Hundreds of passengers were left waiting for hours at JFK airport yesterday when three planes reportedly arrived at once on the day the US border reopened.
Furious travellers blasted officials for the ‘disgraceful’ planning as the aircraft landed from Manchester and weary customers flooded into customs.
One flyer posted footage of the chaos on social media as masked people queued in sprawling lines as they waited to be let into the country for the first time in 600 days.
It is not clear if airports brought in more staff for the big reopening, but it comes amid warnings they were not ready for the huge influx of tourists.
British Airways took 8,600 travellers on 26 aircraft while Virgin Atlantic ferried a further 4,500 customers on ten shuttles into JFK as figures soared back to pre-pandemic levels.
Britons burst into tears as they were reunited with friends and family in the US, with some running off the planes to tell stories of the past 20 months apart.
THE NEW TRAVEL RULES – WHO CAN COME TO AMERICA AND WHAT MUST THEY PROVE
Travelers from any country are permitted entry to the US if they are;
1) Fully vaccinated
2) Have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 3 days of arriving in the US
Which vaccines are recognized?
Johnson & Johnson
Who is exempt from having to be vaccinated?
Under-18 children o not need to be vaccinated but those over the age of two must have a negative test taken within 3 days of arrival
Kids under the age of two do not need to be vaccinated or have a negative test
A limited number of travelers from countries where vaccination is less than 10 percent can enter but they have to get vaccinated if they’re still in America within 60 days
The countries include; Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Armenia, Myanmar, Iraq, Nicaragua, Senegal, Uganda, Libya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Congo, Kenya, Yemen, Haiti, Chad and Madagascar
People in COVID-19 vaccine trials
Those with National Interest Exemptions
* Religious exemptions are NOT accepted *
But on the first day of the new dawn in US travel, JFK faced fury on social media from travellers stuck in huge queues due to an apparent mix up with flights.
One Twitter user shared a video of the backlog of traffic and blamed three planes landing at once from Manchester Airport in the UK.
He wrote: ’20 months closed lots of time to get things right and JFK Airport queues are a disgrace, three planes landing at the same time from Manchester is ridiculous.’
Asked how long he had been waiting, he added: ‘Two hours mate, pathetic. We were all sweating. Just approaching Manhattan now.’
Paul Richards, 58, who is head of safeguarding for Stoke City FC, also said he waited two hours after his Virgin Atlantic flight from London.
He told USA Today: ‘No point in getting irate, the queue will still be there.’ Policeman Marc Evans, 42, who flew from Manchester, with his wife and two children waited for over an hour.
He said: ‘It was apparently a PR stunt to show the USA was back open but seems they weren’t concerned about the queues at customs.’
Rob Walsh added on his Twitter page: ‘Great. Queues are JFK are bad enough without two planes touching down at the same time.’
Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian had earlier warned: ‘It’s going to be a bit sloppy at first. I can assure you, there will be lines unfortunately.’ But he added: ‘We’ll get it sorted out.’
It is unclear how many Customs Border Patrol and Transportation Security Administration agents were at each separate airport to deal with the crowds, but a spokesman confirmed there were 25,000 across the US.
Heathrow also received numerous complaints on social media for long queues, waiting times and ‘appalling service’.
Dr Esther Clift from Southampton wrote on Twitter: ‘Beside myself with appalling service of @BritishAirwaysT trying to get my lovely mum on a flight! @HeathrowAirport waiting 2 hours now!’
The consultant practitioner added: ‘She’s gone through security. But we are both in tears… this is not a good experience!’
Aviation professional Adam Thompson said online: ‘@HeathrowAirport someone needs to inform your airport assistance personnel that a long connection is nice license to leave a customer sitting and waiting.’
And Puja Bhatia added: ‘Opting to fly by @airvistara was no less than a nightmare for me. Absolutely no support at @HeathrowAirport.
‘Staff doesn’t care about medical conditions of passengers, no assistance and largely mismanaged. I hope @TataCompanies do not make @airindiain into a Vistara now.’
Long queues also reportedly formed at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 as eager travellers checked in to their flights but faced waits.
Meanwhile there was disappointment for flyers when they crossed the border, as the supply chain crisis continued to spark shortages in the food and drink sectors amid warnings it was not ready for the influx of tourists.
Owner of Ilili, a Lebanese restaurant on 5th Avenue, Philippe Massoud told the BBC: ‘Cutlery, plateware, glassware, take-out containers, paper products… you name it, it’s across the board, even toilet paper.’
Allison patiently waits for her in-laws to come off the London Heathrow flight Her in-laws are from Somerset, England and had not been allowed to visit in 20 months
The flights to the US that left the UK yesterday
There were a total of 66 flights leaving UK airports for the US yesterday.
Some 63 were from Heathrow (plus two from Gatwick and one from Manchester).
The highest number of flights were 20 to New York – including 17 to JFK and 3 to Newark.
The next highest were Chicago (7), Los Angeles (6) and San Francisco (4).
- New York JFK – 14
- Chicago – 7
- Los Angeles – 6
- San Francisco – 4
- Newark – 3
- Atlanta – 3
- Boston – 3
- Dallas – 3
- Miami – 3
- Washington – 3
- Greenville – 2
- Houston – 2
- Philadelphia – 2
- Seattle – 2
- Charlotte – 1
- Denver – 1
- Detroit – 1
- Las Vegas – 1
- Orlando – 1
- San Diego – 1
TOTAL – 63
Despite the chaotic scenes, the chiefs of BA and Virgin Atlantic sounded a positive tone. Chief Executive of Virgin Atlantic Shai Weiss said: ‘It’s been 600 days that the US border has been shut down for UK nationals.
‘To see passengers coming in early in the morning, grandparents going to see grandchildren they’ve never met, families reuniting, people going to care for elderly people and businesses reconnecting is really a day of celebration for all of us in the industry and, of course, for Virgin Atlantic.’
He called the transatlantic route ‘one of the most important in the world’. ‘For us at Virgin Atlantic, we say it wouldn’t be Virgin without the Atlantic,’ he said.
Mr Weiss’ counterpart at British Airways, Sean Doyle, earlier said the reopening of the US borders was a ‘moment to celebrate’ after ‘more than 600 days of separation’.
And passengers were generally in high spirits, as loved ones and friends wept as they embraced for the first time in 20 months at JFK.
Others help up placards with adorable messages such as ‘we missed you for two years’ as they waited at the arrivals exit.
Bhavna Patel took off from London to see her first grandchild Kai after watching him grow up for the past two years over Facetime.
Ms Patel and her daughter Bindiya were met off the BA plane by her son Kushal, having not seen each other since 2018.
Kushal told DailyMail.com: ‘We’ve been trying to get my mother here from London after a year of FaceTime, sending pictures of Kai.’
He continued: ‘This is a breath of fresh air for all us, especially that we all normally see each other 2-3 times per year.
‘My mother had yet to meet my son, Kai, until today and it feels so good to her again too. She’s going to be here for the next 10 days along with my sister.’
Christian Marcelia, 26, said he was ‘excited and a bit nervous’ to fly to New York to visit his girlfriend there for the first time.
He said: ‘My girlfriend lives over there, so we’ve been sort of long distance for two years. I’m going there to meet her family for the first time.’
They have been a couple for nearly two years, he said, spending most of that time on different continents due to pandemic-induced travel restrictions.
Richard Clark was looking forward to seeing his American colleagues before jetting off to San Francisco on business.
The Briton, who works in software for an American company, said it was the first time in two-and-a-half years that he was heading to the US office.
He said: ‘Having worked at home for so long and being at home for so long for somebody that travels quite a lot historically, a bit apprehensive, I guess, with all the hoops you have to jump through to travel, but otherwise it’s going to be a good change of scenery.’
Demaine Erebara and her younger brother wait for their aunt and uncle to arrive from London on Monday morning after two years apart
Jill Chambers (right) of Manchester, England is reunited with her sister Louise as passengers arrive from the first British Airways flight to arrive since the U.S. lifted pandemic travel restrictions on November 8 in New York City
Bhavna Patel reunites with her son, Kushal, daughter-in-law Anisha (left) and meets for the first time her grandson, Kai. Kai, Kushal and Anisha live in America whereas Bhavna lives in the UK with her daughter Bindiya (right) . They flew over on the first BA flight on Monday and told DailyMail.com at the arrivals hall how happy they were to be together again. ‘We’ve been trying to get my mother here from London after a year of FaceTime, sending pictures of Kai. This is a breath of fresh air for all us, especially that we all normally see each other 2-3 times per year. My mother had yet to meet my son, Kai, until today and it feels so good to her again too. She’s going to be here for the next 10 days along with my sister,’ Kushal said
Kushal Patel and wife Anisha and son Kai and sister Bindiya and mother Bhavna. Kushal lives in the US and hasn’t been home for a year and half
Passengers arrive at JFK from Heathrow on board Virgin Flight VS3. It is the first tourist flight from the UK to arrive in 20 months
Louise Erebara, 52, who emigrated to the US from Manchester 34 years ago, was among those waiting at JFK’s Terminal 7 for flights to arrive.
She and her children had not seen her sister Jill Chambers – or her brother-in-law Mark – for nearly two years due to Covid.
Jill and Mark travelled from Darwen, near Manchester, to London on Sunday. They spent the night at a hotel before boarding their plane at 8am at Heathrow.
Her 13-year-old daughter Demaine told DailyMail.com at the airport how excited she was to be reunited with her aunt and uncle.
‘You FaceTime but it’s not the same,’ she said, eagerly clutching a Union Flag and a sign for her younger brother to hold up. It’s all so overwhelming and emotional. It feels as if we’ve won the lottery.’
They have not gone to visit the couple in the UK because Louise’s five-year-old son Bowie remains unvaccinated, and they do not wish to travel internationally until he has received a shot.
Husband and wife Ben and Becca Akhurst said they ‘can’t believe this is actually happening’, ahead of flying to Orlando, Florida.
The pair, both aged 31 and from Ashford, Kent, said: ‘This trip has been a long time coming – after five cancellations we finally get to return to Orlando.
‘This is going to be an emotional trip and the relief once we had our negative test results a couple of days ago was an amazing feeling.
‘We can’t believe this is actually happening but look forward to savouring every moment and sharing it with our friends and family.’
Relatives hug at JFK Terminal 7 on Monday morning after the first flight of unrestricted travelers arrived from London Heathrow, 20 months after the restrictions were put in place
Families reunite on Monday morning at JFK after 20 months of Covid restrictions. Those who arrived had to prove they were fully vaccinated and have a negative COVID-19 test
Louise Erebara, 52, waits for her sister and brother-in-law from Darwen, near Manchester. She has lived in the US for 34 years but has been separated from her British family throughout the pandemic
A man carrying a British passport arrives to applause at JFK on Monday morning on one of the first tourist flights from the UK
Five-year-old Bowie Erebara waits for his aunt and uncle to arrive at JFK on Monday from Heathrow. They have been separated for nearly two years by the travel ban that was finally lifted
Airlines have ramped up UK-US flight schedules to meet the increased demand for travel. A total of 3,688 flights are scheduled to operate between the countries this month, according to travel data firm Cirium.
That is up 21 per cent compared with October, but remains 49 per cent down on the pre-pandemic levels of November 2019.
Around 3.8million British nationals visited the US every year prior to the pandemic, according to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
But since Covid the only people who have been able to enter are American citizens, green-card holders or those who obtained national interest exemptions.
The countries that were banned account for just 17 percent of the world but a huge 53 percent of US tourism in 2019.
It will take until 2024 for travel income to return to what it was. Over 1million jobs were lost as a result of the travel ban, including those at airports and among airlines.
In addition to being fully vaccinated, foreign travellers must provide proof of a negative result from a test taken no more than three days before travel, or that they have recovered from the virus in the previous three months.
There are limited exemptions for travellers who are not fully vaccinated. Children are exempt from the vaccination requirement but those aged between two and 17 must take a coronavirus test three to five days after arrival.
Fully vaccinated people travelling from the US to the UK must take a test on or before the second day after their arrival.
Head of travel experts the Points Guy UK Nicky Kelvin told MailOnline: ‘At the start of the pandemic, the USA made a big sweeping decision to ban certain people from defined countries from travelling into the US.
‘Throughout the pandemic, the US did not make any adjustments to the restrictions imposed; they kept the strict rules in place and made no attempt to adjust or ease the restrictions based on Covid numbers falling in the UK or elsewhere.
‘This would suggest that the latest announcement to the opening up of its borders is a fixed decision and there shouldn’t be any risk for the US to backtrack in the short term and close their borders to travellers.
‘That said, what the pandemic has taught us is anything could happen and we advise anyone looking to travel to America to keep an eye on Government websites and to monitor updates from their chosen airline.’
How to keep Uncle Sam sweet: Everything you need to know to keep America’s notoriously tetchy border guards happy, from jab rules to visa requirements
The Daily Mail Escape team has everything you need to know about the reopening of travel to the U.S and how to keep its notoriously impatient border guards sweet.
Fit-to-fly certificates at the ready!
Can we finally go to America?
Not immediately — but from Monday we can, as President Joe Biden has lifted the long-running blanket ban on UK tourists. But there is one caveat.
You must be fully vaccinated to travel.
Can you go if you’re not vaccinated?
There are exemptions for diplomats, air crew and United Nations officials.
Are there any other requirements for double-jabbed travellers?
Yes. You must also take a Covid test and have proof of a negative result within three days of departure. This can be either an antigen/lateral flow test or a PCR test. The test certificate must be marked with your name as shown on your passport plus at least one other ‘identifier’ such as your date of birth or passport number.
Test certificates can be in digital or paper form to show at check-in on departure and to border officials on arrival.
Can I use an NHS test for this?
Almost certainly not. U.S. border control wording is not clear on this, so it is essential to err on the side of caution and book and pay for a private test at a registered medical laboratory. Prices for antigen/lateral flow tests are cheapest, varying from £25 to £50. You must have the test taken by a laboratory — you cannot complete a test at home without supervision as these are open to fraud.
What about tests taken via video/Zoom while medical lab staff witness it?
Such tests are acceptable.
What proof of being fully vaccinated will I need?
Your NHS Travel Covid Pass is sufficient. You will need to be able to show the ‘QR’ code to your airline and to officials on arrival, either printed or in digital form.
Is the AstraZeneca vaccine accepted as it has not yet been approved there?
Yes. America’s health regulator, the Centers for Disease Control, accepts Oxford AstraZeneca jabs as these have been approved by the World Health Organisation.
What about children?
Children under 18 travelling with a fully vaccinated adult are exempt from the requirement to be fully vaccinated, but those aged two to 17 must take a lateral flow or PCR test within three days of departure. Children under 18 travelling solo need to take a test within one day of travel.
Anything else you need?
Yes. Each tourist must, as was required pre-pandemic, complete an ESTA form to enter the U.S. ‘ESTA’ stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. These cost £9 and should be completed at least 72 hours prior to travel. Apply via esta.cbp.dhs.gov.
Do you need to wear a face mask while flying?
Yes — and also at U.S. airports.
Do you have to wear a face mask everywhere?
Each state has its own rules, although masks are mandatory on public transport. Some places have special rules for indoor gatherings that could affect children. In New York, anyone over 12 must have proof of having at least one jab when attending restaurants, cafes, shops, cinemas and museums. See ‘Key to NYC’ at nyc.gov.
For a state-by-state breakdown see ‘List of Coronavirus-Related Restrictions’ at aarp.org.
What about further information in general about U.S. travel rules?
Are flight prices cheap?
Very. If you book in advance and are flexible on dates, a return to the west coast is from around £400, while New York is from about £340 return. Check skyscanner.net and Google Flights.