Biden comment hints at boosting travel between US and Europe

FILE - In this June 16, 2021 file photo, travelers queue up in long lines to pass through the south security checkpoint in Denver International Airport in Denver. A seemingly offhand remark by President Joe Biden is raising hopes in the airline industry that the U.S. might soon open up to European visitors. If it happens soon, it might salvage some last-minute, late-summer vacation-travel business for the airlines. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File) (David Zalubowski, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A comment by President Joe Biden is encouraging airlines to hope that travel between the United States and Europe could be expanded in time for last-minute, late-summer vacation trips.

At a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Biden was asked about ending restrictions that bar most European visitors from entering the United States.

Biden said Thursday that a team that is advising him on the pandemic “brought that subject up. It’s in the process of (considering) how soon we can lift the ban ... and I will be able to answer that question to you within the next several days.”

An official with the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group for the broader tourism industry, praised Biden's comments.

“The science says we can safely reopen international travel now, particularly for countries that have made considerable progress toward vaccinating their citizens," said Tori Emerson Barnes, the travel group's executive vice president of policy, citing studies that concluded there is a low risk of transmitting the virus during flights. “Each day that outdated restrictions on travel exist wreaks economic damage on our nation."

Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. carriers, said “the time for action is now" to reopen to international visitors. The group noted that the U.S. allows travel to and from Mexico, where less than one-third of the population is vaccinated, while severely restricting travel from Canada and the United Kingdom, two countries with relatively high vaccination rates.

The rise and prevalence of COVID-19 variants in Europe, especially the delta mutation that is also spreading throughout the U.S., has caused the Biden administration to tread slowly about increasing transatlantic travel.

Last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration was anxious to restore travel “as fully and quickly as possible,” but said he couldn't put a date on reopening the country. "We have to be guided by the science, by medical expertise.”

Most of continental Europe has relaxed restrictions on Americans who are fully vaccinated, although the United Kingdom still requires quarantines for most visitors arriving from the U.S. Airlines say, however, that the lack of two-way travel is limiting the number of flights they can offer and seats they can sell.

In recent months, U.S. airlines have started new service to European countries that are open to American visitors. Delta launched new or resumed service to Greece, Iceland and Croatia, which opened early to vaccinated foreigners. In some cases, Americans who tested negative for the virus were able to skip quarantine requirements that were in place for other visitors.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said this week that bookings by Americans surged when those countries reopened and others followed.

“The problem is, there are only Americans that we are carrying in (to Europe) and carrying out," Bastian told The Associated Press.

With most Europeans unable to enter the U.S., Delta has been forced to keep its transatlantic capacity at around half the level it was before the pandemic, he said.


David Koenig can be reached at