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During the weekend, the US confirmed that the UK and the Republic of Ireland have been added to the list of 26 Schengen Area countries in Europe which would be subject to travel restrictions due to the spread of COVID-19. The Department for Homeland Security have confirmed that the restrictions do not apply to "American citizens, legal permanent residents, and their immediate families who are returning home" - although those returning to the States are required to fly via 13 airport hubs. These are listed below:
• Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS), Massachusetts
•Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
•Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
•Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan
•Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
•Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
•John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
•Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX), California
•Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida
•Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
•San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
•Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
•Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia
The DHS confirm that "Upon arrival, travelers will proceed to standard customs processing. They will then continue to enhanced entry screening where the passenger will be asked about their medical history, current condition, and asked for contact information for local health authorities. Passengers will then be given written guidance about COVID-19 and directed to proceed to their final destination, and immediately home-quarantine in accordance with CDC best practices."
Explaining the decision, Acting Secretary of DHS, Chad Wolf, said that "While the overall risk of serious infection from the coronavirus to the general public remains low at this time, the Trump administration is taking these aggressive measures to keep the risk low, requiring all Americans returning from affected areas in Europe to be funneled through 13 airports for screening upon their return to the US ... To minimize disruptions to travelers, TSA, CBP, and air carriers are working to identify qualifying passengers before their scheduled flights. These passengers will be rerouted to one of the 13 airports by their airline at no cost to them."
Wolf went on to say that "I understand this new process will be disruptive to some travelers, however this action is needed to protect the general public from further exposure and spread of the coronavirus. Once back in the US it is imperative that individuals honor self-quarantine directives to help protect their loved-ones and communities."
The new rules, which were introduced over the weekend, reportedly led to large delays and confusion at some US airports that make up the 13 go-to hubs. According to the Washington Post, "Scores of anxious passengers said they encountered jam-packed terminals, long lines and hours of delays as flights from more than two dozen European countries were routed through 13 of the busiest travel hubs in the United States. Airport workers queried them about their health and instructed them to self-quarantine as part of the “enhanced entry screenings” announced Friday to slow the spread of the coronavirus."
The problem isn't helped by a rapid reduction in the number of Transatlantic services between the UK and the US, with airlines reducing flights by up to 75% in cases to compensate for reduced demand from passengers. The situation has also reportedly led to a substantial increase in the number of passengers seeing travel via private charter jets - further exacerbating the lack of demand in commercial flights.
If you're unsure about the new procedures or have questions about your travel plans, contact your airline, consult the US Department for Homeland Security website and keep an eye on the US Embassy London updates.