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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