The White House this morning has announced new air travel restrictions on eight countries in Africa. As a result of the new Omicron variant, the US will institute travel restrictions that mimic restrictions placed earlier during the pandemic when various geographies faced different, worsening health situations. Starting on Monday, November 29th, non-US citizens or lawful permanent residents will be banned from entering the United States from these countries, regardless of their vaccination status.
New travel restrictions coming Monday
Starting November 29th, the United States will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other African countries. Officials told the New York Times those seven other countries include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. All eight countries are located in Southern Africa.
Like old travel restrictions, the move will ban foreign nationals coming from those eight countries from entering the United States, regardless of vaccination status. The ban will not apply to US permanent residents or citizens. All US-bound travelers will still need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Requirements for entry may change in the future.
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Flights between the US and South Africa
Of these eight countries, South Africa is the only destination with nonstop flights to the United States. There are currently two routes in operation. One is United’s nearly 8,000-mile flight from Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), currently scheduled to run daily in December.
The second is Delta’s nearly 8,500-mile flight from JNB to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). Delta’s flight runs three times per week, with plans to grow to four weekly flights by the second half of December.
Next month was also supposed to mark the relaunch of United’s seasonal nonstop from Newark to Cape Town International Airport (CPT). This flight is set to run three times per week next month.
Neither Delta nor United have released any schedule updates at this time. Both airlines may have to make changes in the coming days or weeks, but the airlines are sticking with their plans so far. United’s JNB flight, announced during the pandemic, launched in June while there was a similar ban on travelers from South Africa to the US. Delta’s Atlanta to Johannesburg service relaunched in August. US travel restrictions for vaccinated inbound travelers from South Africa did not lift until November 8th.
For travelers scheduled to fly between the US and South Africa, keep an eye on your itineraries. Those who are connecting in a third country, like the Middle East or Europe, may also face flight cancelations due to restrictions placed by governments in those regions.
A step backward
November 8th was a momentous day. While much of the celebration of the lifting of travel restrictions occurred in Europe, a travel ban involving South Africa placed in January also was lifted. It has been less than a month since the reopening for vaccinated foreign nationals, and already that reopening has started to unravel.
This action has the potential to reverberate across the travel industry. Newly-returned international passengers may slow their bookings or cancel them outright over the uncertainty surrounding changing government policies. After a continued stretch of reopenings, running from the US to Singapore to even tight-sealed Australia, the rise of this variant caused some alarm in the travel industry during a comparatively excellent Thanksgiving travel period.
Internationally, corporate customers have yet to make a full return. The Omicron variant has already been spotted in other countries, indicating it could already be circulating further than initially thought. If this step backward for travel starts to become the norm, it could further hamper the return of these high-yield customers, placing even more stress on airlines looking to come back to domestic and international financial security.