Journey beneath Biden: The place the president stands on masks, flights and Cuba
President Donald Trump began his tenure by imposing a travel ban and ended by lifting another one – measures that his successor quickly dismantled or promised to block.
Travel industry experts are watching what else President Biden’s administration has in store for travelers, from the potential easing of restrictions on travel to Cuba to the introduction of mask requirements and the (eventual) reversal of a decline in international tourism.
Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, expects the government’s dual focus on the pandemic and the economic crisis will ultimately help people get back on the road.
“Anything we do – vaccinate more people and get them vaccinated faster, regardless of the type of financial support and incentives the administration decides … whatever they do to get the economy going – is inevitably have a positive impact on travel and transportation, “he said.
Biden addressed some travel-related issues on Wednesday, his first day in office. Others are expected to follow soon. And other changes are likely to have much lower priority.
Trump travel ban
A week after his inauguration, Trump introduced a travel ban on foreigners from seven Muslim-majority countries. This order – ridiculed by critics as a “Muslim ban” – evolved after litigation, but still applied to certain people from Tanzania, Sudan and Venezuela. Immigrants from Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria, as well as most people from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Biden signed a proclamation on Wednesday to end the bans.
“These acts affect our national conscience and are at odds with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no beliefs at all,” the proclamation said.
He wrote that Trump’s bans were “a moral plague” that had threatened the country’s alliances.
“And they separated loved ones and inflicted pain that will spread over the years,” the proclamation says. “You are just wrong.”
In an executive order on Wednesday, Biden called for the wearing of masks and physical distancing by everyone in federal buildings and in federal states.
During the campaign, Biden said he would also require compliance with masks for forms of interstate transportation. The Associated Press reported that Biden would issue the order – which applies to planes, airports, ships, trains, intercity buses and public transportation – on Thursday.
Airlines and flight attendants have said they are in favor of a mask mandate that would tighten their existing policies. However, Trump’s White House blocked an order that would have required public transportation masks, and the transportation department turned down a petition asking for a mask mandate.
“The airlines had their own guidelines, but without the teeth of federal law, flight attendants had very little recourse to passengers who said, ‘I don’t want to wear a mask,” Harteveldt said.
Coronavirus travel restrictions
Trump said Monday that he would lift travel restrictions that apply to much of Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil, effective January 26. Then an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will go into effect requiring the detection of a negative coronavirus test or recovery of the virus to fly to the US.
Trump called the testing requirement and easing restrictions “the best way to continue protecting Americans from Covid-19 while allowing them to safely resume travel.”
The incoming Biden administration was of a different opinion. Jen Psaki, who is now the White House press secretary, said in a tweet on Monday that it was no time to lift restrictions on international travel.
“In fact, we plan to step up public health measures related to international travel to further contain the spread of Covid-19,” she wrote.
On Thursday, the government was due to announce that travelers to the US would have to self-quarantine upon arrival, the Associated Press reported. It is not yet clear whether other measures might be in stock.
Before the pandemic, the United States saw an alarming trend: global tourism was growing, but the number of people coming to the country was not.
In 2019, around 79.3 million people came to the United States from international destinations, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. That is a decrease of around 500,000 compared to the previous year. And in 2020 the number of visitors naturally fell as the pandemic gave rise to most of the travel.
Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policies for the US Travel Association, said Biden’s position in the world could help position the country better to encourage more visitors when the time is right.
“Once we can reopen travel more robustly and reopen international borders, Biden’s expertise and experience of working closely with governments around the world will be an important component in welcoming international visitors back,” she said. This is something we really haven’t seen welcoming international visitors for quite some time, and not just as a result of the pandemic. “
Trip to Cuba
Americans were able to travel to Cuba much easier from 2016 after President Barack Obama resumed diplomatic relations and eased restrictions on travelers visiting. Trump went back in 2019, narrowing the legal options for U.S. citizens on what to do and where to stay. The government added more restrictions through the end of last year, only making Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism this month.
During the campaign, Biden referred to the Americans as “the best ambassadors for freedom” in Cuba and said he would get rid of “failed Trump policies that harmed Cubans and their families.” It’s not clear what this will mean for Americans planning to visit the island, but policy experts and travel companies expect an easier way to go.
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, said he anticipates an expansion of travel from the Biden administration – and huge demand from travelers once it is safe.
“I think there will be a lot of ways to travel legally and there will be more accessible information to make you feel confident that it is legal,” he said.
María José Espinosa Carrillo, interim president of the Engage Cuba coalition, which works to end the travel and trade embargo against Cuba, expects a new policy of engagement that serves both the interests of the United States and the Cuban people.
“I think it is clear that the policy of hostility towards Cuba has outlived whatever benefits it may have had in the past,” she said.
Biden has been commuting between DC and Delaware by train for decades to be a senator with his family. And the railroad could use a fan now: Amtrak chief William J. Flynn told lawmakers that the railroad needed nearly $ 5 billion in federal aid because of pandemic losses.
During the campaign, Biden promised a “railroad revolution” that would reduce pollution, create jobs, reduce commute times and encourage investment in communities.
“Biden will make sure America has the cleanest, safest and fastest rail system in the world – for both passengers and cargo,” it said on its campaign website.
Harteveldt said he would be curious to see the support the railroad administration offers.
“Amtrak always had to fight for money. It was very, very tough, ”he said. “A Biden administration will support Amtrak more strongly again [his] Regular use of Amtrak, which has been shuttling back and forth throughout his career? “
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