Immigration Overhaul Won’t Be Part of the $3.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

The Senate’s wonk-in-chief has once again shown who’s really in charge as lawmakers try to push $3.5 trillion in spending through an arcane budget rule. On Sunday, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough foiled Democrats’ efforts to include long-sought changes to immigration laws in the enormous spending package winding its way through Congress. Democrats have been moving forward with plans to tuck a sweeping immigration overhaul into the package and pass it along partisan lines with only Democratic votes . But MacDonough stepped in with a polite but pointed piece of advice to lawmakers: This is too big of a change to take advantage of the budget trick known as reconciliation; the bill being considered, she wrote, carries “tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact.”

In other words, she said, lawmakers cannot squeeze giving eight million immigrants a pathway to legal citizenship into a legislative loophole that allows lawmakers to conduct budget revisions without a super-majority 60 votes. In the most routine of times, the rule is a way for staff to reconcile Senate and House edits of the budget without re-running the entire legislative tape from the beginning.  This year, it’s already been used to shepherd a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. Now, Democrats were looking to use the same loophole to insert into a $3.5 trillion follow-on provisions that would have opened the door for legal status to immigrants who came to the country illegally as children, those who were granted entry for humanitarian reasons, farmworkers and other essential workers like those in hospitals, nursing homes and grocery stores.

The setback was not unexpected. “I always knew this would be a long process,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, the Senate’s highest-ranking Latino who has been advocating for the package of immigration changes. “I and my Democratic colleagues intend to continue working until we get to yes with the Parliamentarian.” The budget trickery Democrats are planning to use has very specific rules, including a requirement that the tool be employed only to deal with federal spending and revenue. Those limits have thwarted earlier efforts to slip things into budget bills: earlier this year, Democrats were not allowed to tack an increase to the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour onto the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, and in 2017 Republicans’ were unable to use a tax-cuts package to end a ban on churches playing politics while keeping their tax-exempt status. Democrats had considered trying to use the process to advance a voting-rights bill, but ultimately saw that as unlikely to win MacDonough’s approval.

MacDonough has been persuaded to change her mind before. Last year, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden—the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee—argued that part of Sen. Josh Hawley’s proposal to leave the World Trade Organization was inappropriate for a vote because it had not gone through their panel. MacDonough initially sided with Hawley but two weeks later changed her ruling. But that’s very much the exception and far from the norm.

MacDonough has already handed Senate Democrats a big win, issuing an advisory earlier this year that they could reopen a budget bill to fold in a package to spend $1.9 trillion along party lines to ease pandemic woes. In the past, lawmakers were given one chance per budget year to send things into law with just 51 votes, but MacDonough said they could treat themselves to multiple bites of the legislative apple if they treated the add-ons as amendments to the budget. Absent that, they’d have to wait until the new budget year opens on Oct. 1.

As the presiding officer of the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris can, of course, overrule the Parliamentarian. The last time it was done was in 1975, when Vice President Nelson Rockefeller presided over a change in the number of votes to end a filibuster from 66 to 60 in a fully-staffed Senate. Democrats could also fire MacDonough, and there’s more-recent precedent for this. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott did so in 2001 to pass the Bush-era tax cuts through the loophole now in question.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain says the Biden team isn’t looking at those options, though it’s worth noting that President Gerald Ford didn’t know Rockefeller was going to go rogue on the rostrum. There is nothing that gives Biden or his deputies any power over what Harris does in her twin role as the Senate’s chief. But it’s tough to imagine Harris unilaterally going against the norms of a body where she served as a Senator for four years and where Biden served for 36.

Absent any drastic action, Democrats’ immigration reforms face an uncertain future. In 2013 , the Senate passed a massive and comprehensive immigration bill with 14 Republicans supporting it. But of those original 14, just five remain in the Senate: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. In fact, those last two helped write the bill and—in a sign of how the Republican Party has changed in recent years—Rubio had to distance himself from it during his 2016 race for the White House, calling it a mistake.

That bill never had a chance at a vote in the then-Republican controlled House, and that was before President Donald Trump made immigrant-bashing a central plank to both of his White House runs. Any hope of passing changes to the nation’s immigration laws with Republican votes now is almost zero. Trump may be gone, and this weekend’s rally in support of the insurrection he inspired may have been a failure, but the mark he leaves on this country is not fading any time soon.

UAE Lifts Travel Restrictions For Indians

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has said that it is lifting restrictions from September 12 on entry for residents who have been fully vaccinated with a shot approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). It said that residents from India can fly into the UAE from September 12.  It has also allowed residents from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Namibia, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Africa, Nigeria and Afghanistan as well to fly into the UAE from September 12.

It also includes residents who stayed abroad for over six months, according to the NCEMA. “Those who are fully vaccinated with any WHO-approved vaccines and who have been staying in one of the countries in the suspended list for more than six months since the suspension decision was issued for each country, can come to the country under a new entry permit and rectify their status after entry,” the NCEMA said in a statement.

The passengers will be required to follow certain procedures to enter the UAE again:

— Apply via the website of the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) and complete the vaccination application in order to get the necessary approval. They must present the approved vaccination certificate before their departure to the UAE.

— Provide a negative PCR test result, taken within 48 hours before their departure at an approved lab that has a QR code.

— Take a Rapid PCR test before boarding and another PCR test on the fourth and eight day of arrival while complying with all precautionary measures in place.

Dubai is due to open the Expo 2020 World Fair on October 1, for which it has been preparing for almost a decade, after a year-long delay due to the pandemic. The nation which is a regional business and tourism hub is relying on Expo 2020 World Fair to give its economy a boost.

The organizers said they expected that the remaining flight restrictions imposed by the government will be lifted in time for Expo 2020. The UAE’s National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority on Twitter however said that approval needs to be sought from the government and various PCR tests will be conducted before entering the country. The NCEMA said that children under 16 years old are exempt from these procedures. All other previously announced precautionary measures for unvaccinated people coming from the above-mentioned countries remain in place, it added.

India Bans International Flights Until September End

Commercial international flights have remained suspended since March 23, 2020, to check the spread of the Covid-19 infection. International commercial flights will remain suspended till September 30 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Centre said on Sunday. Indian aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), extends the ban on scheduled international flights to and from the country until September 30, 2021.  “In partial modification of circular dated 26-06-2020, the competent authority has further extended the validity of circular issued on the subject cited above regarding Scheduled International commercial passenger services to/from India till 2359 hrs IST of 30 September 2021,” stated the order issued by the DGCA on August 29, 2021.

The restriction does not apply to international cargo operations. Exceptions are also made to international flights under travel bubble agreements or flights approved by the DGCA. India currently has travel bubble agreements with 28 countries, the Indian Civil Aviation Ministry website indicates. The DGCA also said that scheduled international flights might be allowed on selected routes on a case-to-case basis. Commercial international flights have remained suspended since March 23, 2020, to check the spread of the Covid-19 infection. The Indian government had initially imposed international travel restrictions in March 2020, which have since been prolonged by almost 18 months Special international flights were also operating under the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ since May 2020 to bring home thousands of Indian nationals stranded abroad due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The restrictions were later eased for certain countries with which India has had an air bubble arrangement during the past year. The air bubble pact between the two countries allows the operation of special international flights by the national carrier between their territories. India was considering lifting the restrictions on international commercial flights on August 31. However, the ban was extended as a threat of a third wave of infections looms large. This comes on a day when India reported 45,083 new cases and 460 deaths in the last 24 hours. The active cases have also increased to over 3.6 lakh.

India To Launch Mega Tourism Event In Leh

To promote Ladakh as a tourist destination with focus on adventure and culture, a three-day tourism event — ‘Ladakh: New Start, New Goals — will commence from Thursday in Leh, the Union Tourism Ministry said last week. The Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh, Radha Krishna Mathur, and Union Minister for Tourism and Culture, G. Kishan Reddy, will address the event being organised from August 26-28. Reddy will virtually address the event, which will also be attended by Ladakh MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal.

The objective of the event is to promote Ladakh as a tourist destination with focus on aspects of adventure, culture and responsible tourism. The event aims to provide indigenous product knowledge to the industry stakeholders and also a platform to local stakeholders for interaction with the tour operators from the rest of the country. The three-day event will include activities like exhibition, panel discussions, B2B meetings, technical tours and cultural evenings to showcase the tourism facilities and products of Ladakh.

During the event, ‘A Tourism Vision for Ladakh’ document would be unveiled which focuses on the overall development of the region. The document envisions promoting tourism in the backdrop of sustainable ecological practices, building on local materials and human resources. The Ministry of Tourism is organizing the three-day event in collaboration with Ladakh’s department of tourism and the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI).

In a statement, the ministry said, “Domestic tourism plays an important role in the overall development of the tourism sector in India. The ministry undertakes various promotional activities for the promotion of domestic tourism and these activities are primarily aimed at increasing awareness about tourism destinations and products, promoting domestic tourism with focus on priority areas like the Northeast, Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir. “The ministry has been promoting Ladakh in domestic as well as international markets through various campaigns and initiatives such as ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ wherein a dedicated webinar on Ladakh was conducted. Promotion of Ladakh is also undertaken through the ‘Incredible India’ website, social media platforms of the ministry etc.”

In Ladakh, Airbnb & SEWA Hosts Will Offer A Unique And Immersive Experience

Airbnb will train Self Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA) members on home sharing, hospitality, quality standards and responsible hosting practices under the ‘Hum Sab Ek’ (We are One) initiative, while fostering digital inclusion and enabling these women Hosts to connect with a global community of travelers. Together they represent 1.5 million self-employed women living mostly in India’s rural areas, and have now extended their partnership to onboard SEWA members from Ladakh as hosts on the Airbnb platform. This partnership will expand livelihood opportunities for women in rural Ladakh and form part of broader efforts to rebuild tourism in a way that delivers positive outcomes for communities.

Ladakh is well-known as a pristine and unique hub for culture and ecotourism. SEWA hosts in Ladakh will offer a unique and immersive experience in the ancient village of Phayang in Leh Ladakh. These hosts will also be leading the way on energy efficiency and responsible resource use through accommodations with amenities such as newly installed solar lights. Women make up a significant portion of Airbnb’s Host community in India. As of August 11 this year, new women Hosts in India with one listing have earned almost Rs 30 million since the start of the pandemic and women make up almost 30 per cent of our entire Indian Host community. Through home sharing, women hosts are able to significantly augment their earnings and some women entrepreneurs have embraced being home hosts full-time.

This extended collaboration was announced at a seminar titled ‘Ladakh: New Start, New Goals’ organized by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, said: “The Airbnb-SEWA partnership is an excellent example of how the benefits of tourism can better serve communities and help rebuild tourism across the country, especially in Ladakh. The region is a significant draw for domestic and international tourists, and these partnerships enable not only a wealth of tourism experiences, but economically empower communities with the help of platforms such as Airbnb.”

Hosts on Airbnb to secure their financial independence and bring valuable tourism dollars into their communities. As part of our broader efforts to help rebuild tourism for the benefit of local communities, we aim to work together with these micro-entrepreneurs to promote sustainable and responsible travel and stays that contribute to resilient local economies and support jobs. Airbnb will continue to work closely with these women Hosts through training and best-practice sharing,” said Amanpreet Bajaj, General Manager — Airbnb India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“‘Hum Sab Ek’ is our rural innovation. We have worked together with Airbnb to create meaningful livelihood opportunities for our women members. Gandhiji’s Oceanic Circle perspective advocates helping each other rather than competing with each other. Together with Airbnb, our goal is to build a strong community of SEWA hosts who can learn from one another, constantly improve hosting standards, and together create a more welcoming environment for Indian women in hospitality,” said Reema Nanavaty, Director, SEWA.

Dubai To Allow Indian Expats With Expired Residence Visa To Return

In a move that brings relief to thousands of Indian expats, Dubai announced it will allow them to come back even if their residence visas have expired. Also allowed to return were residence visa holders from Pakistan, Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Uganda. Anyone holding an expired Dubai residence visa now has time to return until November 10. A large number of Indian expats had flown back to the country earlier this year when the second wave of Covid-19 was rampant, and were then unable to return to the UAE as the flights were suspended.

Fly Dubai, the low-cost carrier operating from the emirates, posted on its website: “The GDRFA has extended the expiry date of Dubai-issued UAE resident visas for nationals of India, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uganda who are stranded outside of the UAE. “This applies to Dubai-issued UAE resident visas which have expired or will expire between April 20, 2021 and November 9, 2021 inclusive.”

However, the airline said that the expiry will not be extended for holders of Dubai-issued visas who have stayed outside of the UAE for more than six months, if they left before October 20, 2020. It was unclear at the moment if the same offer applied to residence visas issued by Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, or other emirates.

The move was later confirmed by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) to Gulf News. In a statement, the GDRFA said: “The procedure will be done according to certain conditions and procedures including that the beneficiaries must be outside the country since the expiry date of residency between April 20, 2021 and November 8, 2021. GDRFA-Dubai will extend the residency visas until November 9.” Once the expats return with expired visa enter the country, the system will give them a 30-day grace period from the date of entry to change their status and renew their visas. (IANS) Boom! United Airlines Just Bought 15 Supersonic Jets That Fly on ‘Sustainable’ Fuel .The airline plans to buy the Overture jets from Boom Supersonic to make its fleet faster and more sustainable.

United Airlines Plans To Purchase 15 Supersonic Overture Jets From Boom Supersonic

The US airline is the first to announce plans to go supersonic, reviving dreams from the late 1960s when British Airways and Air France offered transatlantic flights aboard the Concorde. Only 20 were built during the aircraft’s 24-year operational life. The Overture, which would seat between 65 and 88 passengers, would cut flight time in half over a conventional commercial airliner, with a top speed of Mach 1.7, or 1,304 mph. A flight from New York to London would take just 3.5 hours, according to Boom, and Los Angeles to Sydney would be about eight hours. Unlike the Concorde, which was neither fuel-efficient nor quiet, the Overture will be designed to be “net-carbon zero,” and will cut emissions, according to Boom, by running on sustainable aviation fuel. The first aircraft is slated to roll out in 2025, fly in 2026 and carry its first passengers by 2029.

“United continues on its trajectory to build a more innovative, sustainable airline and today’s advancements in technology are making it more viable to include supersonic planes,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. “Boom’s vision for the future of commercial aviation, combined with the industry’s most robust route network in the world, will give business and leisure travelers access to a stellar flight experience.” The announcement is not the first of an intended partnership between a supersonic firm and a large aviation company.

Both Flexjet and NetJets announced that they planned to buy business jets from Aerion. The Reno-based company had the fastest, most ambitious rollout of its AS2, while also planning to break ground on a new research and production campus near Orlando sometime this year. Last week, it abruptly said it was shutting down because it couldn’t secure long-term funding. Boom seems to be farther along in its development stages than its former competitor. It rolled out a third-scale demonstrator aircraft, the XB1, last year. Boom CEO Blake Scholl recently told a Congressional panel that it plans to fly it for the first time by the end of 2021 or in early 2022.

Overture will be designed with in-seat entertainment screens, large personal space and contactless technology. “At speeds twice as fast, United passengers will experience all the advantages of life lived in person, from deeper, more productive business relationships to longer, more relaxing vacations to far-off destinations,” said Scholl in announcing the deal. United also has the option to buy 35 more Overtures. Scholl recently said that the Overture represents the first dramatic speed gains in new aircraft since the Concorde. “We see ourselves as picking up where Concorde left off, and fixing the most important things which are economic and environmental sustainability,” he told CNN recently, adding: “Either we fail or we change the world.”

U.S. Eases Travel Advisory For India To Second-Lowest Level

The U.S. State Department Aug. 16 eased its travel advisories for India, taking it to its second-lowest level, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the South Asian nation now has a “moderate level of COVID-19.” “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a level 2 travel health notice for India due to COVID-19, indicating a moderate level of COVID-19 in the country. Your risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing severe symptoms may be lower if you are fully vaccinated with an FDA authorized vaccine. Before planning any international travel, please review the CDC’s specific recommendations for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers,” the State Department said in a statement.

It also urged American citizens not to travel to Jammu and Kashmir, except for the eastern Ladakh region and its capital of Leh, due to terrorism and civil unrest. They have also been advised not to travel within the India-Pakistan border due to the potential for armed conflict. “Terrorist attacks and violent civil unrest are possible in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Avoid all travel to this state (with the exception of visits to the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh),” it said, adding, “India and Pakistan maintain a strong military presence on both sides of the border.” In April, the U.S. issued a level 4 travel health notice for India as the country was reeling under the second wave of COVID-19.

Vinay Patel Takes Charge As AAHOA Chairman

Virginia hotelier Vinay Patel is the new Chair of AAHOA’s Board of  Directors. Patel became chair at the conclusion of the 2021 AAHOA Convention & Trade Show , which was the first major convention in Dallas since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The  convention was held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. “Serving America’s hotel owners as the AAHOA Chair is an honor, and I look forward to working  with AAHOA’s nearly 20,000 members on the road to recovery,” Patel said. “Industry estimates continue to project a full recovery some time in late 2023 or 2024.

Coming together as an industry is  paramount to economic recovery, especially as new variants threaten to inhibit the reopening of America. I am confident that AAHOA’s enhanced advocacy and education efforts as well as the  implementation of our new strategic plan will help our industry get back on track.” Patel plans to focus on elevating the association’s advocacy and engagement at the state and local  level including coordinating political education efforts with the American Hospitality Alliance.

“We  must be united in our advocacy efforts, especially as we engage with local governments,” Patel said.  “I am also committed to broadening our outreach to lawmakers who have not necessarily engaged on  the issues we champion. Building a broad coalition that supports small businesses and their  employees will help draw more attention to why issues such as 1031 like-kind exchanges and the  Save Hotel Jobs Act are so important to rebuilding our economy with new, good-paying jobs.”

In his inaugural address, Patel highlighted the importance of the industry’s collective efforts to keep  the lights on during the pandemic as well as the necessity of remaining optimistic about the recovery  and efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. “We are in uncharted territory as a country as we  emerge from this crisis. In a way, we are all letting our eyes adjust to the sunlight after spending  more than a year in the darkness. It will be challenging. It will be frustrating. But AAHOA is here to  help guide us as we rebuild, reinvest, and recover.”

Patel joined AAHOA in 1993 and has served on its board since 2014. AAHOA members elected him  as Secretary in 2018. He is the President of Fairbrook Hotels which owns and operates eleven  properties including IHG, Hilton, Radisson, Choice, and Wyndham brands. Patel also serves on the  Board of Directors for the Virginia Hospitality and Tourism Association and is the president of the  Herndon Hospitality Association. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Vinay prior to joining AAHOA, and he truly embodies the  characteristics, qualities, and values that make a great Chairman,” AAHOA Interim President & CEO  Ken Greene said. “I have seen him in action as a property owner and as Vice Chair of AAHOA, and I  couldn’t be more excited to work with him now as the Chair. As we continue to lead AAHOA into its  next chapter, I am certain his leadership, commitment, and enthusiasm will play a pivotal role in  AAHOA’s future success.”

Miraj S. Patel, MBA, CHO, CHIA of Houston, Texas, is the new  AAHOA Secretary. Patel is the President of the Houston-based Wayside Investment Group. AAHOA members also elected the following twelve members to the Board of Directors:

Female Director Western Division: Tejal N. Patel, CHIA, CHO
Gulf Regional Director: Vimal Patel
Mid Atlantic Regional Director: Mahendra (MZ) Patel
Mid South Regional Director: Harikrishna (HK) Patel
North Pacific Regional Director: KP Patel
Northeast Regional Director: Sunil (Sunny) Patel CHO, CHIA
South Carolina Regional Director: Fenil Desai
South Central Texas Regional Director: Kiran (Kevin) Patel
Southeast Texas Regional Director: Ailesh Mulji
Southwest Regional Director: Dharmesh Ahir
South Pacific Regional Director: Mike Riverside CHA, CHO
Upper Midwest Regional Director: Mehul (Mike) Patel

“Congratulations to our new AAHOA Secretary and all of our newly elected board members. It
is encouraging to see so many members volunteering to serve America’s hotel owners. I look
forward to working with new AAHOA Chair Vinay Patel, the board officers, our board of
directors, and the entire AAHOA team as we assist the hospitality industry on the road to
recovery. AAHOA’s value and resources have never been more apparent as we work tirelessly to
reopen our economy and ensure that our communities are prepared to welcome back guests as
the nation starts to travel again,” said AAHOA Interim President & CEO Ken Greene.

AAHOA is the largest hotel owners association in the world. The nearly 20,000 AAHOA Members own 60  percent of hotels in the United States. With billions of dollars in property assets and over one million  employees, AAHOA Members are core economic contributors in virtually every community. AAHOA is a  proud defender of free enterprise and the foremost current-day example of realizing the American dream.

Indian-Americans Own 60 Percent Of Hotel Industry In U.S.

Accounting for 34,260 hotels across the United States, Indian Americans owned hotels account for 60 percent of all hotels in the U.S., according to a new study conducted by Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) in partnership with Oxford Economics, a global leader in forecasting and quantitative analysis. The study analyzed the share of U.S. hotels and rooms owned by the members of AAHOA, which is predominantly made up of Indian-origin hoteliers, hotel operations, hotel guest ancillary spending, capital investment, and indirect and induced impacts supported by AAHOA hotels in other parts of the U.S. economy.

In all Indian Americans own and operate 3.1 million guestrooms, and 2.2 million direct impact jobs. The study’s topline results were presented to AAHOA Members during the general session on the first day of the 2021 AAHOA Convention & Trade Show at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas on August 3rd.

“The findings laid out in this new study are a testament to the strength and influence of AAHOA Members and serve as yet another reminder of hotel owners’ vital economic contributions to communities across the nation,” said AAHOA Interim President & CEO Ken Greene. “Guests at AAHOA hotels spend billions of dollars in local economies. AAHOA Members employ as many workers as FedEx and Home Depot – combined, and the 1.1 million employees who work at AAHOA Member hotels earn $47 billion annually. AAHOA Members are the heart and soul of the hospitality industry and will continue to play an essential role in our nation’s economic recovery.”

The study shows that AAHOA supports a total economic impact of: $680.6 billion of business sales (representing revenue plus sales and lodging taxes); 4.2 million jobs with $214.6 billion of wages, salaries and other compensation; $368.4 billion contributed to U.S. GDP; and, $96.8 billion of federal, state and local taxes.

With the ownership of the majority hotel industry, the economic impact and industry influence of AAHOA’s nearly 20,000 Members, is very impressive. “This study gives us the clearest picture to date about the scale, reach, and economic impact that AAHOA Members have in the United States,” said AAHOA Chairman Biran Patel. “It is remarkable how far AAHOA Members have come since the association’s founding in 1989 when a small group of hoteliers banded together to fight discrimination. That commitment to helping hoteliers grow their businesses and realize the American Dream is reflected in the impressive numbers revealed today. We are proud of what our Members have accomplished and remain committed to being the foremost resource and advocate for America’s hotel owners.”

A comprehensive report will soon be made available on the AAHOA website. AAHOA is the largest hotel owners association in the world. The nearly 20,000 AAHOA Members own 60 percent of hotels in the United States. With billions of dollars in property assets and over one million employees, AAHOA Members are core economic contributors in virtually every community. AAHOA is a proud defender of free enterprise and the foremost current-day example of realizing the American dream.

On the third day of the 2021 AAHOA Convention & Trade Show, the association recognized achievement and excellence in the hospitality industry with its annual awards. Winners received their awards on the main stage during the general session. The 2020 award winners are:

  • AAHOA Award of Excellence: Nanda Patel
  • Cecil B. Day Community Service Award: Mitesh Jivan
  • IAHA Independent Hotel of the Year: Hotel Lexen
  • Outreach Award for Philanthropy: Masudur Khan
  • Outstanding Women Hotelier of the Year: Priti Patel
  • Outstanding Young Professional of the Year: Saajan Patel
  • Political Forum Award for Advocacy: Bijal Patel

“Each year, AAHOA recognizes and honors hoteliers who go above and beyond in service to the hospitality industry,” said Immediate Past Chairman Biran Patel. “During such a challenging year, these individuals made significant contributions to the industry and to AAHOA. We are all honored to highlight their service and commitment to excellence.”

“These awards recognize the best of the best. Following an extremely difficult year for AAHOA Members and the entire industry, these award recipients demonstrate their commitment to excellence in the hospitality industry, regardless of the landscape,” said Interim President & CEO Ken Greene. “Their hard work and dedication does not go unnoticed, and it is through their leadership, grit, and determinations that the industry continues to thrive.”

AAHOA is the largest hotel owners association in the world. The nearly 20,000 AAHOA Members own 60 percent of hotels in the United States. “With billions of dollars in property assets and over one million employees, AAHOA Members are core economic contributors in virtually every community,” the organization said, adding, “AAHOA is a proud defender of free enterprise and the foremost current-day example of realizing the American dream.”

CDC Adds 16 Destinations To ‘Very High’ Covid-19 Travel Risk List

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added 16 destinations to its “very high” Covid-19 risk level on Monday, August 2nd including Greece, Ireland and the US Virgin Islands.

According to the CDC, a risk designation of “Level 4: Covid-19 Very High” means people should avoid travel to these locations. Those who must travel should be fully vaccinated first.

In its overarching guidance, the CDC recommends against all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

“Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some Covid-19 variants,” the agency says.

Destinations that fall into the “very high” risk category have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days, according to CDC parameters.

The Caribbean during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

Direct travel of noncitizens from Ireland and Greece to the United States has been suspended since January 25, 2021, under an executive order limiting travel from multiple countries. The White House recently said those restrictions would remain in place amid surging cases from the Delta variant

The following 16 destinations moved to the CDC’s “Level 4: COVID-19 Very High” category on August 2: Andorra, Curaçao, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Iran, Ireland, Isle of Man, Kazakhstan, Lesotho, Libya, Malta, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin and US Virgin Islands.

The new list is in addition to several others, including India placed on the list to avoid to travel. On India, CDC suggests,“Make sure you are fully vaccinated before traveling to India. Unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to India. Because of the current situation in India, all travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.”

You can look up the CDC’s risk level of any destination on its travel recommendations page.

U.S. Passport Renewals Are Taking Months: If Your Us Passport Expires Within The Next Year, You Need To Get Moving

Last spring, Tera Wages was looking forward to a mid-July trip to Casa Chameleon Hotel in Costa Rica when a friend happened to mention the U.S. passport renewal process, which has been suffering delays during the pandemic. Wages panicked, realizing she hadn’t checked the expiration date on her own passport. “You could have sucked the air out of the room in that moment,” she says.

Sure enough, both Wages’s and her partner’s passports had expired during the pandemic. Wages immediately sent them off to USPS, four weeks before they were set to depart—exactly the time the U.S. Department of State said passport renewals were estimated to take back in the spring. But mere days prior to scheduled travel, the Alabama-based couple was still passport-less, despite herculean efforts to secure an in-person agency appointment through a case worker assigned to them by Congressman Mo Brooks’s office.

“Ultimately we realized our case worker was not able to make anything happen,” Wages says. “We’d spent hours refreshing the page to get appointments, and nothing was becoming available. We decided there was no way [we could still go on the trip].”

Situations like Wages’s are common right now, with many Americans being forced to cancel international trips due to expired passports, and a long and frustrating renewal process. Though travel agents have always recommended giving the government a few months to process a U.S. passport renewal, the timeline is now much more complicated. Processing times are currently up to three times longer for both routine and expedited passport renewal services compared to before the pandemic.

Due to a huge influx of requests as the world reopens, travelers who need to renew (either in person or via mail) will have to allow extra time to do so. The best advice? Check your passport expiration date now—whether you have a trip planned or are just dreaming of one—and don’t forget many international destinations require your passport to be valid for six months from your planned return date to the United States.

We tapped travel experts to answer common questions about U.S. passport renewal right now. Read on for the advice, including what to do if you have an upcoming trip.

How long are passport renewals taking right now?

“We’ve seen varying timelines, but generally the passport renewal process can take anywhere from four to 18 weeks via mail, with in-person meetings even harder to come by,” says John Spence, USA president for luxury tour operator Scott Dunn. The government’s passport renewal website says travelers should be prepared to wait up to 18 weeks from the day their mailed-in passport reaches a processing facility.

Any travelers who can provide proof of necessary urgent travel, such as life-or-death emergencies, or can show that their trip is within 72 hours, though, are given the chance to score an in-person appointment, Spence says. “However, we wouldn’t count on this unless it’s a last resort,” he adds.

If you are able to get an in-person appointment at one of the government’s 26 passport agencies or centers in the country, a passport agent will review your application and potentially issue a passport on the spot, if you’re eligible for one. Or, the agent may ask you to return at a specific time to receive it, depending on the agency, their workload, and the date of anticipated travel.

Appointments at these centers have been so scarce, however, and in such high demand, that some who’ve been able to secure one have taken to selling them illegally to other travelers. Wages says that in researching how to get appointments online in their attempt to continue with their Costa Rica trip, they discovered users on Reddit who would post appointments for sale—starting around $200—as soon as someone canceled or more spots opened up.

In a briefing on July 14, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Rachel Arndt addressed the situation, condemning this behavior. “We are aware of the issues and we are working to prevent them,” she said. “The Department of State does not charge a fee to solely book an emergency appointment at one of our agencies or centers, so if anyone receives a request for payment for scheduling a U.S. passport appointment, that should be considered fraudulent.”

As a result, on July 21 the Department of State temporarily disabled the online appointment booking system for urgent travel service. No timeframe was specified as to when online booking for appointments will open back up. In the meantime, you must call to make an appointment (though Traveler editors have been unable to get through in recent days, with the call dropping off after the initial menu).

Note that the above measure only applies to the 26 passport agencies in the country, and not the many passport acceptance centers—found in libraries, post offices, and local government offices—which continue to take online appointments. Wait times at passport acceptance centers are aligned with mail-in timelines, meaning the process can take up to 18 weeks once you’ve had your appointment and your passport has reached the federal government. Find a passport acceptance center near you here.

What to do if you need a passport, fast

If not being able to renew your passport could mean cancellation of a major trip, it makes sense you might consider extreme measures to score an appointment—even if that means paying for one. However, Spence says he’d never recommend illegally purchasing an appointment. “Although it’s tedious, we always advise going through the official application and renewal process through your local passport agency,” he says.

One creative way to potentially move quickly through the official channels? Contact your local representative, including the office of your U.S. senator or congressional representative, and ask for help getting an appointment, says Bahar Schmidt, founder and CEO of high-end travel resale marketplace Eluxit. She says that a client set to travel to Mexico realized last minute that their passport was expired. With travel in two days and no luck booking an appointment with the Department of State, they contacted their government representative and were able to get assistance—and continue with their planned trip, fresh passport in hand.

“I would probably recommend that route,” Schmidt says.”Reaching out to anyone who may [be able to] help in a crisis is worth a try.” Every district is different, so you’ll need to do some research to find the right person to call; more than likely, though, it will be your U.S. congressional representative who might be able to help in the eleventh hour. That said, it’s not a guarantee that lawmakers in either the House or Senate will be able to assist in a timely manner, as Wages experienced with her caseworker.

Of course, if you’re in panic mode and willing to throw money at the problem, there are always third-party passport services you can pay to handle your renewal. Throughout the summer, many passport application and renewal services—some of which traditionally advertise 24-hour turnarounds—have posted notices to customers that they cannot guarantee rapid renewals, though some are advertising wait times shorter than the government’s. RushMyPassport is a service Traveler staffers have used for a guaranteed 4-week return time, for $189. Another, GenVisa, says they will be able to offer passport renewals within 7 to 10 business days beginning in early August for $370.

What about the government’s expedited service?

During COVID, the government temporarily suspended expedited passport processing for customers applying at acceptance facilities or renewing passports via mail. However, expedited service resumed in September 2020. You can pay an additional $60 to receive your passport renewal faster; however, the turnaround time is also delayed and may take up to 12 weeks.

What should I expect if I renew by mail?

Mailing your passport without knowing when it may be returned is daunting. But within seven to 10 business days of mailing it, you should be able to track your application status through this page. Enter your last name, date of birth, last four digits of your social security number, and a security code.

Always take a photo of your passport before sending it in for renewal, says Spence. “If your passport happens to get lost in the mail, you at least have a copy to refer to, and this will save you additional time and effort to renew it.”

If the worst happens and you can’t get a passport in time, you can always book a domestic trip instead. Wages, who is still passport-less, ended up booking a weekend getaway to The Goodtime Hotel in Miami Beach with her husband. Though she says the experience was a “10 out of 10,” it was still a consolation to the international vacation they didn’t get to take. Still, Wages acknowledges it could have been worse. “We’re fortunate our [travel] was not an emergency and that we have the privilege to be able to reschedule and plan again,” she says. “But for people who don’t have that ability, it would be really tough.”

This article has been updated with new information since its original publish date. We’re reporting on how COVID-19 impacts travel on a daily basis. Find our latest coronavirus coverage here, or visit our complete guide to COVID-19 and travel.

US To Continue Travel Restrictions As Covid Spreads

The United States served notice this week that it will keep existing COVID-19 restrictions on international travel in place for now due to concerns about the surging infection rate because of the delta variant. It was the latest sign that the White House is having to recalibrate its thinking around the coronavirus pandemic as the more infectious variant surges across the U.S. and a substantial chunk of the population resists vaccination.It was also a reversal from the sentiment President Joe Biden voiced earlier this month when he said his administration was “in the process” of considering how soon the U.S. could lift the ban on European travel bound for the U.S. after the issue was raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to the White House.

The United States said it would maintain restrictions on international travel into the country, sidestepping European pressure, pointing to a surge of cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant at home and abroad. “We will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “The more transmissible Delta variant is spreading both here and around the world.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the restrictions would continue for now. “Driven by the delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated, and appears likely to continue in the weeks ahead,” she said.

The rising cases also are causing the administration to take a closer look at policies on wearing masks. On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first major federal agency to require its health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccines. And over the weekend, U.S. health officials acknowledged they’re considering changing the federal government’s recommendations on wearing masks. The delta variant is a mutated coronavirus that spreads more easily than other versions. It was first detected in India but now has been identified around the world. Last week, U.S. health officials said the variant accounts for an estimated 83% of U.S. COVID-19 cases, and noted a 32% increase in COVID hospitalizations from the previous week.

The rise in cases has prompted some state and local officials to reinstate masking guidance, even for vaccinated Americans.The White House follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance released in May, which states those who are unvaccinated don’t have to wear masks indoors. They’ve thus far made no changes to Biden’s public events, and the president is still traveling the country and participating in events unmasked.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on CNN’s State of the Union this Sunday that recommending that the vaccinated wear masks is “under active consideration” by the government’s leading public health officials. “We’re going in the wrong direction,” Fauci said, describing himself as “very frustrated.” The surge in the delta variant poses a major political challenge for Biden, who called it a “great day” for Americans when the CDC released its relaxed masking guidance in May and on July 4 declared that “the virus is on the run and America is coming back.” He’s spent the past few months shifting his focus from dire warnings to Americans to get vaccinated to public events pitching his infrastructure, education and jobs proposals, which are currently in the middle of fevered negotiations on Capitol Hill.

The administration has touted strong economic growth as fears about the pandemic waned, states relaxed their coronavirus restrictions and their economies opened back up. But the surging delta variant risks undermining that economic progress and drawing Biden’s attention away from his domestic agenda and Democratic Party priorities like gun, voting and policing reforms, back to the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic. It could also highlight one of the administration’s greatest struggles thus far: The sluggish vaccination rate nationwide. As of Sunday, 69% of American adults had received one vaccination shot, according to the CDC — still slightly below the 70% goal Biden had set for July 4. Sixty percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated.

When asked Monday if he had confidence he could get unvaccinated Americans to get the shot, Biden said, “we have to,” but ignored a follow-up question on how. And prior to the VA’s announcement, White House press secretary Jen Psaki skirted questions from reporters on why the administration hadn’t yet issued its own vaccination mandates for healthcare workers, deferring to the CDC for guidance and hospitals and healthcare associations on the ultimate decision.

Psaki acknowledged that the administration runs the risk of undermining its vaccination goals by further politicizing an already fraught issue if the president becomes the face of vaccine mandates. “The president certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have invested as much as we have in local voices and empowering local trusted voices,” she said. Still, it’s clear the administration is taking steps to address the continued impact of the pandemic. Biden announced Monday that those Americans dealing with so-called “long COVID” — sometimes debilitating side effects caused by the illness that last for months after the initial infection — would have access to disability protections under federal law.

“These conditions can sometimes, sometimes, rise to the level of a disability,” he said, adding they’d have accommodations in schools and workplaces “so they can live their lives in dignity and get the support they need.”And the CDC advised Americans against travel to the United Kingdom this past Monday given a surge in cases there. Most of continental Europe has relaxed restrictions on Americans who are fully vaccinated, although the United Kingdom still requires quarantines for most visitors arriving from the U.S. Airlines say, however, that the lack of two-way travel is limiting the number of flights they can offer and seats they can sell. But the rise and prevalence of COVID-19 variants in Europe, especially the delta mutation, has caused the Biden administration to tread slowly about increasing transatlantic travel.

Maldives’ Tourist Arrivals This Year Surpass 2020

The Maldives has received more tourist arrivals between January and July 2021 than that for the whole year of 2020, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism released last week. Tourism Ministry data showed that the Maldives received 559,000 tourists as of July 17, 2021, the same number of tourists it received for the whole of 2020, reports Xinhua news agency. Minister of Tourism Abdulla Mausoom was quoted by state-owned PSM News as saying that the government was targeting 1.3 million tourist arrivals by the end of the year.

Mausoom said that the Maldives is currently receiving an average of 5,000 tourists per day and 23 per cent of arrivals are from neighbouring South Asian countries. Tourist arrivals to the Maldives declined significantly in 2020 due to border closures amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The Maldives must maintain an average of 4000 daily arrivals throughout the year or experience a significant influx of tourists during holiday periods in order to reach the set target of 1.5 million tourists in 2021.

At present, 148 resorts and 364 guesthouses are known to be fully operational in Maldives.Maldives reopened borders to all nationalities from 15th July 2020. All visitors are granted a 30-day free on-arrival visa with a confirmed booking for a stay at any registered tourist facility in the country.

While there is no mandatory quarantine or testing on arrival, tourists traveling to Maldives are required to complete an online health declaration form and provide a negative PCR test result taken at least 96 hours prior to their departure. The negative PCR test result must be attached while completing Traveler Health Declaration form, which has to be submitted online via IMUGA (www.imuga.immigration.gov.mv), by all arriving passengers before arrival (but not exceeding 24 hours before arrival time).

Canada To Open Its Borders To USA On August 9th

The long wait will soon be over for foreigners who have been banned from entering Canada for nearly 16 months.  Beginning August 9, fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents of the United States currently residing in the US will be permitted to enter Canada.Non-essential travel into Canada has been banned since March 2020, something the Canadian government said was necessary to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. International travelers may also be allowed to enter Canada beginning September 7, provided the “COVID-19 epidemiology remains favorable,” the Canadian government said in a statement Monday.

Entry to Canada will continue to be prohibited for all foreign travelers who are not fully vaccinated.  All fully vaccinated American citizens and permanent residents must have received the full series of a vaccine — or combination of vaccines — accepted by the Canadian government at least 14 days prior to entering Canada, according to the statement. Currently, those vaccines are manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Other vaccines, including those from China or Russia, will not be recognized by Canada. Officials say they are continuing to “look into it” and will announce policy changes accordingly.

Travelers must provide proof they have been vaccinated. In a significant concession, unvaccinated minors younger than 12 entering Canada with vaccinated parents or guardians will not have to quarantine for 14 days. In another change to policy, fully vaccinated travelers will not need a post-arrival test unless they have been randomly selected at the port of entry to complete a Covid-19 molecular test. All travelers coming into Canada, regardless of vaccine status, will need a negative PCR or molecular test within 72 hours of requesting entry.The White House declined to commit to reopening its northern border to Canadians, though.

“We are continuing to review our travel restrictions and any decisions about reopening travel will by guided by our public health and medical experts,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “We take this incredibly seriously, but we look and are guided by our own medical experts. I wouldn’t look at it through a reciprocal intention,” Psaki said. The United States has set up working groups with allies in the United Kingdom and the European Union on reopening travel, but the results of those discussions haven’t been clear. The EU lifted travel restrictions for US citizens last month.

In COVID-19 Travel Advisory for India, US Asks Americans to ‘Reconsider Travel’

The United States has improved the travel advisory for India, upgrading from Level 4 category to Level 3 which urges citizens to reconsider travel. The Level 4 category means no travel. “Your risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing severe symptoms may be lower if you are fully vaccinated with an FDA authorized vaccine. Before planning any international travel, please review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s specific recommendations for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers,” the advisory by the U.S. State Department said.

The State Department advisory comes after the CDC issued a Level 3 ‘Travel Health Notice’ for India due to COVID-19. The CDC suggests that people reconsider travel to destinations that are classified as Level 3, and that if people travel there, they should make sure they are fully vaccinated before they go. The updated advisory further asked its citizens to “exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism.”

In April, the U.S. issued a Level 4 travel health notice for India as the country was reeling under the second wave of COVID-19. In related news from Ottawa, Canada, the Canadian government, in a statement July 19, announced it would open its borders for international travel from Sept. 7, 2021. The government intends to open Canada’s borders to any fully vaccinated travelers who have completed the full course of vaccination with a Government of Canada-accepted vaccine at least 14 days prior to entering Canada and who meet specific entry requirements, the Canadian government said in a statement.

“Subject to limited exceptions, all travelers must use ArriveCAN (app or web portal) to submit their travel information. If they are eligible to enter Canada and meet specific criteria, fully vaccinated travelers will not have to quarantine upon arrival in Canada.” In the first step, starting Aug. 9, 2021, the government has planned to allow entry to American citizens and permanent residents who are currently residing in the United States and have been fully vaccinated. This strategy will allow the government to continue monitoring variants of concern in Canada and vaccine effectiveness. Using these layers of protection, the Government of Canada can monitor the COVID-19 situation in the country, respond quickly to threats, and guide decisions on restricting international travel, the statement said. (ANI)

Neha Parikh Is CEO Of Waze

Neha Parikh, the former president of Hotwire and a board member of Carvana, has been named CEO of Waze, the app that leads millions on the road tyo reach their destinations. Parikh replaces Noam Bardin, who stepped down as CEO of the Google-owned navigation service last November after leading the company for 12 years.Neha Parikh, a former president of the travel website Hotwire, comes with a broad experience in the travel and navigation-based industry. Parikh was previously a board member of Carvana, an Israeli online car retailer and stepped down as the CEO of the company after 12 years.

She has also worked as the board member of Tailwind Acquisition Corp. and worked in several positions for nine years at Hotels.com which is a subsidiary of Hotwire and became the youngest and first female president of the company. Parikh started her career in 2000 as a Management Consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is a multinational professional services network of firms. After working at the company for a year, she worked in several other positions like a business analyst, marketing manager, and demand and growth strategy consultant.

At Hotels.com, which is a subsidiary of Expedia Group, Parikh started as a Product Manager and in her nine-year career in the company, she achieved the position of Senior Vice President. Before starting her career in the field of business and management, Parikh completed her Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin and her Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University.

After Parikh was announced as the CEO of Waze, a spokesperson of the company said that as she leads into the future, Parikh will remain hyper-focused on the passionate community of the company, their beloved brand, and the best-in-class products. About joining the company, Parikh said in a statement that she is thrilled to align with a company that puts its customers first as relentless customer focus has been central to her career.

A month before joining Waze as a CEO Parikh shared a post on her Linkedin account announcing that she would be joining the company in a month. Talking about Waze in her post, Parikh said that anyone who knows her well knows that she is a fan of the company as it is about helping other people.

“As Neha leads Waze into the future, she will remain hyper-focused on our passionate community, beloved brand, and best-in-class products,” a spokesperson for the company said. A month before assuming her new role at Waze in June, Parikh shared a post on her LinkedIn account that detailed her inclination for the brand. “Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a (vocal!) Waze superfan both because it 100 percent helps me outsmart traffic but also because at its core, Waze is about people helping other people,” she wrote.

The San Francisco, Calif.-based executive is a veteran of the online hospitality brand Expedia, and has served in a variety of positions at two of the corporation’s subsidiaries: Hotels.com and as Hotwire’s youngest and first female president, according to PTI. Waze, according to the agency, currently has over 140 million active monthly users in more than 185 countries who drive more than 40 billion kilometers every month. The app can give out directions in 56 different languages and employs over 500 people, a significant number of which are based out of Israel.

Parikh first started with Expedia Group in 2008 with Hotels.com, where her responsibilities and expertise spanned product development, customer relationship marketing, pricing and strategy, culminating in her role as senior vice president of global brands for Hotels.com before assuming the role of president of Hotwire in 2017. In addition, Parikh has held marketing and product development roles at Dade Behring (a Siemens healthcare company) and worked as a management consultant at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, LLP. Parikh was also appointed to the board of Carvana, the online car marketplace, in April 2019. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

As Travel Returns To Normal, United Airlines To Buy 270 New Planes

United Airlines is placing a jumbo-sized order of narrow-body aircraft. The company is purchasing 270 new planes from Boeing and Airbus.Last year, U.S. airlines were fighting to survive. Struggling in the depths of the pandemic, they received an infusion of cash and cheap loans from the U.S. government and, between aid packages, furloughed tens of thousands of workers. Business and international flights are still down from pre-pandemic levels, but domestic leisure travel, the kind where single-aisle planes dominate, is roaring back. United is planning for growth and ready to spend billions to get there, though it did not mention a specific price tag on Tuesday.

“It’s a plan that’s a nose-to-tail plan for the future,” United’s Andrew Nocella told reporters on Monday. “And it’s something we’ve actually been working on for many, many years.” The company says this is the biggest jet purchase placed by a U.S. airline in the past decade. (In 2011, American Airlines purchased 460 planes in one fell swoop.) And factoring in the new planes that United had already ordered, the company will get 500 new jets over the next few years. They’re intended to replace some older planes and expand the total size of the fleet, allowing for more daily departures. In addition to adding new planes, United will also be retrofitting every narrow-body plane in its directly operated fleet, a process that will take several years. The retrofits will put more premium seats per aircraft, as well as add seatback entertainment on all seat backs and improve carry-on bag storage.

“It’s really making the gate-checked bags a thing of the past,” promised United’s Toby Enqvist in a call with reporters on Monday. “We’re going to have space for each and every customer’s [carry-on bags] … even on a full flight.” The order will include 200 Boeing planes from the 737 Max series (which returned to service six months ago after nearly two years grounded over a deadly software flaw) as well as 70 Airbus A321neo aircraft. United, perhaps anticipating criticism for planning big investments so soon after requiring taxpayer aid, heavily emphasized the potential positive ripple effects on the U.S. economy from placing this order. The company argued that the purchase will directly create 25,000 new unionized United jobs, while indirectly supporting many more jobs at manufacturers, airports and travel destinations. And the company was adamant that air travel, even the still-depressed international and business travel, would come roaring back.

Richard Aboulafia, an aviation industry analyst with the Teal Group, notes that these kinds of bulk airplane orders aren’t exactly written in stone. Airlines can place a big order but then shift exactly when the planes get delivered (and actually paid for), based on how business is going. “We’re talking about the last of these planes being delivered, if things are great, four or five years hence,” he says. “If they’re not so great, six or seven years hence. If they’re terrible, how about never — does never work for you?” And he noted that now is a reasonable time to place these orders. Borrowing money is cheap, fuel prices are rising, and new planes are more fuel efficient than their predecessors.

Canada Extends Border Restrictions To July 21

The Canadian government has announced that the Canada-US border agreement on travel restrictions will be extended for another month to July 21. “In coordination with the US, we are extending restrictions on non-essential international travel and with the US until July 21st, 2021,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a tweet on Friday.
Blair also said the government is planning measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents, and others who are currently permitted to enter the country and will provide further details on June 21.

The new extension comes a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial premiers met to discuss the possibility of opening the land border between the two countries, which has been closed for non-essential travel since March 2020. The restrictions, which do not cover trade or travel by air, has been extended several times. he current restrictions were to expire on June 21.

Trudeau said on June 13 he had spoken with US President Joe Biden about how to lift the restrictions, but added that no breakthrough has been achieved. The Trudeau government closed its borders to non-essential travellers in March 2020. Since then, it has adjusted the rules to require Covid-19 testing before and after arrival, as well as a period of mandatory quarantine. Canada also limited international flights to just four airports in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. In the fall of 2020, Canada expanded the list of travellers who were exempt from travel restrictions.

International students going to a Designated Learning Institution with a Covid-19 readiness plan were allowed to come to Canada to study. The exemptions also included extended family members, as well as travelers coming to Canada for compassionate reasons such as a funeral. In February 2021, Canada also added the mandatory hotel quarantine on incoming international travelers. New airport arrivals were to go immediately to wait for the results of a Covid-19 test at a government-approved hotel at their own expense.

 

Europe Lifts Ban On US Travelers

The European Union is officially recommending that the 27-member bloc lift restrictions on US travelers, a long-anticipated move that will allow a return to near-normal travel with the continent for the first time since the pandemic began, according to diplomats.The European diplomats spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement planned for Friday. EU ambassadors decided Wednesday to approve a proposal to add the United States — along with Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and Serbia — to its “white list” of places where nonessential travelers are allowed in from across the bloc, sources said. Although this list is nonbinding, it seeks to harmonize travel rules across the European Union. Some European countries, including Greece, Portugal, and Spain, are already accepting vaccinated US travelers.

Ambassadors from the 27 EU countries approved a European Commission proposal from May 3 to loosen the criteria to determine “safe” countries and to let in fully vaccinated tourists from elsewhere.The full resumption of transatlantic travel still has one further hurdle: The United States has yet to say when it will reciprocally lift its ban on E.U. travelers, although that move is similarly expected within weeks.Inclusion on the “white list,” created in June 2020, means E.U. countries can accept travelers regardless of their vaccination status, although each individual country can set its own requirements for entry and quarantine. Australia, Israel, Japan and New Zealand are among the countries already on the list.

Under current restrictions, people from only seven countries, including Australia, Israel and Singapore, can enter the EU on holiday, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.   The current main criterion is that there should be no more than 25 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in the previous 14 days. The trend should be stable or decreasing and there should be a sufficient number of tests, which would need to show a minimum percentage of negative tests. Variants of concern can be taken into account.

The resumption of travel will be a major boost to tourism-dependent economies across the continent. Following a slow start to vaccine rollouts, European officials and policymakers hope that the bloc will reach herd immunity by July. So far, around 45 percent of the nearly 450 million E.U. residents have been inoculated with at least one shot, and around half of those have been fully vaccinated.Earlier this week, the E.U. Parliament also formally approved legislation to create a digital certificate system starting July 1 that would scrap quarantine requirements for people who can prove they are vaccinated or that they have recently recovered from covid-19 or tested negative for the virus.

U.S. CDC Eases Travel Recommendations On 61 Countries

(Reuters) -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has eased its travel recommendations for 61 countries, including Japan from its highest “Level 4” rating that had discouraged all travel to recommending travel for fully vaccinated individuals, the agency confirmed Tuesday. The new ratings, which were not previously reported and posted on a CDC website Monday, lower 61 countries to “Level 3,” including France, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Spain and Italy. A U.S. State Department official said it was in the process of revising its travel advisory to reflect the CDC changes.The CDC said the change comes after its revised its criteria for travel health notices. The CDC said it has also revised its rating for the United States to “Level 3” from “Level 4.”

On May 24, the State Department had urged against travel to Japan, citing a new wave of coronavirus cases before the Tokyo Olympics are set to begin July 23.The CDC said the new criteria for a Level 4 “avoid all travel” recommendation has changed from 100 cases per 100,000 to 500 cases per 100,000. The CDC added that many countries have lower ratings “because of the criteria changes or because their outbreaks are better controlled.” The CDC added it expects more countries to get lower ratings.Other countries being lowered to “Level 3” include Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Libya, Panama, Poland, Denmark and Malaysia.

Many of the countries that now have lower ratings remain on the U.S. government’s list of countries subject to severe travel restrictions — and most have been subject to the restrictions since early 2020.The United States bars nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have been in China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, India, South Africa, Brazil, Iran and the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls within the previous 14 days.

OCI Card Holders Allowed To Visit India By Updating Their Newly Issued Passports

There are reports that OCI Card holders transiting through 3rd countries have been denied permission to board flights to India as these OCI cardholders were not carrying their old passport bearing its number in the OCI Card.

In view of the above, it is once again reiterated that it is mandatory to carry both old and new passports in case the OCI card holders are traveling on the strength of OCI card bearing old passport number in it.

  • The OCI guidelines on renewal which have been in force since 2005 are as follows:
  • OCI card is required to be re-issued each time a new passport is required by the cardholder up to the age of 20 years.
  • OCI card is required to be re-issued once and acquiring a new passport after completing 50 years of age.

The Government of India has given an extension in time till June 30th 2021 to get OCI Cards re-issued in accordance with the above guidelines. (Source: Consulate General of India, New York press release.)

The OCI card, which allows lifelong visa free travel to India with certain limitations to people of Indian-origin, was suspended by the Indian government on April 11 amidst a nationwide lockdown and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The sudden decision had created chaos and anxiety among the hundreds and thousands of Indian-origin people. A large number of them had taken to the social media platforms like Twitter to vent out their anger.The travel restrictions on those having OCI cards were subsequently relaxed, which so far has been mainly in the emergency categories, those travelling for work or minors with OCI card holders whose parents are Indian citizens.

Breeze Airways Launched With Fares From $39 One-Way

Travel is finally bouncing back following the doldrums of the Covid-19 pandemic, including with the launch of not one, but two new low-cost airlines in the U.S. Avelo Airlines started service out of its West Coast base of Hollywood Burbank Airport in Los Angeles at the end of April, and is ramping up services to nearly a dozen destinations in the western U.S. before setting its sights farther east later this year with a second base in New Haven, Connecticut.

Now, an East Coast upstart is also entering the fray. From JetBlue founder and former CEO David Neelman, Breeze Airways has put tickets on sale starting today after nearly three years in the offing. Fares start at just $39 each way – a nod to the airline’s 39 launch routes among 16 cities. Its first flights took place on May 27, 2021, between Tampa, Florida, and Charleston, South Carolina; and from Charleston to Hartford, Connecticut, with more flights being added to the schedule throughout June and July.

Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Breeze will focus most of its operations out of four main airports: Tampa, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; and New Orleans. But the new carrier’s route map includes 16 cities in the Midwest, Southeast, and Eastern U.S.

The Routes

The airline’s first-ever flight was scheduled to operate on May 27—just in time for the travel rush of Memorial Day Weekend—from Charleston to Tampa, and on to Hartford, Connecticut. Additional routes will be added through July.

The upstart airline is the brainchild of David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue and prolific airline creator (Breeze Airways is the fifth air carrier he’s launched; others include Brazil-based Azul and Canada’s WestJet). Neeleman’s business strategy for Breeze is to target smaller airports in cities overlooked by other carriers. “Breeze provides nonstop service between underserved routes across the U.S. at affordable fares,” he said in a statement on Friday. “A staggering 95 percent of Breeze routes currently have no airline serving them nonstop.”

Additional destinations include Providence; San Antonio; Pittsburgh; Akron; and Huntsville, Alabama, among others. This summer, the carrier’s average flight length will be about two hours.And there are already plans in the works to expand Breeze’s route network in the near future. “These 16 cities are just the beginning for Breeze,” Neeleman said. “The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s air service has meant many secondary markets and smaller cities have seen a significant reduction in flights. There are so many city pairs needing nonstop service around the country, we have a further 100 cities under consideration.”

The Planes

Breeze will start with a fleet of 13 single-class Embraer E-190 and E-195 regional planes this summer. Each plane seats between 108 and 118 people and seats are in a two-by-two layout, meaning there are no dreaded middled spots. In October, the airline will start taking delivery of 60 larger, brand new Airbus A220 planes. (Breeze is scheduled to receive one of the planes per month for the next five years.) The airline says its A220s will include a premium cabin class and operate on routes longer than two hours.

The onboard experience

With his new venture, Neeleman seems to be centering the brand on the same friendly, budget-conscious ethos that put JetBlue on the map with travelers. Breeze bills itself as the U.S.’s “seriously nice” carrier, and says it will use “technology, ingenuity, and kindness to improve the travel experience.” Its fare classes range from “Nice,” “Nicer,” and “Nicest.”

“Nicest,” Breeze’s premium business class product, will debut in the fall onboard the A220 planes.  The other two fare class are bookable now. “Nicer” fares come with perks like a free checked bag, a carry-on bag, priority boarding, complimentary drink and snack, as well as extra legroom (between 33 and 39 inches of pitch, depending on the aircraft).

“Nice” is the cheapest option, which only covers a personal item—such as a purse or backpack—and a seat with between 29 and 31 inches of pitch. That amount of space is on par with ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit, but fliers also have the option to upgrade to an extra legroom seat for a fee. There are extra charges to choose a seat (starting at $10), and bring a carry-on for the overhead bin or check a bag ($20 for either). Although it’s structured like a basic economy fare, it’s not as restrictive as similar products on other airlines.

All fares, including the cheapest, have flexible ticketing policies, with no change or cancellation fees. According to Breeze’s statement: “Guests can change or cancel a flight up to 15 minutes before scheduled departure without penalty. Unused funds from changes and cancellations are automatically saved in the guest’s Breeze account and do not expire for 24 months.” All flights will feature free in-flight entertainment—TV shows and games—that will stream to personal devices. The Airbus A220 planes will also have in-flight Wi-Fi.  Fares are on sale now at flybreeze.com.

If You Want Vaccine, Visit New York City As It Plans To Offer The J&J Vaccine To Tourists

Amid the imbalanced access to COVID vaccine doses, some tourist-reliant destinations that have made headway with inoculating the local population are now earmarking extra doses for arriving travelers. Places like the Maldives, certain islands in the Caribbean, New York City, and Alaska have announced such measures over the past couple of months.

Government officials of the tourism-dependent Maldives have announced plans to offer coronavirus vaccines to international visitors as an incentive to reopen travel. The South Asian nation’s tourism minister said on CNBC this week that a new Maldivian tourism campaign, dubbed ‘3V,’ for ‘Visit, Vaccinate, Vacation,’ aims to make shots available for vacationers who travel to Maldives, once all local residents have been offered a vaccine. “The main idea of tourism being open is to provide a reasonably safe tourism with minimum inconvenience,” Maldivian Tourism Minister Abdulla Mausoom said in an interview. “So once the country gets vaccinated, then we will move on to ‘3V’ tourism.”

The Maldives, which is known for its glamorous overwater bungalows and pristine Indian Ocean beaches, is currently open to U.S. visitors who are fully vaccinated, and unvaccinated travelers who acquire a negative coronavirus PCR test no more than three days prior to travel. Its tourism board has also set a goal of 1.5 million tourist arrivals for 2021, with about 350,000 of those visits accounted for as of mid April. Mausoom said many remote workers have relocated to the islands during the pandemic, but that the vaccination campaign is necessary for the Maldives to jumpstart its travel economy: “When we reach this year’s target [of 1.5 million], still we will have a shortfall of what the country needs.”

The logic behind these initiatives is not hard to follow: The tourism industry has been gutted by the pandemic, and locales want a safe way to restart what is a major economic engine. But the policies might give some travelers pause, as they can appear to use up doses still needed by locals or favor the more privileged who can afford to book a long-haul trip for the shot. They also can seem to facilitate the chance for wealthy travelers to skip ahead of more at-risk people around the world. So should travelers take these doses if a destination is offering them?

“I think the idea that, for example, single-dose vaccines like Johnson & Johnson, ought to be available to people when they arrive in a country, for whatever reason they’re traveling, is a very good idea,” says Chris Beyrer, a professor of public health and human rights at Johns Hopkins. “Now those people won’t be fully protected for two weeks, but it’s a simple strategy and you don’t have to wait the additional three or four weeks for a second dose.”

New York City plans to offer the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to tourists in places like Times Square and the High Line. The state has also created pop-up clinics for both residents and visitors inside subway stations and airports. But Alaska, which relies heavily on the summer cruise season, is planning to offer travelers doses of Pfizer or Moderna shots (which require two doses) at its four largest airports starting June 1.

Some say the programs are really only ideal if the visitors are from an area where vaccine access is lacking. “It depends on where people are coming from,” says Leana Wen, emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University and former health commissioner of Baltimore. “There are of course many individuals from countries that don’t have nearly enough vaccine, and if they arriving at a location that does have vaccination, absolutely they should take advantage of it. As long as the individuals who are living in these locations are first given access, I don’t see a problem with the overall concept.”

In fact, experts agree that American travelers really shouldn’t be participating in vaccine on arrival programs, since the U.S. has readily available doses its own population. “The other equity issue is you’re traveling somewhere to get a vaccine where you could be taking it away from locals who need it more,” says Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at NYU. “So you have to weigh that, too. You don’t want to take supply.” Although the majority of destinations that have offered up doses to visitors have said their local populations have adequate vaccine access, Caplan urges travelers to use scrutiny when evaluating these claims. “Vaccine politics are complex because some of these countries are run by business interests that very much depend on tourism,” he says. “I don’t always trust what they say.”

While these are concerning points, some experts say the programs—if properly executed—could help to protect residents. “That’s the other side of this, that there are so many places in the world that rely on tourism and [the] travel industry, and where the people who live there and work there who are not tourists have a right to be protected,” Beyrer says. “So do you keep tourism shut down? Or do you open it and try to do it in ways that are safe?”There are also other potential benefits for local populations. “It’s been a really challenging year and a half, and many of these places that have relied on tourism have been decimated,” Wen says. “If this is what it takes in order to get their economy back and get the standard of living back for their residents, who are we to give judgements?”

Another major concern for both epidemiologists and travelers? People who are unvaccinated boarding flights or trains to get inoculated. The CDC cleared only fully vaccinated people for widespread travel this summer. “I think you should be vaccinated before you get there,” Caplan says. “Getting vaccinated when you arrive at your tourist destination still means that you have at least a couple of weeks before you build up immunity, and you may need a second shot in some cases. I’d want to be fully vaccinated before I got to the airport, got on that plane, or got to my destination. I would not be waiting. I think that’s very unwise.”

Although it’s not ideal, Wen says that it could be possible to travel to get a vaccine. “Travel can be very safe, as long as people take the necessary precautions,” such as wearing a mask and avoiding removing it, she says. “There are ways to keep safe while traveling but they must be extremely vigilant if they are not yet vaccinated.”

Before making a decision, Wen advises each traveler to weigh the facts against their own situations. “I think there is an ethical argument one could be making that vaccine tourism leaves behind those who are financially not able to do so, and it is a real concern,” she says. “However there is also the argument of sustaining the tourism industry in countries that have been really hard hit as well. I would say that people need to make their own individual ethics judgments about whether they feel comfortable taking part in this.”

Pent-Up Demand Will Propel A Strong Season As Long As The Pandemic Continues To Subside

Newswise — With coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions easing up, the best words to describe the 2021 summer travel season outlook are “cautiously optimistic.” That’s according to University of Delaware’s Sheryl Kline, Aramark Chaired Professor of Hospitality, Sri Beldona, professor of hospitality business management, and Robert Nelson, associate professor of hospitality business management in UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. 

“We believe that it will be a much more positive travel year for the Delaware Valley region, particularly the New Jersey and Delaware beaches, and also remote locations across the U.S.,” said Kline, who is also deputy dean of the Lerner College.

Over the winter, Kline and Beldona worked with the Delaware Data Innovation Lab Delaware Data Innovation Lab supported by CompassRed to develop a prototype for a hospitality sentiment tracker. This prototype tracks sentiments on travel and safety using consumer-based online review data across the State of Delaware. Early indicators showed that proprietors were taking conscious steps to be compliant with COVID-19 safety measures. Customers noticed and commented on precautionary measures these establishments put in place and expressed their comfort level in social media posts.

“While there is a pent up demand for domestic travel, the overall travel experience is going to depend on how COVID-19 guidelines continue to be observed,” Beldona said. “Through our research we have learned that consumers are hyper aware of how the travel industry reacted to the government restrictions and precautions taken to cope with this pandemic.”The term “vacci-cation” for vacations being planned after sufficient vaccinations and before office life resumes has also entered the lexicon to describe what is expected of this summer, Beldona said.

“As more people are fully vaccinated, they will become more comfortable traveling for much needed vacations and to visit family,” Kline said. “However, when they leave home, vacationers will definitely see more sanitation stations and improvements in cleaning practices. This is one legacy of the pandemic that will not go away.”

Beldona added, “There will be more cars on the road versus air travel. Beach rentals in Delaware are reporting higher occupancies than usual. It’s going to be a big summer for Airbnbs.” He also said more people will be visiting out-of-the-way places and having more family reunions. But what you won’t see will be any extra incentives or travel discounts. “Prices won’t be lowered because the demand is there,” Beldona said.

With the increased demand, there will be increased pressure on restaurants, hotels and commercial tourism operators to find employees. Anecdotally, Kline, Beldona and Nelson are seeing the demand for employment at travel destinations growing, especially at the Delaware beach areas and other more remote locations such as national parks and destination all-inclusive resorts.“Tourists are booking trips, but hotels, restaurants and other segments of the industry have no labor,” Nelson said. “Many of them depend on imported labor via J1 visas that are not available this year.”

The outlook is not quite as strong for major cities as remote, local getaways. The tourism recovery for places like New York and Chicago is predicted to progress at a much slower pace, according to Nelson.  “Major gateway cities are dependent on international travelers and business travelers, both of which are expected to recover more slowly,” Nelson said. “Also, business travel naturally slows in the summer months.” As for international travel? Trends indicate that growth in domestic travel will outperform that of international travel significantly this summer, Beldona said.  “Countries are still trying to figure out how to allow people from different countries into their cities and how long they will need to quarantine,” Kline said. “It might be best to travel domestically and to stay local.”

AIR INDIA’s 4.5 Million Customers’ Personal Data Hacked

Air India has admitted to a massive data breach that compromised the personal data of about 4.5 million passengers. The hackers were able to access 10 years’ worth of data including names, passport and credit card details from the Atlanta-based SITA Passenger Service System, Air India said in a statement on May 21.It disclosed the scale of the breach nearly three months after it was first informed by the IT provider.The breach that happened in late February had compromised the data of some major global airlines, too. SITA at that time had said that Singapore Airlines, New Zealand Air and Lufthansa were among those affected.

Air India said almost 4.5 million passengers globally were affected in the “highly sophisticated” attack but did not specify how many of them were its travelers. It said no password data was breached during the attack and that the company was investigating.The breach, confirmation of which comes two months after SITA’s Passenger Service System (PSS) was hacked, affected customers who registered between August 2011 and late February 2021, Air India said in a statement. Compromised data includes customers’ name, data of birth, contact information, passport information, frequent flyer data and credit card data, although CVV/CVC numbers weren’t included.
Password weren’t accessed by the hackers, Air India added, although it’s urging all customers to change their passwords as a precaution.

The airline said it first learned of the incident on February 25, but only learned the identities of affected passengers on March 25 and May 4.The company said it recommended in an email to its customers that they should change their account passwords as a precaution.

Air India started as a mail carrier in 1932 before gaining commercial popularity. It has been incurring losses since its 2007 merger with a state-owned domestic carrier, Indian Airlines. The debt-laden carrier is currently in the process of finding new buyers.

US Immigration Announces Continuation of International Entrepreneur Parole Program USCIS Announces Open Application Period for Citizenship and Integration Grant Program

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is accepting applications for two funding opportunities under the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program. The grant opportunities will provide up to $10 million in grants for citizenship preparation programs in communities across the country.

These competitive grant opportunities are open to organizations that prepare lawful permanent residents for naturalization and promote civic integration through increased knowledge of English, U.S. history, and civics. USCIS received support from Congress through appropriations to make these funding opportunities available to communities.

“It is critical that we provide immigrants pursuing citizenship and the organizations who help support their efforts with the tools to be successful,” said Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “The Citizenship and Integration Grant Program helps those preparing to become U.S. citizens to successfully integrate into American society. This administration recognizes that naturalization is an important milestone in the civic integration of immigrants, and we will continue to provide support for individuals hoping to establish new citizenship in our country.”

“USCIS is committed to empowering immigrants to pursue citizenship and the privileges that accompany it,” said Acting USCIS Director Tracy Renaud. “The Citizenship and Integration Grant Program equips immigrants with the tools they need to be successful throughout their journey to become new U.S. citizens and beyond. This year, USCIS is reaching out to more organizations that provide services to underserved communities to ensure that all who are eligible to apply for these grants—or to pursue naturalization—are able to do so.”

USCIS seeks to expand availability of high-quality citizenship and integration services throughout the country under the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program:

  • Citizenship Instruction and Naturalization Application Services:This opportunity will fund public or nonprofit organizations that offer both citizenship instruction and naturalization application services to lawful permanent residents. USCIS expects to award 33 organizations up to $250,000 each for two years through this opportunity. Applications are due by July 16, 2021.
  • Refugee and Asylee Integration Services Program:This grant opportunity will provide extended integration services with a focus on individualized programming to former refugees and asylees to attain the skills and knowledge required for successful citizenship. It will also provide other services that foster a sense of belonging and attachment to the United States. The program has expanded eligibility to include lawful permanent residents who were admitted or entered the United States as Cuban or Haitian entrants or individuals admitted on a Special Immigrant Visa. USCIS expects to award six public or nonprofit organizations with experience in serving refugees up to $300,000 each for a period of two years through this opportunity. Applicants must design an integration support program that provides a suite of services to program beneficiaries to promote long-term civic integration and citizenship. Applications are due by July 16, 2021.

USCIS expects to announce award recipients in September 2021.Since 2009, the USCIS Citizenship and Integration Grant Program has awarded about $102 million through 473 grants to immigrant-serving organizations. These grant recipients have provided citizenship preparation services to more than 279,000 lawful permanent residents in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

To apply for these funding opportunities, visit www.grants.gov. USCIS encourages applicants to visit www.grants.gov before the application deadline to obtain registration information needed to complete the application process.

For additional information on the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program for fiscal year 2021, visit www.uscis.gov/grants or email the USCIS Office of Citizenship at [email protected].For more information on USCIS and its programs, please visit uscis.gov or follow us on TwitterInstagramYouTubeFacebook, and LinkedIn.

USCIS Temporarily Suspends Biometrics Requirement For Certain Form I-539 Applicants

Effective May 17, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will temporarily suspend the biometrics submission requirement for certain applicants filing Form I-539, Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, requesting an extension of stay in or change of status to H-4, L-2, and E nonimmigrant status.

In a May 13, 2021, notification (uscis.gov), the agency said it will allow adjudications for those specific categories to proceed based on biographic information and related background checks, without capturing fingerprints and a photograph.This suspension will apply through May 17, 2023, subject to affirmative extension or revocation of the suspension period by the USCIS director.

This temporary suspension will apply to applicants filing Form I-539 requesting the following:

  • Extension of stay in or change of status to H-4 nonimmigrant status;
  • Extension of stay in or change of status to L-2 nonimmigrant status;
  • Extension of stay in or change of status to E-1 nonimmigrant status;
  • Extension of stay in or change of status to E-2 nonimmigrant status (including E-2C (E-2 CNMI Investor)); or
  • Extension of stay in or change of status to E-3 nonimmigrant status (including those selecting E-3D).
  • This suspension will apply only to the above categories of Form I-539 applications that are either:
  • Pending as of May 17, 2021, and have not yet received a biometric services appointment notice; or
  • New applications postmarked or submitted electronically on or after May 17, 2021.

However, the agency clarified that it retains discretion on a case-by-case basis to require biometrics for applicants who meet the criteria above, and any applicant may be scheduled for an application support center (ASC) appointment to submit biometrics.Nevertheless, it said that Form I-539 applicants who have already received a biometric services appointment notice should still attend their scheduled appointment.

Effective May 17, 2021, Form I-539 applicants meeting the criteria above are not required to submit the $85 biometric services fee for Form I-539 during the suspension period. USCIS will return a biometric services fee if submitted separately from the base fee. For more details visit uscis.gov/news/In another notification, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the Department of Homeland Security is withdrawing a 2018 notice of proposed rulemaking that proposed to remove the International Entrepreneur program from DHS regulations.

The International Entrepreneur (IE) parole program, first introduced in 2017, will remain a viable program for foreign entrepreneurs to create and develop start-up entities with high growth potential in the United States. The program will help to strengthen and grow our nation’s economy through increased capital spending, innovation, and job creation.

Today’s announcement is consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order 14012: “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.” The executive order requires the secretary of homeland security to “identify any agency actions that fail to promote access to the legal immigration system.”

“Immigrants in the United States have a long history of entrepreneurship, hard work, and creativity, and their contributions to this nation are incredibly valuable,” said Acting USCIS Director Tracy Renaud. “The International Entrepreneur parole program goes hand-in-hand with our nation’s spirit of welcoming entrepreneurship and USCIS encourages those who are eligible to take advantage of the program.”

The initial IE final rule was published on Jan. 17, 2017, and was scheduled to take effect on July 17, 2017. This final rule guided DHS in the use of its parole authority to grant a period of authorized stay, on a case-by-case basis, to foreign entrepreneurs who demonstrate that their stay in the United States would provide a significant public benefit through the potential for rapid business growth and job creation.

Prior to the effective date, DHS published a final rule to delay the implementation date of the IE final rule to March 14, 2018. This allowed DHS additional time to draft and seek public comments on a proposal to rescind the IE final rule. However, in December 2017, a federal court vacated the delay, requiring USCIS to begin accepting international entrepreneur parole applications consistent with the IE final rule. Since then, the program has been up and running, and USCIS continues to accept and adjudicate applications consistent with existing DHS regulations.

Under the IE program, parole may be granted to up to three entrepreneurs per start-up entity, as well as their spouses and children. Entrepreneurs granted parole are eligible to work only for their start-up business. Their spouses may apply for employment authorization in the United States, but their children are not eligible for such authorization based on this parole. Additional information on eligibility and how to apply is available on the International Entrepreneur Parole page. USCIS will plan information sessions and other outreach activities to ensure foreign entrepreneurs are aware of this opportunity and how to pursue it.

REAL ID Deadline Pushed Back To 2023 Due To Pandemic

Most U.S. fliers only think of travel documents when checking their passport is valid before an international flight. But as Real ID, a new federal law mandating which forms of identification will get passengers through airport security, takes effect, that mentality will need to shift.

New rules set strict regulations on what identification will be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at security checkpoints—even for flights within the U.S. In many cases, this means using a standard driver’s license will no longer get you onboard a plane. (The deadline for travelers to have a Real ID has been pushed back to 2023 due to COVID-19 delays.)

The deadline for Americans to obtain a REAL ID card has been pushed back once again due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security announced last week. Here’s everything you need to know to ensure you have the right up-to-date identification for your travels.

What is the new Real ID rule?

The regulation is part of a law passed by Congress in 2005, which set new federal security standards for driver’s licenses and other forms of identification used to board planes in the U.S. The new standards apply to all states and territories. After the rules go into effect, driver’s licenses and other IDs that don’t meet the new requirements will not be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration for passing through airport security checkpoints.

Even if you have a TSA PreCheck or a Clear membership, you will need a Real ID-compliant form of identification to make it past airport security. A Global Entry card is considered Real ID–compliant and will be accepted under the new rules. Children under 18 get some leeway, as TSA does not require them to present identification when traveling with a companion within the U.S. As always, on an international trip, passports or other documents may be required by the airline or other agencies.

When does the rule change happen?

The new rules will go into effect on May 3, 2023—this deadline was pushed back three years due to coronavirus concerns. That’s the date that all U.S. residents need to have a Real ID-compliant driver’s license or other approved identification in hand to make it past airport security.

How do I get a Real ID driver’s license?

The majority of states are now issuing driver’s licenses that are accepted under the new rules. You simply need to visit your DMV to renew or replace your old license with a Real ID version. (This usually takes more documentation—and sometimes more money—than obtaining a driver’s license did in the past, and your state’s DMV website should have a list of the required paperwork.)

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The Department of Homeland security also announced in February 2020 that individuals applying for a Real ID can now electronically submit the numerous documents required before arriving at the DMV. The move is an effort to help states and residents streamline the process to meet the May 2023 deadline. According to the U.S. Travel Association, an industry lobbying organization, “tens of millions of Americans do not yet possess REAL ID-compliant identification,” so the electronic document submission is a good step forward. The application process for a Real ID driver’s license includes showing documents such as a social security card, multiple proofs of address, and a birth certificate or passport, among others.

What other forms of identification work to board a plane under the new rules?

Valid passports or passport cards will still work to get you through security for domestic flights, and passengers will still need them to board international flights. Global Entry membership cards are also valid under the new regulations, as are various forms of military ID and other government-issued IDs. You can see a full list of accepted documents on the TSA’s website.

How do I know if my current driver’s license is acceptable under Real ID rules?

Real ID driver’s licenses are marked with a star in the top corner. (It’s worth noting one confusing state policy: Ohio. Its old licenses have a gold star, while its Real IDs have a black star.) Enhanced driver’s licenses—which are slightly different, but are issued by some states in addition to Real IDs and are also acceptable under the new rules—have a flag in the corner.

What happens if I show up at the airport without an acceptable ID under the new rules?

TSA says you will not be let through security, and you will not be able to fly. In rare occasions in the past, if a flier forgot their ID for a domestic trip, TSA might have worked with them to verify their identity in a different way—like by asking them certain questions about their personal information. But the agency says that after Real ID is implemented, those days are over. “TSA has no plans to provide an alternate verification process to confirm a traveler’s identity,” says TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein. “Counting on TSA to provide that option to travelers who do not have a Real ID-compliant driver license or identification card is not a good strategy.”

U.S. Restricts Travel To & From India

The U.S Embassy in India encourages U.S. citizens who wish to depart India to take advantage of currently available commercial flights. Airlines continue to operate multiple direct flights weekly from India to the United States; additional flight options remain available via transfers in Paris, Frankfurt, and Doha.

President Joe Biden has issued a proclamation restricting entry into the United States of certain nonimmigrant travelers who have been physically present in India. These restrictions will go into effect on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 at 12:01 AM EDT. The full text of the proclamation is available here.

The U.S Embassy in India encourages U.S. citizens who wish to depart India to take advantage of currently available commercial flights. Airlines continue to operate multiple direct flights weekly from India to the United States; additional flight options remain available via transfers in Paris, Frankfurt, and Doha.

The policy will not apply to American citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPR), or other people with these specific exceptions:

  • Any immigrant who has an unused or unexpired immigrant visa;
  • Any non-U.S. citizen spouse of a U.S. citizen or LPR;
  • Any non-U.S. citizen who is the parent or legal guardian of a U.S. citizen or LPR, provided that the U.S. citizen or LPR child is unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • Any non-U.S. citizen who is the sibling of a U.S. citizen or LPR, provided that both the non-U.S. citizen and the U.S. citizen or LPR sibling are unmarried and under the age of 21;
  • Any non-U.S. citizen who is the child, foster child, or ward of a U.S. citizen or LPR, or who is a prospective adoptee seeking to enter the United States pursuant to the IR-4 or IH-4 visa classifications;
  • Any holders of nonimmigrant visas in the following categories: C-1, D, C-1/D air and sea crew, A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3, E-1, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through NATO-4, or NATO-6; or
  • Students who already possess a valid student (F or M) visa and who will begin their studies on or after August 1, 2021. (Note that direct travel to the United States from India with a student visa may begin no more than 30 days prior to the start date of a student’s classes.)

Visa holders with definite plans to travel who can demonstrate qualification for a National Interest Exception (NIE) may contact the U.S Embassy or  Consulate that issued their visa to request a national interest exception prior to travel. (The contact email for the Embassy in New Delhi is [email protected].) Your request must include the following information to seek an exception: last name, first name, date of birth, place of birth, country of citizenship, passport number, visa Number and category, travel dates, travel purpose, and national interest category–including a clear justification for receipt of a NIE.

Qualifying family members do not need a NIE or any pre-approval from the embassy or consulates. Travelers should bring proof of relationship when initiating travel to the United States. More details on NIEs are available here.

If you currently have a flight booked, or plans to travel to the United States but do not fall into an exception category, contact the embassy or consulate that issued your visa before departing, as you may not be allowed to travel at this time. General travel information between India and the U.S as well as information about COVID-19 within India, is available via the U.S. Embassy here.

This proclamation will remain in effect until terminated by President Biden. Thirty days after the proclamation, and then at the end of every calendar month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra will recommend whether the president should continue, modify, or terminate this proclamation.

Note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice and the Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory recommending against all travel to India. Level 4 is the highest advisory level due to greater likelihood of life-threatening risks. U.S. citizens who must travel to India are strongly urged to get fully vaccinated before travel and to continue to take personal health safety measures to protect themselves, including practicing social and physical distancing, cleaning hands with soap/hand sanitizer frequently, wearing masks, and avoiding crowded areas with poor ventilation.

The CDC’s broader guidance for fully vaccinated people–including information about when you should still wear masks and maintain social and physical distancing–is here; be sure to review our other vaccine availability and safety resources as well.

The U.S. told its citizens to get out of India as soon as possible as the country’s covid-19 crisis worsens at an astonishing pace.

In a Level 4 travel advisory — the highest of its kind issued by the State Department — U.S. citizens were told “not to travel to India or to leave as soon as it is safe to do so.” There are 14 direct daily flights between India and the U.S. and other services that connect through Europe, the department said.

Indian authorities and hospitals are struggling to cope with unprecedented covid infections and deaths. Official data on Thursday showed new cases rose by a staggering 379,257 over the prior 24 hours, another record, while 3,645 additional lives were lost. More than 204,800 people have died.

“U.S. citizens are reporting being denied admittance to hospitals in some cities due to a lack of space,” the website of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India said in a health alert. “U.S. citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options now.” All routine U.S. citizen services and visa services at the U.S. Consulate General Chennai have been canceled.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone returning to the U.S. from overseas must have a viral Covid-19 test between three and five days after travel. Individuals who haven’t been vaccinated should also stay at home and self-quarantine for a week.

The South Asian nation now has the world’s fastest-growing caseload with 18.4 million confirmed instances. The virus has gripped India’s populace with a severity not seen in its first wave. Mass funeral pyres, lines of ambulances outside overcrowded hospitals and desperate pleas on social media for oxygen underscore how unprepared India’s federal and state governments are to tackle the latest outbreak.

The unfolding tragedy is prompting some of the world’s biggest corporations to organize aid. Amazon.com is harnessing its global logistics supply chain to airlift 100 ICU ventilator units from the U.S., and the equipment will reach India in the next two weeks. Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella said he was “heartbroken” by the situation and the tech behemoth is using its voice, resources and technology to aid relief efforts and help buy oxygen concentrators.

Blackstone Group Chairman Stephen Schwarzman said his private equity firm is committing $5 million to support India’s covid relief and vaccination services to “marginalized communities.” Local companies, too, are wading in, with the philanthropic arm of India’s most valuable company — Reliance Industries Ltd., controlled by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani — pledging to create, commission and manage 100 ICU beds that will become operational mid next month.

As thousands of doctors, nurses and non-medical professionals work around-the-clock to save what patients they can, countries around the rest of the world are drawing up their bridges.

Within Asia, Hong Kong banned flights from India, as well as Pakistan and the Philippines, for 14 days from April 20. Singapore has barred long-term pass holders and short-term visitors who have recently been in India from entering. Indonesia is also denying entry to people traveling from India.

Further afield, the U.K. has added India to its travel ban list, and the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have halted passenger flights from India. Canada last week banned flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days. Australia banned flights from India this week.

India Restricts Flights Until May 31st

India has extended the suspension on international commercial flight operations till May 31, 2021. However, international passenger flights under air travel bubble arrangements will continue.

“In partial modification of circular dated 26-06-2020, the competent authority has further extended the validity of circular issued on the above subject… regarding scheduled international commercial passenger services to/from India till 2359 hrs IST of 31st May, 2021,” the circular issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said.

The circular said that the restriction shall not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by DGCA. Passenger air services were suspended on March 25, 2020 due to the nationwide lockdown to check the spread of Covid-19. Domestic flight services, however, resumed from May 25, 2020.

Meanwhile, the US has announced that starting May 4th, on the advice of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control,  COVID-19 experts, medical experts and national security advisors — travel restrictions will come into force for India,” Vice President Kmla Harris announced last week.

Harris, who was visiting Cincinnati, said, “There is no question that it (COVID surge in India) is a great tragedy, in terms of the loss of life, and as I have said before, and I will say again, we as a country have made a commitment to the people of India to support them.”

“And we’ve made already a commitment in terms of a dollar amount that will go to PPE (personal protective equipment) and a number of other things. But it is tragic. And, you know, my prayers go to the people on the suffering, the blatant suffering that is happening,” she added. President Joe Biden’s Spokesperson Jen Psaki said the restrictions were being imposed because “of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in India.”

The restrictions cover South Africa, China, Iran, Brazil, Ireland, Britain and the 29 countries belonging to the common visa zone known as the Schengen Area. US citizens and legal residents and their immediate family members are exempt from the restrictions, as also are diplomats, but they are advised to follow precautions. They are asked to test themselves for COVID-19 between three and five days after arrival.

If those who are vaccinated test positive, they have to isolate themselves for seven days. Those who are not vaccinated are asked to self-isolate for seven days, regardless of the test results. At a news conference on Friday before the restriction was announced, White House Coronavirus Response Co-ordinator Jeffrey Zientsin said, “In terms of travel from India, we remain in very close contact with our foreign counterparts and are continuously monitoring the situation.”

“Our current inbound travel precautions and mandatory testing before travel — the quarantine for unvaccinated individuals and the retesting during that quarantine period — those are all in place for all international travel and have been effective,” he added.

Travel Trends To Note As Americans Return To Travel

According to VacationRenter’s booking data, summertime rental reservations are up 125% this year over last. And as Americans resume travel, its data analysis reveals noteworthy travel trends among our customers as we look forward to summer 2021.

The US Travel Association concurs, that roughly 9 out of 10 Americans are planning to travel within the next six months. As travellers in the United States resume travel, they’re vacationing with safety (and fresh air) in mind. Here are five travel trends noted by VacationRenter:

1. Starting small

Looking at VacatonRenter’s current bookings for summer 2021, reservations for small groups — consisting of two or four people — are leading the charge by a significant margin. Even groups of six are outpacing odd-numbered bookings and larger groups. The upshot of this two-by-two trend: couples who have been isolating together seem to be traveling together.

2. Seeking private space

Overall, we’ve found that more people are seeking out accommodations and destinations with a guaranteed buffer zone from other travelers. Searches on the VacationRenter site for entire homes — as well as villas and cabins — far outpaced accommodations with shared spaces and amenities. In fact, bookings for houses and villas in March 2021 were up 160% and 200%, respectively, over the same time last year.

3. Choosing traditional and ocean-breezy destinations

While some folks may have headed for the hinterlands to isolate (or work remotely) during the height of the pandemic, there appears to be a return to traditional — yet still fresh-air-infused and outdoorsy — destinations from June through August. Destin, Florida tops the list for summertime destinations by 18%.

4. Pools and pet-friendly spaces

Pools and pets have proved to be the top filters for online summertime vacation searches in 2021. This spring, 28.1% of all travellers who booked through VacationRenter used its pool filter as they searched for their ideal summer getaway. A private pool or even a dip in an uncrowded, shared pool (given that most resorts and homeowners associations now limit pool numbers) has obvious appeal.

5. Last-minute bookings

VacationRenter saw many travelers booking within days of arrival, even to airline-accessed destinations, such as Puerto Rico — where a surprising 11% of bookings were made the day before travel.

(Courtesy:https://www.traveldailymedia.com/5-travel-trends-this-summer-as-americans-return-to-travel/?_cldee=bWluaWFqYXlAYW9sLmNvbQ%3d%3d&recipientid=contact-b027f40f0d70e911a2cb02bfc0a8017c-e858229d5bbe4fd2aeacb769a4520b11&esid=88c8086d-49ac-eb1)

New Restrictions For Travel To And From India

Once thought to be nearing ‘herd immunity’ with rapidly declining case numbers, India is now the latest hotspot experiencing a rapid surge of COVID-19 cases. This time around, the country is seeing cases linked to a “double mutant” coronavirus variant – which has been shown to be even more contagious than the initial virus. With the benefit of hindsight, countries around the world are taking swift action to cut off international travel to try and stop or at least slow the spread of this new variant. Let’s take a look at the countries now taking action, as well as what specific measures are being taken.

The UK, Singapore, New Zealand, Oman, Kuwait, the UAE, Iran, Hong Kong and Canada have imposed restrictions on passengers arriving from India by allowing only citizens to enter their borders. With Iran and Kuwait also suspending flights from India on account of the Covid-19 surge here, a dozen countries have now imposed some form of fresh restriction on travellers from India to protect their jurisdictions from the virus spread.

Which countries have imposed restrictions?

The UK, Singapore, New Zealand, Oman, Kuwait, the UAE, Iran, Hong Kong and Canada have imposed restrictions on passengers arriving from India by allowing only citizens to enter their borders. Even passengers who have been to India in the previous 14 days or are transiting through an airport in India are not allowed to enter.

Other countries like France have imposed a strict quarantine routine for passengers arriving from India, while the US has issued an advisory asking people not to travel to India, even if fully vaccinated. Australia, on the other hand, has said that it will restrict the number of its citizens that can enter its borders from India.

Why did United Airlines cancel its flights out of Delhi?

US-based United Airlines has canceled its flights out of Delhi to destinations such as Newark, San Francisco and Chicago citing “ongoing Covid-19 travel requirement discussions with local authorities” that were impacting its ability to operate the flights. However, the airline later said that it was resuming its flights from Sunday. Also, its Mumbai flights continued to operate as per schedule.

Has the US restricted travel from India?

No, the US has not yet announced any fresh restrictions on travelers from India. But the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention issued a non-binding advisory asking people to not go to India even if fully vaccinated. The US State Department has echoed this advisory. It must be noted though that the US Embassy in New Delhi has cancelled in-person visa appointments and interview-waiver appointments from April 26 till May 9 in light of “current pandemic conditions”. Emergency services for American citizens will continue and consulates in Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata will continue to offer limited visa appointments.

Air India cancels UK flights from April 24 to 30

National carrier Air India has decided to cancel flights between India and the UK from April 24 to 30. The move comes after Britain recently announced travel restrictions on non-UK and non-Irish citizens.

“Passengers who were to travel between India and UK, may kindly note that in view of recent restrictions announced by UK, flts from and to UK stand cancelled from 24th to 30th April ’21. Further updates regarding rescheduling, refunds & waivers will be informed shortly.”

“Between 24th to 30th April ’21 we are in a process to schedule once a week flight to UK from Delhi & Mumbai. Information regarding the same will also be updated on our Website and Social Media Channels.”

Recently, the UK said it will impose travel restrictions on air passengers coming from India due to the fast-spreading coronavirus variant in the South Asian country.

India was added in the ‘Red List’ of countries, or those countries whose citizens cannot freely travel to the UK. Reports had quoted UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock terming the decision as a difficult but a vital one to make.

As per norms, non-UK or Irish citizens will not be allowed to enter the European country post early morning on Friday. Presently, Vistara, Air India, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways operate flights between the two countries.

Last year, India had suspended all flights to and from the UK from December 23 in the wake of the new mutant strain of novel coronavirus found in the European country. (IANS)

Emirates suspends flight services to India from April 24

Dubai-based airline Emirates will suspend flight services to India from 11.59 p.m. of April 24. “Effective 24 April 2021 Saturday, 2359 local time Dubai and for the next 10 days, Emirates flights from India to the UAE will be suspended.”

“Furthermore, passengers who have transited through India in the last 14 days will not be accepted to travel from any other point to the UAE.”

Recently, the gulf country announced travel restriction on non-UAE citizens travelling from India. Non-UAE citizens will not be allowed entry into the country from April 25, for 10 days until May 4. The ban comes at a time when India is facing a massive surge in Covid-19 cases.

AAHOA Hires New VP of Government Affairs

ATLANTA, Ga., Apr. 19 – AAHOA, the nation’s largest hotel owners association, is pleased to welcome Dean Heyl as its new Vice President of Government Affairs. He will lead AAHOA’s Washington, D.C. office and join the association’s Executive Leadership Team.

“As hoteliers navigate the road to recovery, I am confident that Dean’s deep policy background and connections with lawmakers will enhance our advocacy efforts. Hotel owners across the country are struggling. The issues confronting them are complex, and we must continue to educate lawmakers about what they can do to help these small business owners come out on the other side of this pandemic. From labor and taxation issues to franchising and economic relief, Dean’s experience will be critical to supporting AAHOA’s ongoing advocacy efforts. His previous work with several national and international associations is an invaluable asset to our government affairs efforts. Dean is a valuable addition to our team and will help AAHOA further establish itself as the foremost resource and advocate for America’s hotel owners,” said AAHOA President & CEO Cecil P. Staton.

Heyl brings decades of experience from many sectors of the U.S. government and in the c-suites of substantial industry associations. Prior to joining AAHOA, he served as the U.S. Department of Labor’s director of the Office of Public Liaison where he reported directly to the U.S. Secretary of Labor. In this role, Dean was responsible for stakeholder outreach with an emphasis on COVID-19 issues, including PPP, as well as OSHA and Wage and Hour guidance. Dean also worked with several national and international associations as chief legal officer, federal lobbyist, executive director, and senior advisor.

Prior to his work for the Department of Labor, Heyl served as the International Franchise Association’s Chief Legal Officer, where he oversaw all federal, state and local advocacy efforts related to the franchise business model. Additionally, he worked for the Direct Selling Association as a state and federal lobbyist and before that was the Executive Director of the Coalition for Affordable Accounting. His earlier public sector experience includes serving as a senior advisor to the Idaho Attorney General and Governor. From 2008 – 2011, he was a member of the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council.

“I have been fighting for entrepreneurs for more than 20 years and look forward to doing the same for AAHOA Members. AAHOA’s bold vision statement to be the foremost resource and advocate for America’s hotel owners resonated with me,” Heyl said. “I look forward to building upon AAHOA’s excellent government affairs foundation and helping the nation’s hoteliers progress on the road to recovery.”

AAHOA is the largest hotel owners association in the world. The nearly 20,000 AAHOA members represent almost one in every two hotels in the United States. With billions of dollars in property assets and hundreds of thousands of employees, AAHOA members are core economic contributors in virtually every community. AAHOA is a proud defender of free enterprise and the foremost current-day example of realizing the American dream.

Boeing Forecasts Demand For Over 2,200 New Aircraft In India By 2041

Aerospace major Boeing expects demand for more than 2,200 new jets valued at nearly $320 billion over the next 20 years in India. In its annual Commercial Market Outlook (CMO), Boeing anticipates resilient long-term demand for commercial airplanes and services.

The CMO cited that Covid-19 pandemic has sharply reduced Indian air travel last year, however, the country’s domestic passenger traffic is recovering more rapidly than in most other countries and regions, recently reaching 76 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Besides, India’s passenger traffic has been predicted to outpace global growth, doubling from the pre-pandemic levels by 2030. At present, India’s passenger market is the world’s third largest. Furthermore, India’s economy is predicted to grow at 5 per cent annually through the forecast period, the highest of any emerging market.

“Many more Indians will travel by airplane for leisure and business as incomes rise tied to industrialization and an economic growth rate in South Asia that leads all emerging markets,” said David Schulte, managing director of Regional Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“With greater demand for domestic, regional and long-haul travel, we anticipate India’s commercial fleet will grow four-fold by 2039.” As per the CMO, India’s air carriers have opportunities for growth in international markets.

Schulte noted that several airlines have started or plan to start non-stop routes between India and North America to serve a passenger preference for direct service flights.

Boeing India President Salil Gupte said: “India’s burgeoning manufacturing and services business means the region is uniquely positioned to become a major aerospace hub.”

“We remain committed to partnering across India to develop the nation’s aerospace ecosystem, as continued investment in the civil aviation infrastructure and talent will enable sustained growth.” (IANS)

Indian Railways Completes Arch Closure Of Chenab Bridge, World’s Highest Rail Bridge

The construction of the arch of the world’s highest railway bridge that soars 359 metres above the bed of the Chenab river in Jammu and Kashmir was completed last week, with the Northern Railways zone of Indian Railways terming the achievement a milestone.
The 1.3-kilometre-long bridge aims to boost connectivity to the Kashmir Valley and it is being constructed at a cost of ₹1,486 crore as part of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Railway Link (USBRL) project.

In a statement, the Railway Ministry said that this was one of the most difficult parts of the bridge over the Chenab and this achievement is a major leap towards the completion of the 111-km-long winding stretch from Katra to Banihal.

“It is arguably the biggest civil engineering challenge faced by any railway project in India in recent history. The 5.6-metre last piece of metal was fitted at the highest point today and joined the two arms of the arch that currently stretch towards each other from both the banks of the river,” the statement said. This completed the shape of the arch that will then loom over the treacherous Chenab, flowing some 359 meters below.

“After completion of the arch work, removal of the stay cables, filling of the concrete in the arch rib, erection of the steel trestle, launching of the viaduct and track laying work will be taken up,” the statement said.

The completion of the historic arch work was also seen by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, Railway Board Chairman and CEO Suneet Sharma and General Manager, Northern Railway, Ashutosh Gangal, through video conferencing.
“This bridge is 1,315 metres long and the highest railway bridge in the world being 359 metres above the river bed level. It will be 35 meters higher than the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris,” the Ministry said.

As US Plans Vaccine Passports, ACLU Warns Of Privacy Breach

The US administration is working to establish a set of standards for people to prove they’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19. An administration official said last week that the White House is working with government agencies, tech companies and non-profit organizations to plan and coordinate the effort, which is likely weeks away from being finalized. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, there will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database.

The effort has gained momentum amid President Biden’s pledge that the nation will start to regain normalcy this summer and with a growing number of companies — from cruise lines to sports teams — saying they will require proof of vaccination before opening their doors again.

The administration’s initiative has been driven largely by arms of the Department of Health and Human Services, including an office devoted to health information technology, said five officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the effort. The White House this month took on a bigger role coordinating government agencies involved in the work, led by coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients, with a goal of announcing updates in coming days, said one official.

Some sectors, like the travel industry, are calling for a uniform system to verify Covid-19 vaccinations. Although the Biden administration previously said the federal government should not be involved in efforts to create such a system, they are now working to do just that.

The passports are expected to be free and available through applications for smartphones, which could display a scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass. Americans without smartphone access should be able to print out the passports, developers have said.

Other countries are racing ahead with their own passport plans, with the European Union pledging to release digital certificates that would allow for summer travel.

 Meanwhile, The American Civil Liberties Union says plans to roll out a standardized vaccine passport must account for social inequalities and privacy rights. Anything short is a “nonstarter.” ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley warns “there’s a lot that can go wrong.” “Any proposal for vaccine credentials must be primarily paper-based, decentralized, and protect privacy,” he said in an article published on the organization’s website Wednesday.

Several organizations and tech companies have already started developing smartphone apps and other digital systems to store and verify vaccination information. The idea is to make it quick and easy for individuals wishing to board flights or attend events to verify their vaccination status.

Stanley said any system that is exclusively digital would alienate individuals and communities without access to mobile devices or knowledge how to use them, such as senior and low-income people, or those with disabilities. “There are a lot of people who don’t have cellphones, especially some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Stanley told CNN. “Over 40% of people over 65 do not have smart phones, so any system must have a paper-based functionality or it’s a nonstarter.”

The ACLU recommends a system that’s primarily paper-based, but with a digital option, so that no one is left out.  “We don’t want people who can’t afford to have cellphones to be excluded from societal benefits,” Stanley said. “We want people to be able to go to concerts or private events even if they don’t own a cellphone.” Any passport system that tracks and records users’ whereabouts and actions is a bad idea, Stanley said.

Tired Of Lockdowns, UK To Treat Covid Like Seasonal Flu

Lockdowns will likely become a thing of the past once England emerges from restrictions in June, Professor Chris Whitty has said, as he suggested Britain will treat coronavirus like the flu in the future. England’s chief medical officer said the UK would have to learn to live with the virus, noting that up to 25,000 people can die in a bad flu year without the figure hitting the headlines. “It is clear we are going to have to manage it, at some point, rather like we manage the flu. Here is a seasonal, very dangerous disease that kills thousands of people and society has chosen a particular way round it,” he said.

Speaking at a Royal Society of Medicine webinar, said the government would only be forced to “pull the alarm cord” if a dangerous new strain suddenly started to spread, but that it was “not realistic” to think Covid variants could be kept out of the country. Whitty said the government’s ambition was to shrink Covid deaths to the lowest level possible, but warned that society would not tolerate sweeping restrictions to prevent similar numbers of deaths to those from seasonal flu.

“We need to work out some balance which actually keeps it at a low level, minimises deaths as best we can, but in a way that the population tolerates, through medical countermeasures like vaccines and in due course drugs, which mean you can minimise mortality while not maximising the economic and social impacts on our fellow citizens.”

Boris Johnson has repeatedly stated that his roadmap for leaving lockdown will provide a “cautious but irreversible” path to “reclaiming our freedoms”. The rapid rollout of the UK’s largest vaccination programme has begun to bear fruit in pushing down infections, hospitalisations and deaths from coronavirus.

Daily Covid cases in the UK have plummeted in recent months from a record 81,570 on 29 December to 4,479 in the past 24 hours. Deaths and hospitalisations have also fallen dramatically, with the number of patients currently in hospital with Covid at just 10 per cent the level of the peak of the second wave. Today was the 18th day in a row that the UK has recorded coronavirus-related deaths in the double digits, marking a dramatic drop from 19 January when 1,362 Covid fatalities were reported in a single day.

India Now Holds World Record For Fastest Road Construction

Union minister Nitin Gadkari said on Friday that India holds the world record for fastest road construction. “We made three world records in March. India now holds world record for fastest road construction. We made it to Guinness World Records by building a 2.5 km 4-lane concrete road within 24 hours. We also built 1-lane 25-km bitumen Solapur-Bijapur road within 24 hours,” the minister said, reported ANI.

In February, Patel Infrastructure Limited, an contractor of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) created a world record by laying the highest quantity of concrete on a four-lane highway in 24 hours. The record was set for laying of Pavement Quality Concrete (PQC) for a four-lane highway of 2,580 meters length within 24 hours. Starting at 8 am on 1 February, 2021, they finished the job, totalling 2,580 meters X 4 lanes i.e. approximately 10.32 lane kilometres by 8 am next morning. With a width of 18.75 meters, as much an area as 48,711 square meters of concrete was laid for the expressway in 24 hours. The highest quantity of concrete laid in 24 hours – 14,613 cubic meter was achieved. It was part of the greenfield Delhi-Vadodara-Mumbai 8-lane Expressway project.

Another NHAI contractor completed single lane of the four-lane stretch of 25.54 km being developed between Solapur-Vijapur (NH 52) in 18 hours. Hyderabad-based construction company IJM India carried out the construction work, according to media reports. “About 500 contractual workers worked hard for the project,” Gadkari said earlier.

The ministry of road transport and highways has constructed 13,394 km of highways in fiscal year 2020-21. Gadkari said that the pace of highways construction in the country has touched a record 37 km per day in financial year 2020-21.

“Tremendous progress has been achieved in building national highways across the country… These achievements are unprecedented and have no parallel in any other country in the world,” the minister mentioned. The achievement was remarkable as it was achieved despite constraints posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he further added.

“Cumulative cost of ongoing project works has increased by 54 per cent at the end of the financial year 2020-21, compared to the financial year 2019-20 (as on March 31),” the minister said.

OCI Cardholders Should Carry Both Old and New Passports, Though Not Required

Indian Americans have welcomed the Indian government’s recent announcement on Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card holders not needing to carry their old passports while traveling to India. On March 29, the Indian consulate in San Francisco circulated a press release that carried two announcements about the OCI card.

“The timeline for re-issuance of OCI cards in respect of OCI card holders, who may be required to get their OCI card re-issued, has been extended till 31 December 2021,” read the first announcement.  Earlier it was until June 31, 2021.

The second announcement was: “Henceforth, the OCI card holders traveling on the strength of their existing OCI card bearing old passport number are not required to carry their old passport. However, carrying of the new passport is mandatory along with the OCI card.”

Recently, there has been some confusion circulating among Indian Americans with regards to travel to India.

As per media reports, OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) cardholders transiting through third countries have been denied permission to board flights to India as those OCI cardholders were not carrying their old passport bearing its number on the OCI card.

The article said that it was mandatory to carry both the old and new passports in case the OCI cardholders are traveling on the strength of the OCI card bearing the old passport number in it.

On March 26, the Consulate General of India’s office in San Francisco issued a press release, which stated the following: “Henceforth, the OCI card holders traveling on the strength of their existing OCI card bearing old passport number are not required to carry their old passport. However, carrying of new passport is mandatory along with the OCI card.”

Even though the Indian Ministry of External Affairs would be informing immigration officers around the world about this new regulation, there was still a slight chance that some officer in some country who was not up to speed on this new regulation, could create a problem.

Based on this, it would be wise to carry both passports to avoid any such situation when traveling to India. On the matter of re-issuance of the OCI card, the guidelines for the renewal are as follows:

  • OCI card is required to be re-issued each time a new passport is required by the cardholder up to the age of 20 years. This is requested due to the changes in appearance of the cardholder during their growth years.
  • Between the ages of 20 and 50, no re-issuance of the OCI card is required by the cardholder at the time of renewal of passport.
  • However, when the cardholder reaches the age of 50, the OCI card needs to be re-issued just once at the time of renewing the cardholder’s passport.

In order to further ease the travel of OCI cardholders to India, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that the timeline for re-issuance of OCI cards in respect of OCI cardholders who may be required to get their OCI card re-issued, has been extended till Dec. 31, 2021. The previous deadline was June 30, 2021.

Fully Vaccinated Americans Can Travel

Americans who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can safely travel at home and abroad, as long as they take basic precautions like wearing masks, federal health officials announced on Friday, a long-awaited change from the dire government warnings that have kept many millions home for the past year.

In announcing the change at a White House news conference, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressed that they preferred that people avoid travel. But they said growing evidence of the real-world effectiveness of the vaccines — which have been given to more than 100 million Americans — suggested that inoculated people could do so “at low risk to themselves.”
The shift in the C.D.C.’s official stance comes at a moment of both hope and peril in the pandemic. The pace of vaccinations has been rapidly accelerating across the country, and the number of deaths has been declining.

Yet cases are increasing significantly in many states as new variants of the coronavirus spread through the country. Just last Monday, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, warned of a potential fourth wave if states and cities continued to loosen public health restrictions, telling reporters that she had feelings of “impending doom.”

Updated Information for Travelers
Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19. However, international travel poses additional risks and even fully vaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading new COVID-19 variants.
CDC recommends delaying international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

If you are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine:You should continue to follow CDC’s recommendations for traveling safely and get tested 3-5 days after travel.
You do NOT need to get tested before leaving United States unless your destination requires it.
You do NOT need to self-quarantine after arriving in the United States.
International Travel Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People

Have You Been Fully Vaccinated?
People are considered fully vaccinated:
2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine
If you don’t meet these requirements, you are NOT fully vaccinated. Keep taking all precautions until you are fully vaccinated.
If you have a condition or are taking medication that weakens your immune system, you may NOT be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated. Talk to your healthcare provider. Even after vaccination, you may need to continue taking all precautions.


Before you travel
oMake sure you understand and follow all airline and destination requirements related to travel, testing, or quarantine, which may differ from U.S. requirements. If you do not follow your destination’s requirements, you may be denied entry and required to return to the United States.
oCheck the current COVID-19 situation in your destination.
While you are traveling:
oWear a mask over your nose and mouth. Masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

oAvoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet/2 meters (about 2 arm lengths) from anyone who is not traveling with you.
oWash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
Before you arrive in the United States:
oAll air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 3 days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months before they board a flight to the United States.
After travel:
oGet tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel.
oSelf-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms; isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms.
oFollow all state and local recommendations or requirements after travel.

U.S. Tourism Sets Sights on a Hopeful 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it, severely affecting businesses across various industries. While some were able to survive with a shift to online sales and services, not every sector was as fortunate.

One of the most affected industries was tourism, and in the past year, it has struggled to bounce back from a dismal 2020, which saw a massive decline in tourist arrivals in and out of America. However, tourism in the U.S. may be on the rise again sooner than previously thought.

Tourism in Pandemic-Stricken America

Limitations on travel have severely affected our pandemic-stricken country. The statistics are astounding, surpassing even the impact on the travel industry after 9/11, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). As a result, tourism across the country is affected across different levels and state lines.

Popular destinations like California and New York have polarized projections. While California is expected to recover more quickly than the rest of the country thanks to strong fiscal relief and the waning pandemic, tourism in New York paints a very different picture. Highly anticipated events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, and the New Year’s Eve ball drop saw a significant reduction in spectators, leading to a glum outlook. This leaves many wondering when pre-pandemic levels will be restored.

Las Vegas is another major tourist spot that was not spared from the effects of COVID-19, susceptible to the same sudden drop in visitors between 2019 and 2020. Fortunately, things are starting to look up for the city and its hotels a year after the pandemic gripped the country. As the number of COVID-19 cases drops and more people are vaccinated, fewer restrictions address much of the pent-up demand. Casino floors and restaurants can now operate at 50% capacity as large gatherings capped at half the limit can also take place.

The newfound attraction to Las Vegas is not only due to the confidence in lower COVID-19 cases and its respective recovery. It also helps that there’s a diverse range of tourist attractions here, to begin with, as highlighted by this list of things to do in Sin City by Poker.org. The Strip is home to resorts like the Aria, Bellagio, and the Venetian – all iconic destinations in their own right. You’ll also find well-loved restaurants like Peppermill that are absolutely worth the visit. Exploring Vegas goes beyond the city lights as tourists can also take in the majestic views of Red Rock Canyon. These attractions are just some of the highlights that visitors can enjoy when in Nevada as the COVID-19 outlook continues to look even more promising in the coming months.

As some tourist hotspots like Vegas boast a positive path to recovery, others are still very much clouded in uncertainty. States such as Florida and equally sunny Hawaii fall somewhere in the middle, with more than half of Hawaiians opposing the return of tourists while others seek to encourage more movement in tourism.

What’s Next for Tourism in the U.S.?

  • The varying states of progress in these tourist hotspots illustrate how the fight against COVID-19 still has a long way to go, especially when it comes to the tourism industry. However, there is one fact present in all these examples: Progress is well underway. The Biden administration’s goal to vaccinate 100 million peoplein the first quarter provides much needed support for local businesses, especially smaller-sized enterprises. Whether you’re a local hotel hoping for guests or a restaurant that needs diners, there is a silver lining yet to be reached akin to Vegas’ impressive and optimistic trajectory.SAG top honours for ‘Chicago 7’ sets up intriguing Oscar raceThe Trial Of The Chicago 7 — Aaron Sorkin’s 1969 courtroom drama for Netflix — was judged the year’s best performance by a motion picture cast at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards for film and television on Sunday. Starring the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Frank Langella and Mark Rylance, it marked the first time a film from any streaming service won the guild’s ensemble award.
  • The win now strengthens the film’s case for the Oscars (April 25). This even as modern recession-era movie Nomadlandgrabbed many of the pre-Oscar awards, including the Golden Globes.
  • The SAG awards though remain a key predictor of Oscar glory, where actors form the largest voting bloc. FYI: Last year, South Korea’s Parasitebegan its historic charge to the Best Picture Oscar by winning SAG’s top prize.
  • Also:For the first time in SAG awards’ 27-year history, all four of the winning film actors were people of colour. The late Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis picked up the best actor and best actress awards, respectively, for jazz period film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
  • And while Daniel Kaluuya won best supporting actor for portraying Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah, South Korea’s Yuh-jung Youn won best supporting actress for Minari, an immigrant tale set in 1980s Arkansas.

Ship Stuck In Egypt’s Suez Canal Rescued, Reopening Waterway Trade

The colossal cargo ship that became stuck on the banks of Egypt’s Suez Canal last week, blocking traffic through the crucial waterway, was finally freed from the shoreline by engineers on Monday afternoon.

The so-called Ever Given, a 224,000-ton, 1,300-foot-long container ship registered in Panama, was “successfully refloated” and its course straightened at around 3 p.m. local time, after engineers spent days trying to pull the fully laden vessel with tugboats, according to statements from Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority and stakeholders.

Some 30,000 cubic-meters of sand was dredged to help dislodge the Ever Given, along with the deployment of 11 harbor tugs and two seagoing tugs. The Suez Canal was no longer jammed as the massive vessel was towed to a location outside the channel for further inspection, according to Boskalis Westminster, the parent company of the Dutch salvage firm hired to extract the ship.

“I’m extremely proud of the outstanding job done by the team on site as well as the many SMIT Salvage and Boskalis colleagues back home to complete this challenging operation under the watchful eye of the world,” Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis Westminster, said in a statement Monday. “The time pressure to complete this operation was evident and unprecedented.”

The Ever Given “will be repositioned to the Great Bitter Lake,” located halfway between the northern and southern ends of the Suez Canal, “for an inspection of its seaworthiness,” according to Evergreen Marine Corp., the Taiwanese firm that is leasing the chartered vessel.
“The outcome of that inspection will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service,” Evergreen Marine Corp. said in a statement Monday. “Once the inspection is finalized, decisions will be made regarding arrangements for cargo currently on board.”

Suez Canal Authority Chairman Osama Rabie was expected to announce the resumption of navigation through the canal on Monday evening.
The Ever Given, which is almost the size of the Empire State Building, was on its way from China to the Netherlands when it ran aground last Tuesday morning near the southern end of the 120-mile-long artificial waterway that slices through Egypt’s northeast corner. The Suez Canal Authority said a sandstorm and high winds had caused poor navigation and low visibility.

Shipping traffic came to a complete halt while the vessel remained stuck sideways across the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest trade routes that provides the shortest maritime link for goods traveling from Asia to Europe by connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
Shoei Kisen Kaisha, the Japanese company that owns the Ever Given, said in a statement last Thursday that it was working with local authorities in the North African country to resolve the situation, which was proving “extremely difficult.”

“We sincerely apologize for causing a great deal of worry to ships in the Suez Canal and those planning to go through the canal,” the company added. As the blockage neared the one-week mark, there were growing concerns over how it could impact the global economy and supply chains. About 12% of the world’s trade volume passes through the Suez Canal, including approximately 1.9 billion barrels of oil per day.

Travel’s Dramatic Losses in 2020

The decline in travel due to COVID-19 has devastated our economy and torn at the very fabric of our society. Our economy suffered shocking impact—nearly $500 billion in lost travel spending, resulting in $64 billion in missed federal, state, and local tax revenue since the beginning of March.
Around the world, international arrivals are estimated to have dropped to 381 million in 2020, down from 1.461 billion in 2019 — a 74 percent decline. In countries whose economies are heavily reliant on tourism, the precipitous drop in visitors was, and remains, devastating.
According to recent figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the decline in international travel in 2020 resulted in an estimated loss of $1.3 trillion in global export revenues. As the agency notes, this figure is more than 11 times the loss that occurred in 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis.
Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for one out of every 10 jobs around the world. In many places, though, travel plays an even greater role in the local economy.
Consider the Maldives, where in recent years international tourism has accounted for around two-thirds of the country’s G.D.P., when considering direct and indirect contributions.
As lockdowns fell into place worldwide, international arrivals in the Maldives plunged; from April through September of 2020, they were down 97 percent compared to the same period in 2019. Throughout all of 2020, arrivals were down by more than 67 percent compared with 2019. (Arrival numbers slowly improved after the country reopened in July; the government, eager to promote tourism and mitigate losses, lured travelers with marketing campaigns and even courted influencers with paid junkets.)
This Fact Sheet provides key travel data, which showcases the dramatic losses suffered by the travel industry in 2020.
For more details, read: https://www.ustravel.org/research/fact-sheet-travels-dramatic-losses-2020

India’s Golden Chariot Luxury Train Resumes From Bengaluru

The Golden Chariot luxury train to tourist destinations and heritage sites across south India resumed from Bengaluru after a four year break, an official said on Sunday.

“The 6-coach luxury train chugged off from Yesvantpur station in the city with South Western Railway General Manager A.K. Singh flagging it off,” Bengaluru Divisional Manager A.K. Verma told IANS.

In its first-round trip, christened ‘the Pride of Karnataka’, the train will cover Bandipur national park, Mysuru, Halebidu, Chikkamagaluru as well as Goa in 6 days and 7 nights.

The week-long journey also takes passengers to Unesco world heritage sites of Badami caves, Pattadakal temples and Hampi palace ruins in the state’s northwest region before returning to Bengaluru.

“Though the train has capacity to carry 48 passengers in single and double cabins in 6 coaches, about 30 of them are travelling in this trip, occupying single and double cabins,” said Verma.

In its second-round trip, christened ‘Jewels of South India’ from March 21, the train will chug through Mysuru to Mahabalipuram, Thanjavur and Chettinad in Tamil Nadu and Kochi in Kerala, including its backwaters in 3 nights and 4 days.

The ticket fare for deluxe cabin is Rs 3,20,130 for 2 persons and Rs 2,40,100 for a single passenger.

The package includes onboard meals, transport for sightseeing, entrance fee to all tourist sites covered in the trip and charge of guides.

Launched originally by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) in partnership with the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) in 2008, the former took over the operations of the train in 2020.

“The train offers travellers an opportunity to experience the historical, architectural and scenic beauty of South India in the comfort of luxurious amenities and international service standards,” said the IRCTC in a statement.

The renovated and refurbished luxury coaches boast of complimentary WiFi and OTT streaming onboard, choice of Indian and international cuisine, and wines.

The service includes cultural shows by artistes onboard.

Each of the 6 coaches are named after dynasties that ruled south India over the centuries.

Each coach has 4 cabins with a mix of 30 twin beds and 13 doubles beds. One cabin has been designed for specially-abled.

Two restaurants — Ruchi and Nalapaka — serve delicious meals while ‘Madira’ bar serves choicest of beers, spirits and wines.

Arogya, the spa-cum-fitness center offers traditional Ayurvedic therapies with modern workout machines. (IANS)

Blackstone, Starwood Capital Team Up in $6 Billion Purchase of Extended Stay

Blackstone Group Inc. and Starwood Capital Group have agreed to acquire hotel owner and operator Extended Stay America Inc. for $6 billion, a bet that a rare bright spot for the lodging industry during Covid-19 can shine brighter as the U.S. emerges from the pandemic.

The companies provided details of the deal, which real-estate executives say is the largest sale in the hotel sector during the Covid-19 period earlier this week.

As bookings plunged across the U.S. hotel industry over the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Extended Stay, which specializes in economy temporary housing for healthcare professionals, proved stronger than its peers.

Private equity company Blackstone’s and investment firm Starwood’s cash offer of $19.50 per share represents a premium of 15.1% to Extended Stay’s share closing price on Friday.

Shares of Extended Stay, which owns and operates 650 hotels in the United States, rose more than 17% before the opening bell.

“Extended Stay has demonstrated resilience over the past year despite persistent challenges due to government lockdowns and travel restrictions,” said Barry Sternlicht, chief executive officer of Starwood Capital.

“We are excited about the company’s growth opportunity as restrictions ease.”

Extended Stay’s stock has more than doubled in the past 12 months, outperforming its larger peers Marriott and Hilton which gained between 60% and 65%.

Extended Stay is a midprice hotel chain that focuses on lodging for guests interested in staying for weeks or longer, offering kitchen facilities and more space than a typical hotel room. During the pandemic, its rooms and suites attracted essential workers, healthcare professionals and others who needed to travel.

That business helped Extended Stay achieve a 74% occupancy rate last year, Blackstone said. The average occupancy rate across all U.S. hotels was 44%, according to hotel data-tracking firm STR.

Will COVID-19 Vaccine Passports Be The Next Must For All Travelers?

In a move welcomed by many of Europe’s traumatized travel destinations, the European Union’s leadership is considering a digital health pass that would allow E.U. citizens who have received a COVID-19 vaccine to travel for work or tourism.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, tweeted that the goal of such a “Digital Green Pass” is to provide “proof that a person has been vaccinated; results of tests for those who couldn’t get a vaccine yet; [and] info on COVID-19 recovery” enabling residents to move safely within the E.U. and abroad.

Israel, which has successfully vaccinated 39% of its population, has already implemented a similar program, called a “green pass” that allows the vaccinated access to gyms, concerts and restaurants, while Denmark has already announced its own plans to introduce a digital health passport.

There are also several private-sector and non-government digital health passports already being rolled out, including the IATA Travel Pass, which was developed by the International Air Transport Association for travellers. Another getting significant traction is CommonPass, developed by The Commons Project Foundation, a non-profit that builds digital data platforms for public good, which will be used by Jet Blue, Lufthansa and United in coming weeks. The organization is also in talks with hotels, concert venues and sports leagues in the United States.

The idea is not without controversy, particularly among human rights activists, data protection advocates and countries with limited access to vaccines. Nonetheless, vaccine passports, if implemented well, offer one of the fastest routes to controlling the coronavirus while shoring up economies devasted by COVID-induced restrictions. Should the rest of the world catch up?

Where would vaccine passports be used?

The tourism industry is the most eager to put them into practice. Airlines such as Qantas are already demanding proof of vaccination or recovery for international flights; so too are certain cruise lines. Spain and Greece, whose tourism-dependent economies desperately need a robust summer travel season, are considering opening up travel corridors with the U.K. and Israel, respectively, to citizens who can prove their vaccination status.

There are applications beyond travel as well: Universities could open up with confidence knowing that their students are vaccinated, employers could start hiring again, movie theaters and concert venues could once again open their doors.

How would vaccine passports work?

Typically, they will entail an app that users can show officials to prove their status. The CommonPass app notifies users of entry rules, such as a vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test, then helps verify that they have met the requirements, either by connecting with the relevant clinic, health authority or pharmacy that provided the service, or by having the consumer download test results or vaccination information to their phone. The data itself is not stored on the user’s phone; instead the app generates a QR code that can be scanned just like a digital boarding pass, confirming that the customer has met the requirements. Customers without smart phones can print out the confirmation codes instead.

Unlike country- or industry-specific digital health apps, CommonPass does not set the rules. It allows gatekeepers to set their own parameters, whether they are specific test providers, authorized vaccination clinics or recovery criteria, and provides the platform to ensure they are met. “Ultimately, what we’re really building is a common trust network,” says CEO Paul Meyer — an internationally recognized registry of verified health organizations, so that a country or venue can be confident that their specific needs are met.

I have a paper that says I am vaccinated. Shouldn’t that be enough proof?

It’s true that countries in Africa and Asia have long demanded proof of vaccination against yellow fever and other diseases from visitors. But the “yellow card’ used for verification is easy to forge and hard to replace (getting an additional vaccine is often easier than getting a new card, even if it’s not medically advised).

Having these kinds of vaccine “cards” for COVID-19 would be even more complicated. With great demand and limited supplies of vaccines, the potential for fraud is high. So too is the possibility of confusion: there are multiple vaccines currently in use globally, with more in the pipeline. And people who have already had the virus may, in the future, need different vaccine requirements.

Juggling those multiple criteria would present a major challenge for immigration officials, airline check-in counters and other doorkeepers. Governments may want travel and commerce to resume as quickly as possible, says Meyer. But their first obligation is to the health and safety of their populations. “If everyone’s wandering around with pieces of paper in random languages about some test they allegedly got on the other side of the planet, it’s hard to make the decision to open up,” he says. “What a universally recognized health pass achieves is confidence that the person who wants to come into my country is the same person who actually got that vaccine. I know what kind of vaccine it was, and how long ago. I know what kind of test was given, and that was it from a reputable lab instead of some fly by night clinic that happened to have a printer.”

How long will it take before vaccine passports are widespread?

A couple of months at least. European nations like Spain and Greece are hoping to have systems set up in time for the summer travel season, but it will take time to get all the regulations in place.

The bigger problem in the E.U. is access to vaccines. The United States says it will have enough vaccines for its entire population by end of May, and the United Kingdom anticipates that all over-50s will be vaccinated by that time. But, due to the slow rollout of vaccines on the continent, it won’t be until September that E.U. citizens will be in a similar position, long after the peak holiday season. This summer could resemble something out of an E. M. Forster novel, with vaccine-rich Americans and Brits taking over southern Europe’s holiday hotspots, while locals are forced to stay at home.

That disparity could actually lead to an increase in cases, says Francisco Femenia-Serra, a tourism specialist at Nebrija University’s Social Sciences School in Madrid. While vaccines stave off severe COVID-19 cases in vaccinated individuals, it is not yet clear if they can prevent transmission. “We will have tourists who are protected by the vaccine, and that is important, but what about local communities? If our tourism and hospitality industry workers are not protected it could be another disaster.”

Isn’t it unfair to require vaccine passports when not everyone can get one, or wants to get one?

That’s the argument of countries like France and Germany, and organizations such as the World Health Organization, who say that health passes tied to vaccinations will increase inequality until everyone has an opportunity to get vaccinated. The U.K’s Equality and Human Rights Commission says vaccine requirements for travel or access to venues could lead to “unlawful discrimination.” Belgium’s acting foreign minister, Sophie Wilmès, tweeted that while the idea of a standardized European vaccine verification system was a good one, there should be “no question of linking vaccination to the freedom of movement around Europe. Respect for the principle of non-discrimination is more fundamental than ever since vaccination is not compulsory and access to the vaccine is not yet generalised.”

The proposed health passes will likely increase inequality, says Anthony Dworkin, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, but they will still be vital for economies reeling from lockdowns and travel restrictions: “Some element of unfairness is the price we will have to pay for a kind of partial reopening.”

Ok, I’m fully vaccinated, I downloaded the app, and I’ve booked my tickets. Can I throw away my mask?

Nope. Even with health passports in hand, social distancing measures will still have to stay in place for a long while yet. Not everyone can or will get the vaccine, and the risk of new variants looms large. Until vaccines are universally available, that means even holiday hotspots will have to ensure that venues are well-ventilated, patrons wear masks, and everyone keeps washing their hands.

“A vaccine passport alone won’t bring us back to normal,” says Femenia-Serra. “It’s just one small step towards healing the economic devastation [in the tourism sector]. A passport or a negative test shouldn’t be an excuse to do whatever I want. Once I get to wherever I am going, I still need to behave in the right way. Because if we don’t, there is another disaster waiting for us after the summer is over.”

Tata, Spicejet now in the fray for Air India

Tata Group and private airline Spicejet remain in the fray for buying Air India as all the other bids have been rejected, according to sources close to the development.

Bids by others have been rejected after the evaluation of the expressions of interest (EoI) where multiple bids were received.

The transaction advisors have been in touch with the interested bidders regarding several queries and the qualified bidders will be intimated only after the government is satisfied with the responses from the bidders.

Apart from Tata Sons and Spicejet, Tata Sons and the New York-based Interups Inc backed by strategic NRI investors from the US and Europe are said to be the interested bidders for the national carrier.

DIPAM Secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey had earlier said that the government has received multiple expressions of interest for the strategic disinvestment of Air India.

The process has been divided into two stages. In stage one, expressions of interest have been submitted by the interested bidders and they will be shortlisted based on the eligibility criteria and other terms mentioned in the Preliminary Information Memorandum (PIM).

In stage two, the shortlisted interested bidders will be provided with a request for proposal (RFP) and thereafter there will be a transparent bidding process.

A group of 209 employees of Air India had also put in a bid. Essar and Pavan Ruia of Dunlop and Falcon Tyres had also put in bids for Air India.

After several years of heavy financial losses and complaints of poor quality services by passengers, AIR INDIA, the national carrier is likely to return to its original owners, the Tata Group of Companies. Tata Group, who has been in the aviation sector for a long time, has expressed a keen interest in taking over Air India for quite some time now. .

The Tata group has already begun due diligence and is likely to put in a formal bid soon, close to the deadline.  Air India Express, a low-cost subsidiary of the airline and the Air India’s real estate assets; a part of the airline will also be on sale.

Tata sons holds a 51% stake in AirAsia India. Tata Group also has a joint venture in the airline business by the name Vistara.  Thereafter, if the Tata bid is deemed accepted, the 90 day period for handover shall commence and end by November 30 or at the most, by December 31. So, one possible scenario is for Tata to take control of Air India by January 1, 2021.

While the other bidders are not known yet, globally, airlines are under severe stress due to the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant disruption on air travel and tourism. Tata is widely believed to emerge as the sole bidder for Air India and the salt to software conglomerate is likely to place a bid before August 31, the last date for bids for Air India, which the government has repeatedly said it will not be extended. According to reports, the Tata group has already begun due diligence and is likely to put in a formal bid soon.

On the ensuing structure for the airline business, there is speculation that Tata is planning to merge its existing stake in AirAsia with Air India into a single entity. Air India has been passing through a critical financial condition from much before the Covid-19 onslaught. The crippling effect of the pandemic, especially in the aviation sector, has further brought its finances to a precarious position. Recently, its pilots and other employees are on the warpath as Air India has laid off employees and started a Leave Without Pay (LWP) scheme.

From Tata Airlines and Air India to Vistara and AirAsia India, the Tata group has been an important part of the growing aviation sector in India. From Tata Air Lines and the long-since nationalised Air India to strategic joint ventures with AirAsia Berhad and Singapore Airlines (SIA) for AirAsia India and Vistara, respectively, Tata has been present in the aviation sector. The two joint venture airlines operate independently with their respective business models – low-cost (AirAsia) and full-service (Vistara).

 

Air-India began operating in 1932 as Tata Airlines, named after J. R. D. Tata, its founder. The line carried mail and passengers between the Indian cities of Ahmadabad, Bombay, Bellary, and Madras, and Karachi, Pakistan. Within a few years Tata Airlines’ routes included the Indian cities of Trivandrum, Delhi, Colombo (in Sri Lanka), Lahore, and other locations in between.

In 1946, at the conclusion of World War II, the airline became a public company and was renamed Air-India Limited. In just two years, with the government having a 49 percent share in the company, the airline was flying further outside of India, with regular flights to Cairo, Geneva, and London. The line’s name changed again to reflect its new scope of operations, becoming Air-India International Limited. Now, after several decades, the ownership is likely to return to the Tata Group, who had started the airline, now known as AIR INDIA.

India Issues New Guidelines For International Arrivals

The Government of India has refreshed its guidelines for international arrival in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with a specific focus on those arriving from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa.

 

Which international passengers are these new guidelines applicable to?

 

These new Standard Operating Procedures are applicable for all incoming international travelers coming in from the UK, Brazil or South Africa transiting through flights originating from the UK, Europe and Middle East. The broader categorization for these locations has been done because there are no direct flights between India, and Brazil and South Africa; and most of the passengers arriving from these countries arrive through transiting flights from Europe or Middle East.

 

What are the guidelines for international passengers arriving from these places?

 

In addition to the usual procedures of filing out a self-declaration form and submitting it on the Air Suvidha portal at http://www.newdelhiairport.in, those arriving on flights from the UK, Europe and the Middle East will have to get an RT-PCR test done prior to their flight and will be mandatorily subjected to self-paid confirmatory molecular tests on arrival at the Indian port of entry. If the outcome of these tests at the airport is negative, the passengers have to undergo home quarantine for seven days and then get re-tested. If they again test negative, they must self-monitor their health for another seven days. However, in case they test positive at any stage after arrival, they will be put in isolation and the treatment protocols will be applicable.

 

What do passengers needs to keep in mind?

 

For passengers taking onward flights to smaller airports after arriving at one of the international hubs in India like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kochi, etc it will be mandatory to declare their final destination while filling out the self-declaration form prior to taking the flight. Upon arrival at the port of entry, like all other passengers in this category, they will have to go through the mandatory self-paid confirmatory molecular tests, and will be allowed on their connecting flights only if they test negative. Therefore, the government has recommended that for all those taking connecting flights within India, there should be a gap of at least 6-8 hours between the two flights. For example, if someone taking a flight from Johannesburg to Ranchi via Dubai and Delhi, there should be at least 6-8 hours of time between the flight arriving into Delhi from Dubai and the one departing from Delhi to Ranchi.

 

How will passengers arriving from Brazil, the UK and South Africa be identified?

 

The government has asked airlines to identify the international travellers arriving from or transiting through United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa (during past 14 days) and segregate them in-flight or while disembarking to facilitate the authorities to follow the due protocol in respect of these travellers. The immigration officers of these airports will also ensure identification of travellers from their passports, who originated or transited from the UK, Brazil and South Africa during past 14 days.

 

What about other international passengers?

 

For other passengers not falling in this category, the rules remain the same and they will be subject to the existing exemptions and quarantine norms upon arrival. However, all those who came in contact of travelers arriving from UK, South Africa and Brazil who test positive (either at the airport or subsequently during home quarantine period), shall be subjected to institutional quarantine in separate quarantine centers and would be tested on the seventh day (or earlier if develop symptoms). These will supersede all guidelines issued since August 2, 2020.

 

“This Standard Operating Procedure shall be valid w.e.f. 22nd February 2021 (23.59 Hrs IST) till further orders,” the Ministry of Civil Aviation said in a statement on Wednesday.

The guideines have been divided in three sections based on the origin of travel.

All international travellers except those coming through flights originating from United Kingdom, Europe and Middle East will be required to submit a self-declaration form on the online ‘Air Suvidha’ portal before the scheduled travel.

 

They would also need to upload a negative Covid-19 RT-PCR test report. This test should have been conducted within 72 hours prior to undertaking the journey.

 

“Each passenger shall also submit a declaration with respect to authenticity of the report and will be liable for criminal prosecution, if found otherwise,” the guidelines said.

According to the guidelines, all international travellers coming or transiting through flights originating from the United Kingdom, Europe and Middle East have to additionally submit a Self-Declaration Form (SDF) for Covid on the online ‘Air Suvidha’ portal before the scheduled travel and will be required to declare their travel history of the past 14 days.

 

“While filling SDF, apart from providing all other information required in the SDF, passengers need to select: Whether they plan to disembark at the arrival airport or take further flights to reach their final destination in India.”

 

“Based on this selection, the receipt of SDF will display ‘T’ (Transit) in easily readable and bigger font than other text. The passengers will need to display this receipt to the state authority or government officials at the airport for segregation.”

 

As per the guidelines, travelers from the UK, Brazil and South Africa taking connecting flights from the international airport they land at will have to give a sample at designated area and exit the airport only after confirmation of negative test report which may take 6-8 hours.

 

“Those transit travelers from UK, Brazil and South Africa who are found negative on testing at the airport shall be allowed to take their connecting flights and would be advised quarantine at home for 7 days and regularly followed up by the concerned state or district IDSP. These travelers shall be tested after 7 days and if negative, released from quarantine, and continue to monitor their health for a further 7 days.” (IANS)

Florida Hoteliers Play Offense Against Human Trafficking

As Tampa prepares to host the Super Bowl this weekend, Florida hoteliers remain committed to keeping human trafficking out of their hotels and their communities. Every year, thousands of football fans converge on the event’s host city in the runup to the game. Unfortunately, sex traffickers who exploit the most vulnerable in our society are all too eager to bring their illicit enterprise to the party. That is why hotel owners are going on offense to protect their guests, their employees, and trafficking victims by completing AAHOA’s Human Trafficking Awareness Trainings (HTAT). These trainings play a crucial role in empowering hoteliers and their employees to identify and respond to trafficking situations. Owners are keeping their guard up against traffickers even though the number of fans and attendees at this year’s Super Bowl will be significantly lower than in years past due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The sheer number of people at high-profile events like the Super Bowl are an attractive draw to human traffickers. These criminals prize anonymity and seek out low-profile locations to exploit their victims. That is why it is so important for hoteliers and their teams to understand what trafficking looks like and know how to respond if they see something amiss,” said AAHOA President & CEO Cecil P. Staton. “To date, thousands of hotel employees and owners across the country have completed AAHOA HTAT, and our recent training blitz across Florida could not have come at a better time.”

In December, AAHOA held the HTAT Florida Compliance Series to ensure its members in the sunshine state satisfied Florida’s human trafficking awareness training requirement that went into effect on Jan. 1. The Series, held in ten cities throughout the state, offered AAHOA members and their employees a free developed in partnership with Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST). Successful completion of the training, BEST Inhospitable to Human Trafficking Training sponsored by AAHOA, brings hotels into compliance with the mandate.

“Unfortunately, instances of trafficking are on the rise as criminals exploit people struggling with the multitude of hardships the pandemic imposes on our communities,” said Staton. “Hoteliers must remain vigilant, and AAHOA is proud to give them the tools they need to protect their guests and employees and, potentially, save lives.”

AAHOA is the largest hotel owners association in the world. The nearly 20,000 AAHOA members represent almost one in every two hotels in the United States. With billions of dollars in property assets and hundreds of thousands of employees, AAHOA members are core economic contributors in virtually every community. AAHOA is a proud defender of free enterprise and the foremost current-day example of realizing the American dream.

(Picture: Palm Beach Post)

Countries That Are Welcoming US Tourists Back

Once one of the world’s most powerful travel documents, the might of the US passport has been diminished during the pandemic. With US Covid-19 cases now beyond the 26 million mark, some nations continue to view American vacationers warily.

The current global pandemic has many Americans rethinking the way they travel. Road trips and camping vacations have grown in popularity, as many Americans have discovered the country has more than its fair share of stunning natural landscapes, from the Grand Canyon to Acadia National Park. Some people have even created memorable vacations in their backyards.

However, if you’re itching to leave the U.S., there are several countries around the world that will accept you (and your negative coronavirus test results), though some specific restrictions will apply. If you decide to travel, be sure to evaluate the risks and understand the safest ways to travel. You should also look out for yourself and others by taking necessary safety precautions and investing in one of the best face masks for travel.

Note that due to the pandemic, travel guidelines are constantly changing; you’ll want to check your destination’s official tourism website periodically before your trip. And, consider purchasing travel insurance, so you don’t lose money if your U.S. passport is no longer accepted at the last minute.

Below are the countries that currently accept travelers from the United States. If you decide to travel, you’ll also want to check with the State Department for information on returning from your visit as there are some restrictions in place, including specific airports you must transit through and quarantine rules in some cases. As of Jan. 26, the CDC requires all passengers traveling to the U.S. from a foreign country (including American citizens) to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before their flight. (Note: All mentions of coronavirus tests refer to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test unless otherwise stated. This information was accurate at the time of publication and will be updated as additional information becomes available.)

In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether travel to international destinations is a good idea. There are obvious health risks. Nations might change rules at any time. You may have to follow stricter curfews and mask mandates than Americans are used to. Violations could involve hefty fines and even jail time. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US State Department provide Covid-19 risk assessments by country.

Also, keep this in mind: All air passengers age 2 and older must show proof of a negative Covid-19 test that’s no more than 72 hours old to enter the United States. That includes US citizens returning from trips to other countries. Be sure to get information on testing sites in your destination for your return trip before you go. US embassies report some places are having trouble returning test results within the 72-hour window.

A current list of nations one can from USA is available at: https://travel.usnews.com/features/where-can-americans-travel-right-now

(Picture: LoveExloring)

Airlines Are Making it Easier for Travelers to Submit COVID-19 Tests

One of the most comprehensive COVID-19 travel regulations is now in effect, nearly a year into the pandemic. All travelers—including citizens—entering the U.S. need a negative COVID test in order to board a flight from an international destination. The screening must be a viral test taken within three days of departure, according to the protocols put in place by the CDC.

Airlines are responsible for verifying the medical documentation, and in some cases denying boarding to those without proper test results. As a result, carriers have adapted a slew of new technologies to streamline the new process.

United Airlines, for instance, launched a “Travel-Ready Center” on Monday. Available through United’s app and website, the new online hub is a “one-stop shop where customers can review their specific COVID-19 travel requirements for upcoming travel, find local testing options in select markets, and upload any testing or vaccination records,” the airline says. 

When a passenger uploads their test records to the Travel-Ready Center, United employees verify them electronically. After a passenger is deemed “travel-ready,” they are allowed to check in for their flight. Passengers who upload test results can be cleared for check-in and receive a mobile boarding pass all before arriving at the airport.

Later in February, United plans to launch a test-booking feature that would allow its passengers to make an appointment at one of more than 15,000 testing sites around the world. If the passenger tests negative and is able to travel based on the new protocols, the test provider will directly alert United.

Delta has similarly launched an online tool to help its passengers find acceptable testing centers around the world. Additionally, Delta is waiving change fees on international flights booked on or before January 12 (the day the new requirements were announced) if the ticket was originally scheduled for travel through February 16. 

The fee waiver is presumably so customers have more time to schedule a test before departure, but getting a test might be less time consuming than travelers think, thanks to some flexibility in the CDC requirements. “A new feature is the inclusion of rapid testing into the mix, so it doesn’t necessarily mean it only has to be a PCR test,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said on the airline’s recent earnings call. “And with the growth of antigen testing, the quality of antigen testing that’s out there, and the supplies in place, you literally could get some of these tests done within a 10-minute interval shortly before you return.”

American Airlines has also expanded a partnership with health passport app VeriFly: Passengers on all of American’s international flights can now download the app, choose their destination, and see their travel requirements. After uploading their COVID-19 test documents to the app, VeriFly will confirm the date and type of test, and send a QR code once approved for gate agents to scan.

Other airlines in the U.S. and around the world have been taking similar steps, even before the new CDC testing guidelines were announced. In December, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss, United, and Virgin Atlantic began to roll out the CommonPass app—which makes test results easy to read, similar to VeriFly—on certain routes from New York, Boston, London, and Hong Kong. Other international carriers, including heavy hitters like Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad, have signed on for customers to use a similar app: IATA Travel Pass.

The majority of airlines’ new online tools have capabilities for passengers to upload their vaccination status as well, which some experts have predicted could become the next travel requirement in order to board international flights. 

(Picture: Marketwatch) 

AIR INDIA Starts Non-Stop Flight From Chicago To Hyderabad

Now passengers traveling on Air India can fly direct to Hyderabad from Chicago’s O’hare Airport. The first-ever nonstop flight service between Chicago and Hyderabad launched on Jan 13. The new route is welcomed by passengers traveling from across the US to destinations in Southern and Central India.

“It’s very fortunate that the Indian Government arranged a direct flight from the US to Hyderabad. I came especially to Chicago to take this flight,” said Vijaya Mandeila who traveled from Houston to Chicago O’hare airport to take the maiden flight with his wife and two children.

Mandeila was among the first 238 passengers to board a full flight operated by the state-of-the-art Boeing 777-200LR aircraft offering eight first-class and 35 business class seats on Jan 13. Mandeila says that while he flies to India only once in two years, the new direct flight is very convenient. “The first port of entry will be Hyderabad, and all customs checks and luggage will directly go through Hyderabad instead of Delhi. It saves us time, especially when traveling with family and young children,” Mandeila said.

Air India’s direct flights from Chicago to Hyderabad will operate every Wednesday leaving Chicago at 2130 hrs. (local time) to arrive in Hyderabad at 0040 hrs with domestic connections to Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada, Kolkata, Bangalore. The return flight from Hyderabad to Chicago will operate weekly every Friday, departing from Hyderabad at 1250 hrs. and arrive in Chicago at 1805 hrs. (local time) on the same day.

Consul General Amit Kumar Commences Launch Ceremonies

The official launch of the first direct Air India flight from Chicago to Hyderabad commenced with a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by Consul General Amit Kumar at Chicago O’hare Airport on Jan 13. Amber Achilles Ritter, deputy commissioner Chicago Dept of Aviation; Benjamin Sipiora, O’Hare terminal manager for the City of Chicago; Chris Diaferio, executive director of The Chicago Airlines Terminal Consortium (CATCO), also participated in the ceremonies.

Hyderabad is the capital of southern India’s Telangana state, a significant center for India’s tech industry and a cultural melting pot with more than four dominant languages, including Urdu, Telugu, Tamil and Hindi.

Consul General Kumar stated that the new route builds connectivity between the US and India, facilitating commerce, trade, tourism and promoting people to people exchanges. Consul General Kumar took the opportunity to commend Air India for its support during the Vande Bharat Mission’s initial phases. “More than 45,000 people have traveled from Chicago as part of Vande Bharat Mission flights in over 160 flights last year. The Government has reached out to our citizens stranded across the world to facilitate a repatriation and outbound international travel of more than 47.2 lakh people under Vande Bharat Mission so far,” Kumar said in remarks after the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan 13.

Chicago to Hyderabad Direct Flight Receives Tremendous Community Response

Chris Diaferio, executive director of The Chicago Airlines Terminal Consortium (CATCO), which maintains and services the city-owned equipment that Air India uses, said he was delighted with the expansion and the ongoing commitment and partnership with Air India. “We are thrilled. We love Air India. We love that they continue to support their community with better options for travel. Air India has been here from the very start and is now adding more service, especially when there are continued challenges for the airline industry. We could not be more delighted,” Diaferio said.

Consul General Kumar also congratulated Air India and the team in Chicago headed by Vikash Shahal, airport manager and Sampath Jayasekar, senior sales assistant, on the expansion of Air India’s services in the USA. “We have received a tremendous response for this flight. It is very encouraging to see the amount of enthusiasm. We thank our passengers,” said Shahal. Sampath Jayasekar, senior sales assistant who is originally from Hyderabad, said that he felt proud that his native state of Hyderabad now has a direct flight to the US. “Our flight today is completely sold out, including first-class, business class and economy. We are getting an excellent response from the community. People from Andhra are especially excited about the new route. The nonstop flights to Hyderabad are full for the next three weeks,” Jayasekar said.

Passengers were offered a small token and special meals to commemorate the flight. Air India has also resumed offering full hot meals on board. A small group of community members participated in the launch’s diya lighting ceremony, followed by Ganesh aarti sung by Shreya Addanki. Mythri Addanki, Miss Telugu Universe 2020, was among the prominent youth who joined the launch event. “This is a momentous occasion and a big first step in how we are connecting Indians in the US and back home. I am Hyderabadi. I know we have a huge community here in Chicago and across the US. It’s a great way to make sure we are connected to our home, especially during Covid-19, when family is more important than ever,” said Addanki.

Sunil Shah, a prominent community leader and president of the Federation of India Associations (FIA) who attended the event, stated, “It’s an exciting moment for Chicago and Air India. I think so many people from Hyderabad will benefit from this flight. One more nonstop flight from Chicago will assist business travelers and people traveling back home.”

Neil Khot, Chicago area community leader said that while a nonstop flight from Chicago to Hyderabad is a big feather in the cap and will facilitate India’s economic and technological expansion between India and the US, he looks forward to Air India’s first direct flight to Mumbai.

CDC To Require All Air Travelers To US To Show Negative Coronavirus Test

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday it will require a negative Covid-19 test from all air passengers entering the United States — a move it says may help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Air passengers will be required to get a viral test within three days before their flight to the United States departs, and to provide written documentation of their lab results, or documentation of having recovered from Covid-19, the agency said in a statement to CNN.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield is expected to sign the order on Tuesday and it will go into effect on January 26. “Variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus continue to emerge in countries around the world, and there is evidence of increased transmissibility of some of these variants,” the CDC said in a statement. “With the US already in surge status, the testing requirement for air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public.” 


If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must not allow the passenger to board, the CDC said. “Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations,” Redfield said in the statement.

The new variant of coronavirus, which appears to be more transmissible, has already been found in at least 10 states in samples dating back to mid-December. An airline industry group has expressed support for the new measure.

“[We are] writing to express our support for a [CDC] proposal to control the spread of COVID-19, including variants of the virus, by implementing a global program to require testing for travelers to the United States,” the industry group Airlines for America wrote to Vice President Mike Pence on January 4.

The new rule is similar to one put in place last month for passengers from the UK to the US, which requires that passengers have a negative test within three days of boarding their flight. For the UK requirement that went through last month, airlines can be subject to criminal penalties if they fail to comply, and passengers can be subject to criminal penalties if they willfully give false or misleading information.

The earlier requirement for UK travelers was a response to a new coronavirus variant that was identified in the UK. While the variant appears to spread more easily, there’s no evidence that it’s any more deadly or causes more severe disease, according to CDC.

At least 72 cases of a variant first identified in the UK have been found in 10 US states, according to data posted Monday by the CDC. That includes at least 32 cases in California, 22 cases in Florida, five cases in Minnesota, four cases in New York, three cases in Colorado, two cases in Connecticut, and one case each in Texas, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Georgia.

The variant has been identified in dozens of countries worldwide.

Indians In UAE No Longer Need To Register With Embassy To Fly Back To Country

Air India Express announced that Indians in the UAE will no longer be needed to register with the Indian Embassy for travelling back to the nation.

Air India Express, on October 12, announced that Indians in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will no longer be needed to register with the Indian Embassy for travelling back to the nation. As part of the Air Bubble agreement between the two countries, the airline said that passengers travelling from UAE to India can book flights directly with Air India Express. 

Phase 7 of Vande Bharat Mission 

Last week, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) had said that the Vande Bharat Mission of the central government has brought back nearly 20 lakh employable Indians to the country from foreign shores. The Ministry of External Affairs had also informed that under the phase seven of the Vande Bharat Mission, which has been operational since October 1, 873 international flights have been scheduled from 25 countries to be operated during the course of October 2020. 

MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said that the Phase 7 mission include flights from among the 14 countries with which India has a bilateral ‘air bubble’ arrangement in place. He added that the air bubble agreement has been working satisfactorily. Further, Srivastava also said that the flights in phase 7 include Air India and Air India Express flights, private and foreign carriers, chartered flights, naval ships and land border crossings. 

(Picture Courtesy: Onmanorama)

Emirates Launches a Premium Economy Cabin

As the air travel industry attempts to find its footing after the holiday travel rush, Dubai-based airline Emirates has announced a welcome bit of good news: Its much-anticipated premium economy cabin has officially launched.

“While others cut back, Emirates is working hard to restore the products and services that we’ve had to suspend or adjust due to pandemic precautions, and introduce new offerings and enhancements,” Emirates CEO Tim Clark said in a statement.

The new premium economy cabin is located at the front of the double-decker plane’s main deck—or first level—and has 56 seats in a 2-4-2 layout. Each seat has 40 inches of pitch and is 19.5 inches wide. (Seats in its regular economy class have 32 to 34 inches of pitch and are 18 inches wide).

According to the carrier, Emirates premium economy seats emulate design elements found on its beloved business-class product. The new seats feature “cream-colored anti-stain leather with stitching details and a wood panel finishing,” an airline release said. Each seat also has a six-way adjustable headrest, calf rests, footrests, and an in-flight entertainment screen measuring 13.3 inches wide.

“Our First, Business and Economy experiences reset industry standards when they were introduced, and we are confident that our Premium Economy will also make its mark as a distinct premium offering,” Clark said.

The airline received its first Airbus A380 fitted with the new cabin class at the end of December. Five additional A380s with premium economy seats will be delivered throughout 2021 and 2022, in addition to being installed on a handful of the airline’s forthcoming Boeing 777X jets that will join Emirates’ all wide-body fleet in 2023. The carrier is also considering retrofitting its current A380 planes with the new premium cabin.

For now, Emirates premium economy seats on the single A380 will only be offered as a complimentary upgrade to certain customers “until we have a viable number of seats in our inventory,” Clark said. The airline has yet to announce which routes the new plane will fly, but Clark noted that the aircraft will be scheduled “on various routes so that our customers can experience our latest offering in all classes.” No additional service elements were announced, so the new cabin will likely have the same service standards as regular economy.

Other additions on board the new A380 include upgrades and refreshes to Emirates’ three other cabin classes, including wider and taller doors on the first-class suites; revamped flexible leather headrests in economy; refreshed design trims and modern fittings in the jet’s famous first-class shower spa; and a new color scheme for its business- and first-class bar lounge.

Both the shower spa and bar area have reopened to passengers as of October—with some COVID-19 safety tweaks, like drinks to-go from the bar to avoid congregation—after going on pause earlier in the pandemic.

To celebrate the premium economy cabin’s launch and entice bookings in the new year, Emirates is also having a fare sale, bookable through January 18 for travel through the end of May. Round-trip fares in economy between the U.S. and Africa start at $699, $909 to East and South East Asia, and $798 to Dubai; business-class fares start at $3,119 to the Middle East and $3,499 to Africa.

The carrier is allowing fee-free changes for up to two years after the original booking date on all trips for travel on or before June 30, 2021, as long as changes are to the same destination or within the same region in the same travel class. To find fares that are part of the sale, visit Emirates’ booking page.

(Courtesy: Travel & Leisure)

A Flight Of Firsts

Four of Air India’s most experienced women pilots took off from San Francisco (SFO) on  January 11th, (India time) for Bengaluru to operate the first-ever scheduled service between south India and the US. It is also the first time that an all-women cockpit crew of an Indian carrier flew over the North Pole.

“This will be the longest commercial flight in the world to be operated by Air India or any other airline in India…The total flight time on this route will be of more than 17 hours depending on the wind speed on that particular day,” Air India said in a statement. The direct distance between the two cities at opposite ends of the world is 13,993 km, with a time zone change of around 13.5 hours, an Air India official said. 

The four record-setting pilots operating the almost 18-hour AI 176 that was scheduled to reach Bengaluru (BLR) early morning today are captains Zoya Aggarwal, Papagari Thanmai, Akansha Sonaware and Shivani Manhas. They are flying a Boeing 777 200 (long range or LR) VT-ALG that is named ‘Kerala’. The SFO airport wore the Indian flag colours to celebrate this occasion. 

Bengaluru-SFO shortest flight distance is over 14,000 km, about 1,000 km more than Delhi-SFO. Very often airlines take longer routes to get tail winds and avoid headwinds. Kerala, for instance, took the longer Pacific route from Delhi to SFO on Wednesday with the same set of four pilots. The inaugural to Bengaluru came back via over the North Pole — getting tail winds on both sectors.

“Air India’s woman power flies high around the world,” Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said on Twitter. “All women cockpit crew consisting of Capt Zoya Aggarwal, Capt Papagari Thanmai, Capt Akansha Sonaware & Capt Shivani Manhas will operate the historic inaugural flight between Bengaluru & San Francisco,” Mr. Puri said.

Flight AI176 will depart from San Francisco in the U.S. at 8.30 p.m. (local time) on Saturday, and land at the Kempegowda International Airport at 3.45 a.m. (local time) on Monday. “Captain Zoya Aggarwal is an accomplished pilot with a flying experience of more than 8000 hrs and command experience in a B-777 aircraft of more than 10 years and more than 2500 flying hours,” the national carrier said.

The flight will operate with a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft VT ALG with a seating capacity of 238 seats, including eight First Class, 35 Business Class, 195 Economy class configuration, besides four cockpit and 12 cabin crew, Air India said. 

Almost fully booked

The first ever direct flight between the two tech hubs is almost fully booked — 225 out of 238 seats — despite the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns over air travel. 

The flight, which has long been in the pipeline, will be the first direct non-stop flight between the west coast of the United States and southern India. Given the significant population of south Indians in San Francisco, home to the Silicon Valley, a direct flight has been a long-pending demand. 

The biweekly flight will take off to San Francisco from Bengaluru on Mondays and Thursdays, and leave San Francisco for Bengaluru on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Risks Of Flying in Covid Times

In the past, research into outbreaks on airplanes focused on flights that took place last spring, when planes were full, passengers mostly didn’t wear masks and preventive measures weren’t broadly understood. A new study, however, examined a more recent outbreak on a flight that put numerous containment measures in place — and the results were not great for travellers.

In September, an outbreak occurred aboard a flight from Dubai to Auckland, New Zealand. The 86 passengers onboard went into a mandatory 14-day quarantine in New Zealand, and seven eventually tested positive. Researchers at the New Zealand Ministry of Health found that at least four were infected on the flight.

The aircraft, a Boeing 777-300ER, with a capacity of nearly 400 passengers, was only 25% full and the four people infected in flight were seated within four rows of one another during the 18-hour trip.

The in-flight outbreak occurred when additional precautions were in place and passengers were more cautious. But researchers still identified a number of holes. Two of the four people infected on the plane said they didn’t wear masks on the flight. The airline also did not require passengers to wear masks in the lobby before boarding or be tested preflight.

Previous studies on the risk of infection during air travel are mixed (airplane filtration systems are thought to help, even when a passenger is infected), but the latest research suggests that airlines need to tighten precautions even more to avert in-flight outbreaks.

(Picture Courtesy: NPR)

IATA Travel Pass To Be Introduced

Geneva – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that it is in the final development phase of the IATA Travel Pass, a digital health pass that will support the safe reopening of borders. IATA (International Air Transport Association) represents some 290 airlines comprising 82% of global air traffic.
Governments are beginning to use testing as a means of limiting the risks of COVID-19 importation when reopening their borders to travelers without quarantine measures. IATA Travel Pass will manage and verify the secure flow of necessary testing or vaccine information among governments, airlines, laboratories, and travelers.
IATA is calling for systematic COVID-19 testing of all international travelers, and the information flow infrastructure needed to enable this must support:
Governments with the means to verify the authenticity of tests and the identity of those presenting the test certificates.
Airlines with the ability to provide accurate information to their passengers on test requirements and verify that a passenger meets the requirements for travel.
Laboratories with the means to issue digital certificates to passengers that will be recognized by governments, and;
Travelers with accurate information on test requirements, where they can get tested or vaccinated, and the means to securely convey test information to airlines and border authorities.
“Today, borders are double locked. Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures. The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share, and verify test data matched with traveler identities in compliance with border control requirements. That’s the job of the IATA Travel Pass. We are bringing this to market in the coming months also to meet the needs of the various travel bubbles and public health corridors that are starting operation,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
IATA Travel Pass incorporates four open-sourced and interoperable modules which can be combined for an end-to-end solution:
Global registry of health requirements – enables passengers to find accurate travel information, testing, and eventually, vaccine requirements for their journey.
Global registry of testing/vaccination centers – enables passengers to find testing centers and labs at their departure location, which meet the standards for testing and vaccination requirements of their destination.
Lab App – enables authorized labs and test centers to share test and vaccination certificates with passengers securely.
Contactless Travel App – enables passengers to (1) create a ‘digital passport,’ (2) receive test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for their itinerary, and (3) share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel. Travelers can also use this app to manage travel documentation digitally and seamlessly throughout their journey, improving the travel experience.
IATA and International Airlines Group (IAG) have been working together in the development of this solution. They will undertake a trial to demonstrate that this platform, combined with COVID-19 testing, can reopen international travel and replace quarantine.
The airline industry demands a cost-effective, global, and modular solution to safely restart travel. IATA Travel Pass is based on industry standards, and IATA’s proven experience in managing information flows around complex travel requirements.
IATA’s Timatic is used by most airlines to manage compliance with passport and visa regulations and will be the base for the global registry and verification of health requirements.
IATA’s One ID initiative was endorsed by a resolution at its 75th Annual General Meeting in 2019 to facilitate travel processes with a single identity token securely. It is the base for the IATA Contactless Travel App for identity verification that will also manage the test and vaccination certificates.
“Our main priority is to get people traveling again safely in the immediate term that means giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements. And that will eventually develop into a vaccine program. The IATA Travel Pass is a solution for both. And we have built it using a modular approach based on open source standards to facilitate interoperability. It can be used in combination with other providers or as a standalone end-to-end solution. The most important thing is that it is responsive to industry’s needs while enabling a competitive market,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President, Airport, Passenger, Cargo, and Security.
The first cross-border IATA Travel Pass pilot is scheduled for later this year, and the launch is slated for quarter one 2021.

Now A Vaccine Passport To Travel Abroad

Now that coronavirus vaccines are starting to roll out in the US and abroad, many people may be dreaming of the day when they can travel, shop and go to the movies again. But in order to do those activities, you may eventually need something in addition to the vaccine: a vaccine passport application.
Several companies and technology groups have begun developing smartphone apps or systems for individuals to upload details of their Covid-19 tests and vaccinations, creating digital credentials that could be shown in order to enter concert venues, stadiums, movie theaters, offices, or even countries.
The Common Trust Network, an initiative by Geneva-based nonprofit The Commons Project and the World Economic Forum, has partnered with several airlines including Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, as well as hundreds of health systems across the United States and the government of Aruba.
The CommonPass app created by the group allows users to upload medical data such as a Covid-19 test result or, eventually, a proof of vaccination by a hospital or medical professional, generating a health certificate or pass in the form of a QR code that can be shown to authorities without revealing sensitive information. For travel, the app lists health pass requirements at the points of departure and arrival based on your itinerary.
“You can be tested every time you cross a border. You cannot be vaccinated every time you cross a border,” Thomas Crampton, chief marketing and communications officer for The Commons Project, told CNN Business. He stressed the need for a simple and easily transferable set of credentials, or a “digital yellow card,” referring to the paper document generally issued as proof of vaccination.
Large tech firms are also getting in on the act. IBM (IBM) developed its own app, called Digital Health Pass, which allows companies and venues to customize indicators they would require for entry including coronavirus tests, temperature checks and vaccination records. Credentials corresponding to those indicators are then stored in a mobile wallet.
IBM’s Digital Health Pass app creates an online vaccine credential that can be stored in a mobile wallet. In an effort to address one challenge around returning to normalcy after vaccines are distributed widely, developers may now have to confront other challenges, ranging from privacy issues to representing the varied effectiveness of different vaccines. But the most pressing challenge may simply be avoiding the disjointed implementation and mixed success of tech’s previous attempt to address the public health crisis: contact tracing apps.
Early on in the pandemic, Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) set aside their smartphone rivalry to jointly develop a Bluetooth-based system to notify users if they’d been exposed to someone with Covid-19. Many countries and state governments around the world also developed and used their own apps.
“I think where exposure notification ran into some challenges was more of the piecemeal implementation choices, lack of federal leadership … where each state had to go it alone and so each state had to figure it out independently,” said Jenny Wanger, who leads the exposure notification initiatives for Linux Foundation Public Health, a tech-focused organization helping public health authorities around the world combat Covid-19.
To encourage better coordination this time, The Linux Foundation has partnered with the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative, a collective of more than 300 people representing dozens of organizations across five continents and is also working with IBM and CommonPass to help develop a set of universal standards for vaccine credential apps.
“If we’re successful, you should be able to say: I’ve got a vaccine certificate on my phone that I got when I was vaccinated in one country, with a whole set of its own kind of health management practices… that I use to get on a plane to an entirely different country and then I presented in that new country a vaccination credential so I could go to that concert that was happening indoors for which attendance was limited to those who have demonstrated that they’ve had the vaccine,” said Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Linux Foundation.
“It should be interoperable in the same way that email is interoperable, the same way that the web is interoperable,” he said. “Right now, we’re in a situation where there’s some moving parts that get us closer to that, but I think there’s a sincere commitment from everybody in the industry.”
Part of ensuring wide usage for vaccine passports is accounting for the large subset of the global population that still doesn’t use or have access to smartphones. A few companies within the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative are also developing a smart card that strikes a middle ground between the traditional paper vaccine certificates and an online version that’s easier to store and reproduce.
“For us it’s [about] how that digital credential can be stored, can be presented, not only through smartphones but also in other ways for those people who don’t have access to stable internet and also who don’t own smartphones,” said Lucy Yang, co-lead of the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative. “We’re looking into it, and there are companies who are doing really promising work.
\CommonPass has partnered with several airlines to start rolling out its health credential app on select international flights. Once they build a vaccine passport, companies will need to make sure people are comfortable using it. That means confronting concerns about the handling of private medical information.
CommonPass, IBM and the Linux Foundation have all stressed privacy as central to their initiatives. IBM says it allows users to control and consent to the use of their health data and allows them to choose the level of detail they want to provide to authorities.
“Trust and transparency remain paramount when developing a platform like a digital health passport, or any solution that handles sensitive personal information,” the company said in a blog post. “Putting privacy first is an important priority for managing and analyzing data in response to these complex times.”
With vaccines manufactured by multiple companies across several countries in varying stages of development, there are a lot of variables that passport makers will need to account for.
“A point of entry — whether that’s a border, whether that’s a venue — is going to want to know, did you get the Pfizer vaccine, did you get the Russian vaccine, did you get the Chinese vaccine, so they can make a decision accordingly,” said Crampton. The variance can be wide: the vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm, for example, has an efficacy of 86% against Covid-19, while the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna each have an efficacy of around 95%.
It’s also unclear how effective the vaccines are in stopping the transmission of the virus, says Dr. Julie Parsonnet, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford University. So while a vaccine passport app will show that you’ve received the shot, it may not be a guarantee that you safely attend an event or get on a flight.
“We still don’t know if vaccinated people can transmit infection or not,” she told CNN Business. “Until that is clarified, we won’t know whether ‘passports’ will be effective.”
Still, Behlendorf anticipates that the rollout and adoption of vaccine passports will happen rather quickly once everything falls into place and expects a variety of apps that can work with each other to be “widely available” within the first half of 2021. “Rest assured, the nerds are on it,” he said.

Air India To Begin Flights From Bengaluru To San Francisco Starting Jan 2021

India’s national carrier Air India is set to connect Bengaluru and San Francisco via a non-stop flight from 2021, the Kempegowda International Airport. As of January 11, 2021, Air India will launch 2x weekly flights between Bangalore and San Francisco, as follows: AI175 Bangalore to San Francisco departing 2:30PM arriving 5:00PM
AI176 San Francisco to Bangalore departing 8:30PM arriving 2:30AM (+2 days)

The US-bound flight will operate Mondays and Thursdays and will take 16hr, while the India-bound flight will operate Tuesdays and Saturdays and will take 16hr30min. The Boeing 777-200LR that will be used for this route features three cabins, including first class, business class, and economy.

“This would be the first non-stop flight between Bengaluru and the United States, connecting the world’s two tech hubs — the original Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley of India.

“The first non-stop flight between Bengaluru and San Francisco is a significant milestone for BLR Airport and will transform it as the new gateway to India. This will tremendously help passengers, enabling faster and easier access to cities on the West Coast of the United States.”

As per the statement, the new non-stop service is expected to meet the demand of corporate customers for travel to San Fracisco and adjoining areas in the US.

“Air India plans to operate a 238-seater Boeing 777-200 LR aircraft, to serve the largest unserved international origin/ destination (O/D) market for BLR Airport. Bengaluru and San Francisco are ranked first and second, respectively, among the world’s top 45 digitally advanced cities.”

“The new route sets two records — it would be Air India’s longest route at 14,000+ km (8,698 miles) and longest flight to and from India (over 16 hours). The national carrier has opened ticket booking from November 25.”

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