and answer some basic health questions upon deplaning. If we aren’t going to offer rapid testing at the airport it is pointless to funnel people through certain airports vs. any airport.

  2. This is so illogical. The US has had more deaths from this virus than any other nations due to the poor handling done by the administration

    We need a new president

    #Biden for president

  3. The travel bans are pretty ridiculous, but I wonder if they have inadvertently helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 *outside* the US (i.e. preventing healthy international travelers from entering the US, getting sick, and bringing it back home with them).

  4. Truly an appalling government, yes Biden for President.
    That said, if we can do any medical screening on arrival at those airports, places like MSP should be able to handle it for their small number of international flights (AMS, CDG, LHR, HND, ICN, and some Mexican and Caribbean resort destinations).

  5. Sharon: how logical is to “screen” passengers from countries with low number of Covid-19 cases per capita if you have more in Miami?
    “The US has had more deaths from this virus than any other nation” – are you aware that in 2019 and for several years before that USA was taking #3 place in the world (after China and India) for the total number of death in a year? Back in 2018 in USA 2,938,205 people have died! That is 58% of population on New Zealand.

  6. If you don’t screen, you won’t have any cases. This is true both domestically and also for international flight arrivals. We could have been totally free of Covid-19 from the very beginning if it weren’t for those stupid tests. It would have been amazing. That’s what some people are saying.

  7. Ben, you forgot to mention:
    1) A TSA official told CNN that a draft public affairs guidance memo lays out the rationale for ending airport screening: Of the 675,000 passengers screened at 15 airports, fewer than 15 had been identified as having Covid-19.
    2) Apparently, it is only screening that will be ending but not restriction on travel. Thus, I do not see how a person with a tourist visa or ESTA can enter USA.

  8. I have to believe that the Feds gave American Airlines a choice back in March: Dallas, Charlotte, Philadelphia, or Phoenix — and AA chose Dallas. (The other AA hubs in New York, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles were on the list because of other airlines, as were AA focus cities Boston and Seattle.) Charlotte and Philadelphia need to realize that AA loves “fortress Dallas” more than them. I’m still amazed that AA chose to operate its trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights out of Dallas instead of New York, Miami, and Los Angeles for the last six months.

  9. ‘Now here’s to hoping that the US lifts the current nonsensical travel bans, and that Europe (maybe eventually) reciprocates’

    Most European countries have entry restrictions that are not nonsensical, and considering that the current leader of the US and many other people in that country are of the view that this is all some massive conspiracy, I am quite happy for American residents to remain in America until things improve. While the US travel restrictions seem to be based primarily on politics, the co-ordinated European restrictions are based on statistics.

  10. Is this for USA citizens returning home?

    Or can residents of those countries now travel to the USA??

    If so, we need open up tourist attractions so they will have an incentive to come here

  11. @david Just for US Citizens and Green Card holders returning home. Any individual without citizenship or permanent residency who has been in any of the countries listed on the travel ban in the past 14 days cannot enter the United States.

  12. Sorry Ben for once I completely think you are wrong. Your nation run by a lying idiot, still argues about masks. USA with 4% of global population has a disproportionately high case & death load. You sound a bit like the lunatic in the WH when you are saying essentially its good to head back to normal. You guys haven’t even tackled the 1st wave- wait till Oct/Nov rolls around & the virus hits harder. Sorry but that’s the truth

  13. Any of these COVID screenings are going to get really tricky once we get into the fall/winter unless rapid testing is widely available. Just think of how many people normally have a cough, cold or other flu like symptoms at that time of the year. It’s one thing to reject someone from a restaurant because they exhibit a symptom, but forcing them into a quarantine at an airport while awaiting test results could be a lot more difficult.

  14. @Grey is on point. Europe isn’t letting us in anytime soon, not with how things are being handled here. We shall remain the laughing stock of the world and have to sit here grooving on it.

    That said, I’m blessed with a 2nd passport so ima peace out y’all.

  15. It appears some of y’all haven’t seen the COVID case counts in Europe lately. Look at France and Spain. They are off the chart and worse than they ever were back when this all began.

    Nobody knows what case counts are in Mexico, India, Brazil etc because they just don’t test much for it. Mexico ran out of death certificates last week.

    Everyone here in the US gives the admin crap but most of Europe is catching on fire again and they’ve ruled out another shutdown. Their economy can’t take it.

  16. The travel ban doesn’t make sense because it’s not based on statistics and not dynamic. Plus, there are on average higher percentage of people who have the virus in the US, than the percentage of it on any airplane that will land here. One could say that every arrival actually brings down the infection rate a tiny bit.

  17. @Norman
    The travel ban was purely political, and it still is. Trying to analyze it rationally is, by definition, an exercise in frustration.

  18. I’m a U.S.-EU dual national, so I can speak as a European with citizenship in a country with a well-contained situation right now: the travel bans need to end on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, the public health situation in Spain and France is arguably worse than the whole of the United States. Our COVID-19 situations are converging. It makes no sense for travel to be banned between the two unions at this point. Moreover, I don’t hope that testing is part of the future of trans-Atlantic travel. Why? So people can have their travels ruined because they have “viral debris” from a mild infection that cleared a month ago?

    (Also, the situation in Brazil has improved quite a bit and that ban should be dropped. Maybe — maybe — an India ban should be implemented, because of the size of the country and the massive epidemic there, but I wouldn’t be upset if one isn’t implemented.)

  19. US screening people when the pandemic has become endemic in the US is meaningless now. If it had been done properly at the beginning maybe it could have helped but frankly screening needs to be done before someone boards a plane not after they have been in a enclosed tube for hours. Even India which did a much stricter screening with mandatory 7 days in a quarantine hotel for all arrivals could not contain this. Covid is just too infectious. Vaccines will probably not work as people are getting reinfected meaning the immunity gained is transitory. The only thing to do is have vulnerable populations work from home (>60, diabetes, overweight) while rest of society goes on and treat whoever gets infected with antivirals and anti inflammatories. Maybe bring better anti-virals to the market. Maybe if we get an oral or inhaled vaccine people will be ok with takin the vaccine every 3 months but I dont see people taking a shot every 3 months.

  20. testing is semi-pointless. Taiwan doesn’t mass test. Neither does South Korea. Lots of false / not important positives.

  21. I think it is important to emphasize that the travel ban has not been modified. This only addresses the screening of a few eligible passengers. I don’t believe this biased travel ban has been effective, but to all of those thinking that the U.S. has had the most deaths per capita in the world, I would recommend taking a look at the official numbers from the John Hopkins chart.

  22. Kinda pointless since there’s more risk to people coming into the US than there is coming from the originating country (Brazil for example being a notable exception).
    Also, this is only for USC and US permanent residents coming back to the US. All this means is AA, United, Delta etc have more airports to fly directly to from overseas, where before, returning pax would just connect. LHR to CLT for example – just connect at DFW. Whether they bother opening up a direct LHR-CLT will depend on need. If there’s no need, they won’t, and they’ll just continue to funnel through DFW.

  23. “Sharon: how logical is to “screen” passengers from countries with low number of Covid-19 cases per capita if you have more in Miami?” – I guess you missed the part where they aren’t doing screenings on anyone including countries with massive COVID problems. Its disconcerting to say the least especially for places like New York that get a ton of international flights and don’t have the same COVID problems that much of the US has. Don’t really want tourists from those high COVID countries coming here where we have things under reasonable control.

  24. “Kinda pointless since there’s more risk to people coming into the US than there is coming from the originating country ” Really depends on where in the US you are going. I feel much safer where I live due to low numbers compared to many many other countries. For the states that don’t have the virus under control its different.

  25. As far as I understand, the main obstacle is that from an epidemiological perpective both the US and the EU are absolutely not homogeneous. On either side of the Atlantic, there are states/countries with very low levels and some with very high level. Both sides are not well prepared to differentiate inside their respective jurisdiction, but I guess this is the only possible way to go, as long as tests are not reliable during the first 4 days of an infection.

  26. I really hope this is the first step towards ending the US ban on entry for U.K. citizens.

    Quite literally the day after the ban is lifted I’m on a plane to NYC. I have been in the USA since February and it’s the longest period for the last twenty years I’ve not been able to visit friends and more importantly my American colleagues!

  27. The ban has been particularly hard for me. I myself live in the Uk whilst my partner of 5 years lives in the USA. We usually see each other every two months however the pandemic and travel restrictions have meant that we have not seen each other in over 8 months. Whilst i support enhanced measures regarding the movement of people during this time, i dont believe that a blanket ban is the right move. Not only is it keeping families and loved ones separated, it is negatively impacting business and economic growth within the aviation industry and beyond. I also work in the UK office of a US owned company. The inability to travel has negatively impacted the business hugely as the time difference and business meetings force UK staff to stay until 10-11pm for client meetings rather than travelling and is not allowing continued company growth.

  28. We have so many cases that it doesn’t matter to stop vistors from coming in. They are at the higher end of risk . Chuckles!

  29. Hey Ben, how long do you think it will be until airlines have updated their Sept/Oct schedules to reflect this good news?

  30. Quite frankly, most if not all the governments should BAN their aircraft from flying to and from the US. The US is the pariah here, most reasonable countries are making headway.

  31. This does not make sense to me. This will not control the virus. People that bring the virus into the US will then be spreading the virus whether they know it or not. And there is little done even for people that are coming in from “high risk” places, too. You basically walk through and they advise quarantine at the final destination. A lot of reducing the inbound spread of the virus (e.g. imported cases) is controlled by the COVID test upon arrival and quarantine there. Yes, it does discourage international travel.

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