New pandemic rules will take effect for air travelers starting Tuesday.
Anyone coming into the United States from overseas will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding the plane. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID-19 test must be taken within 72 hours or three days before the travelers’ flights.
"As variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus continue to emerge in countries around the world, there is growing evidence of increased transmissibility of some of these variants, as well as unknown health and vaccine implications," a CDC spokesman said in a statement. "Testing before and after travel is a critical layer to slow the introduction and spread of COVID-19 and emerging variants."
Airlines must confirm that there is a negative test result for all passengers before they get on board and land in the U.S.
The new requirement includes American travelers who are coming back to the states after a vacation. It's just one of the latest efforts by President Joe Biden's administration to crack down on the spread of COVID-19 following the identification of new COVID-19 strains in other parts of the world.
Now, travel experts say families will really need to think ahead on their travel plans.
"It does throw a new kink into things obviously," said Casey Carr, general manager for Dallas--based travel agency Sharon Carr Travel. "Now, suddenly people heading on vacation have to figure out how and where they are going to get a COVID test in their destinations."
Other countries have already had these same types of restrictions in place for months. At least for the U.S., there is an allowance for two types of general tests: the PCR tests that take two or three days to come back and the rapid antigen tests.
Carr said travel agencies like their own are preparing clients for the big changes, as they've seen vacation bookings for Americans slowly increase in recent months.
"It’s tough out there for everybody in the travel industry but since November, we’ve seen a major uptick in people getting back into travel and that coincided with the vaccine news," he said. "When they announced the Pfizer vaccine, the top trend on Google the next day was 'travel destinations'. People have been cooped up for a full year and they’re ready to go out, we hear it all the time now. Even in just the past few weeks, it’s starting to get busier with people booking."
Many destinations and airlines are also adjusting in ways to make it easier for travelers by providing COVID-19 tests on site.
“I have a bunch of people going to Tahiti in March and Tahiti is very remote. You can’t do testing at these little islands," Carr said. "It was a big problem for them but Air Tahiti knew and announced that they are going to provide the test for all U.S.-bound travelers. So that solves that problem. It’s going to take some time for people to adjust. This announcement was made a couple weeks ago so a lot of destinations have had some time to adjust, a lot of destinations are really going above and beyond.”
Carr said if a traveler tests positive, they will have to quarantine in their destination so that's something they will need to prepare for. He said there are some resorts that will compensate travelers the stay of their quarantine until they test negative.
"For example, the El Dorado Royale in Mexico is providing the test at the resort free of charge, no hassle. And if you do test positive, the resort will comp you a 12-night stay or however long your quarantine lasts for," Carr said.
However, not all resorts will do this so be sure to plan ahead and do your research.
Want to Get on a Vaccine Waitlist?
As the state begins to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines for those in Phase 1A and 1B, county health departments have begun waitlists for those wish to be inoculated.
You can now register to recieve the vaccination in Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties. Links are below:
You do not need to be a resident of the county to register for a COVID-19 vaccine in that county -- registration is open to anyone in Texas. For those without internet access, Tarrant County is also taking registrations by phone at 817-248-6299. In Dallas County, call the DCHHS vaccine hotline at 1-855-IMMUNE9 (1-855-466-8639). In Denton County, call 940-349-2585.
For a more detailed breakdown of who is included in each priority group in Texas, see this page from the Texas DSHS.
Either way, the industry has been adjusting to the changes as more countries like the U.S. enforce travel restrictions.
“I think Mexico has been a shining example in this. They’ve been great during the pandemic and opening things very smoothly," Carr said. "A lot of the resorts are going to be providing the testing there at the resorts. Sometimes at an additional charge, sometimes at no additional charge. If your resort is not offering that, there are services that will come to you and administer the test at the resort."
On Monday, President Biden signed even more restrictions that will prevent most non-U.S. citizens entering the country who were recently in South Africa, where a new strain of COVID-19 has been identified. He will also reinstate travel restrictions on the entry of non-U.S. citizens from the U.K. and Brazil, where new COVID-19 strains have emerged.
The restrictions will also apply to Ireland and much of Europe. Former President Donald Trump had rescinded the restrictions just before Biden took office.
With so many changes occurring on almost a weekly basis, Carr advises travelers to consider using a professional or travel agent to help navigate vacations in 2021.
"You have to be careful with what you are looking at online when researching, you might not be looking at proper resources that are giving you the correct information," he said. "Travel agents are informed of these things constantly. We have resources that we're going to to determine the regulations and destinations that are changing on a monthly basis this year. So it's important to work with a professional, it doesn't cost you anything."
He added many leaders in the travel industry are calling for a "vaccine passport" to allow international travelers to move around more freely. It is unknown when such a document could become available.