Coronavirus: What to expect when flying into the United States

May 20, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor’s note: This post is regularly updated with new information and was originally published on May 19, 2020.


The United States just announced on May 19 an extension of temporary travel restrictions to last through June 22, 2020. Under these guidelines, foreign travelers, including visitors from Canada and Mexico, cannot enter the United States via land ports of entry until that date except for reasons of essential travel.

Want more news and tips from TPG? Sign up for our free daily newsletter. 

While United States land borders are still closed between Canada and Mexico, U.S. passport holders and permanent residents are allowed to fly home as long as they can find a route back. But if you’ve been wondering what to expect when entering the country’s borders post-coronavirus, you won’t find a lot of guidance anywhere.

Related: When can we travel? A country by country guide

That’s because there isn’t much of a process at all where U.S. health screenings are involved. While some destinations like Hong Kong have implemented rigorous protocols that can take up to eight hours to complete, a number of travelers are increasingly calling out the absence of wellness checks in U.S. airports: No temperature checks, COVID-19 tests or doctor’s note certifying a clean bill of health.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has dedicated a section of its website to coronavirus efforts and information. The section on “protecting air travelers and the American public” references the Notice of Arrival Restrictions which was implemented on March 13 by DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, which stated that U.S. passport holders returning from certain restricted countries had to enter the U.S. through the following 13 airports:

  • Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS), Massachusetts
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan
  • Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
  • Los Angeles International Airport, (LAX), California
  • Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia

According to the DHS resource page for international travel, incoming travelers first pass through standard customs processing, then proceed to “enhanced entry screening,” according to the DHS, where passengers would be asked self-report their medical history, current condition and contact information to local health authorities before passing through to their final destination, where they are asked to self-quarantine.

These simple procedures stack up poorly in contrast to the response in highly vigilant countries like New Zealand and Taiwan, which both have been repeatedly lauded for their effective squashing of potential coronavirus spread.

 

Furthermore, even the light requirements for enhanced entry screening in the U.S. haven’t been followed to a T.

On May 7 Politico reported House investigators discovered “significant gaps” in the U.S. response to coronavirus screening in airports, including “no documentary evidence that screenings were being performed as promised.” Instead, the U.S. often relied on foreign counterparts to screen outbound U.S. passengers in local airports, even when returning to the States from coronavirus epicenters such as Italy and South Korea.

Numerous travelers have corroborated the House investigation’s findings with firsthand anecdotes from their own re-entry experiences, spanning from the beginning of the lockdown to just the past few days. “I flew into LAX from New Zealand on March 22,” @BrehonFailte said on Twitter. “I could easily have come into contact with a Korean Air flight that was boarding in New Zealand. [There was] not one [health] screening when we got to the U.S. No temperature test, nothing.”

While Twitter users @BrehonFailte and @RonNehring’s firsthand accounts took place in March 2020, Twitter users @weijia and @sarcott reported similar experiences on both domestic and international travel in more recent days. “I arrived from Mexico this week into Los Angeles [and received] no extra screening,” @sarcott said on Twitter. “CBP [officials] weren’t even wearing masks. I had to fill out papers on the plane, but no one asked for them so I threw them i the trash. We did have our temperature taken in [the Mexico City airport] before boarding. That’s it.”

@sarcott’s statement corroborates the House investigators’ findings that the United States relies too heavily on its counterparts in foreign airports to screen incoming travelers for health concerns. Additional reports stated that travelers also weren’t adequately screened regarding their most recent whereabouts, including transiting through high-risk countries.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials told TPG that health screenings don’t fall under the agency’s jurisdiction. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection continues to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 guidelines at all ports of entry,” a CBP spokesperson told TPG. “CBP officers identify travelers who have recently been in China, Iran, Ireland, the United Kingdom or the Schengen Area or who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 and refer such travelers to the CDC, DHS contract medical personnel, or local health authorities for enhanced health screening.”

TPG reached out to DHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for comment on incoming traveler screening procedures, but had not received a response from either agency by publication time.

Featured photo by Irina VIV/Shutterstock.

RelatedYour summer trip to Iceland may be back on

Related: Greece is planning to open to tourists

Related: This iconic beach destination just banned cruises until 2022

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.