International Travel

Chicago Airports Prepare for Return of International Travelers as US Lifts Ban

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Chicago airports will see the return of international tourists for the first time since the pandemic began as the U.S. lifts restrictions Monday on those from a long list of countries.

The lifting of the travel ban includes certain tourists from place like Mexico, Canada and most of Europe, allowing tourists to make long-delayed trips and family members to reconnect with loved ones after more than a year and a half apart because of the pandemic.

The rules that go into effect Monday allow air travel from a series of countries from which it has been restricted since the early days of the pandemic — as long as the traveler has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. Those crossing a land border from Mexico or Canada will require proof of vaccination but no test.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and United Airlines President Brett Hart are set to celebrate the lifting of the travel ban at 9:45 a.m. at O'Hare International Airport.

U.S. citizens and permanent residents were always allowed to enter the U.S., but the travel bans grounded tourists, thwarted business travelers and often separated families.

Airlines are now preparing for a surge in travel. Data from travel and analytics firm Cirium showed airlines are increasing flights between the United Kingdom and the U.S. by 21% this month over last month.

The change will also have a profound effect on the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, where traveling back and forth was a way of life until the pandemic hit and the U.S. shut down nonessential travel.

Malls, restaurants and Main Street shops in U.S. border towns have been devastated by the lack of visitors from Mexico. On the boundary with Canada, cross-border hockey rivalries that were community traditions were upended. Churches that had members on both sides of the border are hoping to welcome parishioners they haven't seen in nearly two years.

Loved ones have missed holidays, birthdays and funerals while nonessential air travel was barred, and they are now eager to reconnect.

The U.S. will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the shots approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the U.S. That's a relief for many in Canada, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is widely used.

The moves come as the U.S. has seen its COVID-19 outlook improve dramatically in recent weeks since the summer delta surge that pushed hospitals to the brink in many locations.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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