The British government is getting increasingly frustrated at the failure of Joe Biden’s administration to name a precise date for the lifting of travel restrictions, with just weeks to go until air travel to the US is supposed to resume.
The White House said on 20 September that fully vaccinated foreign nationals will be allowed to enter the US from “early November”, but the US Department for Transportation today told The Independent it had no further information about exactly when the change will be implemented.
It leaves thousands of UK passengers in limbo waiting to hear when they can visit family and friends in the US or take holidays in popular destinations like New York, Florida or California.
And it means airlines are making extensive preparations for a massive surge of demand from as early as 1 November, without any certainty over when passengers will in fact be able to travel.
The source admitted the UK was “blindsided” by President Biden’s announcement last month that he was relaxing restrictions for visitors from countries around the world.
The announcement came just after Boris Johnson told reporters that he had little hope of securing any easing of restrictions in an Oval Office meeting with the president scheduled for the following day.
Despite having set up a joint travel taskforce with the US, Britain was given no notice of the announcement, the senior source confirmed. And the lack of communication has continued since that point.
Asked when vaccinated UK travellers will be able to fly freely to the US, the senior UK government source told The Independent: “Your guess is as good as mine.
“They haven’t told us anything about the date. The White House are in charge of the policy and it’s very difficult to work out what is going on.”
In response to a query about the date for the resumption of travel, the US Department of Transportation said only: “We have no updates or new information at this time.”
The silence from Washington appeared to reflect the lower priority placed on relations with the UK since Mr Biden’s arrival in office. It emerged as Brexit minister David Frost risked ruffling American feathers by saying that the president should not intervene in negotiations between London and Brussels over the Irish border.
Virgin Atlantic announced last week it would resume daily operations on its most-booked route – from Heathrow to Orlando – as well as flights to Las Vegas from 1 November, while the airline has already restarted flights to San Fransisco after an 18-month break. BA is also laying on additional flights from the start of the month.
Mr Biden’s green light to visit prompted a surge in bookings from Brits eager to go to the States, with Virgin recording an increase of more than 600 per cent. Some popular tickets have already sold out for the first days of November.
Before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, an average 100,000 travellers from the UK crossed the Atlantic to the US by air each week. The majority of those were taking holidays, but more than 20,000 were visiting friends and family.
Neither BA nor Virgin made any immediate response to queries about the uncertainty surrounding the relaxation of US controls.
But Simon Calder, travel correspondent of The Independent, said: “With just four weeks to go before a possible reopening of the US to UK and EU visitors, airline executives are tearing their hair out.
“Having been starved for 18 months of the most lucrative aviation market in the world, they are desperate to cash in on the surge of demand that will accompany the opening up of transatlantic routes.
“But they certainly don’t want to schedule any flights that then turn out to be half-empty because the ban hasn’t been lifted.”
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies