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November 8, 2021

Travellers excited at the prospect of seeing family and friends in the United States for the first time since the pandemic started took off early on Monday from London and other cities following the lifting of U.S. travel restrictions.

The extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions, first imposed in early 2020, had barred access to non-U.S. citizens travelling from 33 countries - including China, India, and much of Europe - and had also restricted overland entry from Mexico and Canada.

From Monday travellers who can show official proof of vaccination against COVID-19 and have had a recent, negative viral test can fly to the United States. "Really, really exciting. I mean, I was meant to go just before COVID happened, and obviously, it's been delayed this long, so it's really exciting to finally be able to go," Alice Keane, travelling to Miami to see her sister, said at London's Heathrow airport.

The unprecedented travel ban, first imposed by the Trump administration, has dealt a huge blow to tourism but has also kept loved ones from attending weddings, funerals, or meeting new babies. "I think we might just start crying," said Bindiya Patel, who was going to see her young nephew in New York for the first time. "We're really excited."

Long-term rivals British Airways and Virgin Atlantic carried out a simultaneous take-off from London's Heathrow parallel runways just before 0900 GMT, in a stunt aimed at highlighting the importance of the transatlantic market to UK aviation.

Travellers were equally excited in Paris, which has also seen a huge increase in bookings. "We went from zero activity to one that is similar to October 2019 levels, so before COVID," said Jerome Thomann, of Paris-based Jetset Voyages travel agency, which specialises in trips to North America.

There are expected to be few if any empty seats on U.S.-bound flights from London, Paris, and elsewhere on Monday, and passenger volume is expected to remain high in the coming weeks. Airlines, which have warned of long queues at first, will check vaccination documentation for international travellers as they already do for COVID-19 test results.

Starting on Monday, the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border between Mexico and the United States will also reopen. Hundreds of migrants have arrived at Mexican border cities such as Tijuana, hoping the reset will make it easier to cross and seek U.S. asylum. At land border crossings, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will ask if travellers have been vaccinated and spot-check some documentation.
Under-18s are exempt from the new vaccine requirements. Non-tourist travellers from nearly 50 countries with nationwide vaccination rates of less than 10% will also be eligible for exemption.