Emotional reunions were held at airports across the United States on Monday as packed transatlantic flights touched down following the lifting of an 18-month Covid-19 travel ban on much of the world.
Jez Cartwright, 49, was one of the first passengers off BA001, the first British Airways flight of the day to land at New York JFK airport from London Heathrow.
“It’s brilliant to be on a full plane again,” he said.
After 730 days of separation, Jill Chambers was finally able to hug her sister and nephews who were waiting in the arrivals area.
“I’m so happy,” she repeated.
Months of pent-up demand triggered a major spike in bookings on Monday, with travellers only required to show official proof of vaccination and a recent, negative viral test.
The flights were full, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said on what he called a “major day of celebration,” while passenger volume was expected to remain high in coming weeks with the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Despite fears of long queues, no major issues at airports were flagged in an early morning call between airlines and U.S. government officials.
The travel ban, first imposed in early 2020, had barred access to non-US citizens travelling from 33 countries – including China, India and much of Europe – and had also restricted overland entry from Mexico and Canada.
“Today America is open for business. That is our message to the world,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said at Chicago O’Hare airport.
In Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, across from the Texan city of El Paso, a line of about 20 people formed early before crossing and embracing family on the other side of the border, a Reuters witness said. One of the people hadn’t seen their relatives in El Paso since March 2020.
“We thought they were going to tell us again that they had decided not to open it,” said Lorena Hernandez, stroking her grown-up daughter’s hair and smiling broadly after they were reunited in El Paso. “I said, if they don’t reopen, I’m going to take a plane.”
AP and Reuters contributed to this report