With travel restrictions lifted, grandma meets grandson for 1st time

Suman Singh touched down Monday at San Francisco International Airport, weary from travel but weeping with joy that she could finally meet her newest relative. 

"I just want to see my grandson," she said, her voice choking with emotion. "I was so excited to start the flight. I'm happy that I'm here."

This will be the first time that she will hold and hug her grandson, though she has been looking at his pictures at least twice a day.

"I'm so excited," she said. "I can't wait."

MORE: US easing travel restrictions Monday, what you need to know

Singh, who traveled from Delhi to California, was among the first wave of travelers to benefit from the U.S. lifting restrictions  from a long list of countries including Mexico, Canada and most of Europe, setting the stage for emotional reunions nearly two years in the making and providing a boost for the airline and tourism industries decimated by the pandemic.

The rules that went into effect Monday allow air travel from a series of countries from which it has been restricted since the early days of the pandemic — as long as the traveler has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. Those crossing land borders from Mexico or Canada will require proof of vaccination but no test.

American citizens and permanent residents were always allowed to enter the U.S., but the travel bans grounded tourists, thwarted business travelers and often separated families.

In a sign of the huge importance of trans-Atlantic travel for airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic celebrated the reopening by synchronizing the departures of their early-morning flights to New York on parallel runways at London’s Heathrow Airport. BA CEO Sean Doyle was aboard his company’s plane.

"Together, even as competitors, we have fought for the safe return of trans-Atlantic travel — and now we celebrate that achievement as a team. Some things are more important than one-upmanship, and this is one of those things," Doyle wrote in a message to customers, noting that the flight carried the number that used to belong to the supersonic Concorde.

Back in the Bay Area, Shantnu Kakkar of Fremont was at SFO waiting to pick up his parents, whom he hasn't seen since November 2019. 

His father Rajesh Kokkar said he was "very excited, very excited after two years" of not seeing his son and daughter-in-law. 

The U.S. will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the shots approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the U.S. That’s a relief for many in Canada, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is widely used.

But millions of people around the world who were vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s CanSino or others not OK’d by the WHO won’t be able to travel to the U.S.

Maria Giribet, meanwhile, has not seen her twin grandchildren Gabriel and David for about half of their lives. 

Now 3 1/2, the boys are in San Francisco, which during the height of the pandemic might as well have been another planet for 74-year-old Giribet, who lives on the Mediterranean isle of Majorca. A widow, she lost her husband to a lengthy illness before the pandemic and her three grown children all live abroad.

"I’m going to hug them, suffocate them," Giribet said. "That’s what I dream of." 

The Associated Press contributed.