Flying Home for the Holidays

On Nov. 8, the U.S. fully reopened their borders to many vaccinated travelers for the first time in over 20 months. Families are now able to celebrate the holidays with international family members and friends while still following Covid-19 precautions and policies.

“The new policy is all non-U.S. citizens, non-U.S. immigrants will need to show proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19 before travel by air from a foreign country,” said Pamela Barnum, director of international and immigration services.

Along with proof of vaccination, travelers are also required to provide a negative Covid-19 test, or recovery from Covid-19, before getting on a flight.

“There are some exceptions to the policy,” said Barnum. “The CDC page is full of all the information.”

At Sacred Heart, there are many international students who come from countries around the world who must keep up with changing policies and be prepared for the difficulties that arise from traveling internationally.

Sophomore William Pearce, an international student from Australia, traveled last year in 2020 amid the ongoing Covid pandemic.

“Getting a flight back to Australia was very difficult,” said Pearce. “I spent countless hours on the phone with flight agencies and airlines trying to get an affordable flight. When I landed in Aug. 2020, I had multiple screenings at the airport to see where I had been and if I was healthy, followed by being escorted by the national army from the airport to the hotel to do a mandatory hotel quarantine for two weeks,” he said.

Other international students have had similar experiences with difficulties and costs of traveling during the pandemic.

“For one flight, I had to take three rapid tests and one PCR test that cost me $250,” said sophomore Olliver Persson, an international student from Norway. “Even with four negative tests, the airport still gave me a hard time. Covid-19 has really made traveling more demanding, confusing and expensive.”

On the other hand, while some students were able to get flights at somewhat reasonable prices, it was still inconvenient to travel as compared to how it was pre-pandemic.

“Last winter, I got a reasonable flight ticket, which was difficult to do at the time, but thankfully, I managed to get home for Christmas. The flight path and time was much different compared to pre-pandemic level as I took three domestic flights to get from NYC to LA, followed by a 23-hour stop-over and then a 15-hour flight back to Sydney. Having to wear a mask wasn’t fun at all,” said Pearce.

While booking a flight may have been difficult last year, the actual amount of people traveling was far lower than compared to previous years.

According to the Associated Press, “The U.S. Travel Association predicted in June that international travel would not return to 2019 levels of nearly 80 million visitors until 2024. Foreign travelers dropped to 19 million in 2020 and is expected to rise a bit this year, to more than 26 million; it will more than double to around 57 million in 2022 but still fall far short of its pre-pandemic heights.”

However, as of Nov. 8, students are now able to have their family come over from many different countries due to the recent travel restrictions being lifted.

“My family just came to visit from Norway to see the school, meet my friends and experience a new country they have never seen before,” said Persson. “They have gotten the vaccine and follow every Covid-19 guideline. They have made sure to get every document and test needed to travel.”

In addition to securing certain Covid-related documents in order to travel, students who are traveling in any sort of capacity have the option to take an at-home testing kit.

According to the Associated Press, while home kits may not be as accurate as the PCR tests, they have the advantage of giving results within minutes, being available at drugstores without a prescription, and costing around $25 for a set of two tests.

With the holiday season in effect, some students are looking forward to using the kits in order to keep their friends and family safe from Covid.

“I would use an at-home test when I go home just so I am sure that I am not spreading the virus to my family and friends because I want everyone to feel safe,” said Persson. “I feel lucky and privileged to be allowed to travel through these tough times.”

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