Europe plans to lift ban on American tourists, summer travelers face myriad of COVID restrictions

Travelers moved through SFO Wednesday with mandatory masks and packed bags, ready for a summer travel season that is regaining signs of life after the past year of lockdowns.

For some, it was the first overseas trip since the pandemic began.

"It's our first time back since February 2020," said Francesca Chang, who arrived from Taiwan with her husband Benjamin Chen. The two Bay Area natives decided to use their summer vacation to come back to California and he get COVID-19 vaccines, because they're hard to find in Taiwan where they've been living.

"They don't have enough vaccines for the general public," said Chang.

"So we're hoping to get a vaccine as soon as possible," Chen added.

As COVID vaccination rates rise around the world, travel restrictions are being lifted and more people say they feel comfortable taking trips.

The European Union met in Brussels Wednesday, and recommended the E.U. ban on U.S. tourists be lifted.

The official statement is expected Friday, although the individual 27 countries may still require COVID vaccination records and negative test results.

"The vaccination pace is scaling up. The moment that we see that a big part of the population is double vaccinated and can prove that they are safe, travel will pick up again," said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, "The beginning of the summer and not the end of the summer, travel will pick up again."

SFO spokesman Doug Yakel says emphasizes that masks are still mandatory at airports and public transit. He notes international flights to and from Europe are increasing with the expectation that Europe will relax restrictions soon:

Air France has increased flights to Paris from 3 times weekly to 5 times weekly. KLM has increased flights to Amsterdam from 4 times weekly to 5 times weekly. Lufthansa has increased flights to Frankfurt from 5 times weekly to 7 times weekly. United has resumed flights to London (4 per week) and Munich (3 per week)

Travelers be warned, though, there could be a myriad of masking, quarantines, and COVID testing requirements, depending on the destination.

Eric Schnaible says his family was traveling to and from England to care for family. He and his wife said Great Britain has tight restrictions for travelers, as the country faces the spread of the coronavirus variants.

"Having to stay quarantined when we come into England for 10 days, and then if we leave England and then come back we have to stay quarantined again for ten days," said Schanible.

"And then all the tests," said his wife, "There are two tests once you arrive there and one test before you go."

"It went from no phones ringing to the phones going crazy," said Betsy Geiser, Vice-President of Uniglobe Travel Center and a national board member with the American Society of Travel Advisors. Geiser says their members are seeing a huge surge in calls, and a survey shows some 44% are contacting a travel agent for the first time to book their trips for the summer and into next year.

The Port of San Francisco could see cruise ships returning to the terminal along the Embarcadero. Geiser says cruise operators are working with the CDC on safety protocols and new regulations.

"I would hope that late third quarter, you'll see cruise ships sailing out of California," said Geiser, "They're doing test sailings now. They're going to be sailing out of Seattle doing Alaska thanks to getting the Passenger Service Vessel Act temporarily lifted so we can sail without having to hit a foreign port."

To the north, Canada still has a ban on American tourists, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Biden met at the G-7 summit earlier in the week to discuss whether that could soon change as vaccination rates rise. In Canada more than 60% of residents currently have at least one shot. Prime Minister Trudeau wants that to be closer to 75% of the population. In the U.S., among eligible adults 64.7% have received at least one vaccination.