US Lifts Vaccine Requirements for International Travelers
On May 11, the Biden-Harris Administration lifted Covid-19 vaccine requirements for Federal employees, Federal contractors, and international air travelers. May 11 was also the day the government announced the end of the official emergency response to the Covid-19 epidemic.
The White House issued a statement that read: “While vaccination remains one of the most important tools in advancing the health and safety of employees and promoting the efficiency of workplaces, we are now in a different phase of our response when these measures are no longer necessary.”
In anticipation of a possible rush to travel, U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman said in a statement, “Today’s action to lift the vaccine requirement eases a significant entry barrier for many global travelers, moving our industry and country forward.
“However, the return of international visitors should be as efficient and secure as possible. The federal government must ensure U.S. airports and other ports of entry are appropriately staffed with Customs and Border Protection officers to meet the growing demand for entry.”
Biden, Buttigieg Promise Air Travel Reforms
In a televised announcement on May 8th, President Biden and Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg announced that the administration will be launching an expanded website with a dashboard that hosts all the information about airlines and what compensation would be guaranteed. The website was promised to include which airlines currently offer cash compensation, provide travel credits or vouchers, or award frequent flyer miles and cover the costs for other amenities.
Read More: Meeting Profs Travel Report: Air Travel Chaos Looms, Japan Lifts Covid Controls
President Biden also promised that his administration would allow flyers to get compensation, not only for canceled or delayed flights but also for meals, taxis, rideshares and hotels if the passenger is stranded and the airline is at fault.
“Historically, when delays and cancellations are the airline’s fault, the law has only required airlines to refund customers the price of their flight ticket, but not the cost of meals or hotels or transportation when you get left in limbo,” Biden said.
“If your flight is very delayed or canceled, and the airline could have prevented that…you deserve being fully compensated. Your time matters. The impact on your life matters,” Biden said at the conference.
We asked William McGee, an expert on passengers’ rights and Senior Fellow for Aviation, American Economic Liberties Project what the announcement means between the lines for travelers and if it really has teeth.
“We’ve got a long way to go for air travelers in the United States to achieve the same rights they have in the European Union, Canada, and other countries around the world,” said McGee. “The DOT’s new rulemaking could address some of these fundamental issues, ensuring adequate compensation and accommodations (meals, hotels, etc.) when flights are severely delayed or canceled. However, rulemakings take time, and it could be several years before this takes effect. [note: Biden said his actions would take effect, “Later this year.”].
“In the meantime, the DOT’s updated dashboard (transportation.gov/airconsumer/airline-customer-service-dashboard) may have a more immediate effect by shaming airlines into updating their compensation policies. Let’s hope the DOT continues moving in this direction.”
In cases where an airline is not being transparent on why the delay or cancellation took place, McGee says flyers should file an official complaint with the US Department of Transportation. “The key is the airline’s own Contract of Carriage,” says McGee. “It should state the circumstances of how it will compensate. Warning! These contracts are very murky and poorly worded.”