Britons are rushing to buy flights to the US after Joe Biden finally said the fully-vaccinated will be allowed in from November.
Bookings surged by more than 90 per cent within an hour of the President’s announcement and airlines’ share prices rocketed.
The White House will lift the 18-month blanket ban on foreign travellers – introduced by Donald Trump – for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was ‘delighted’ President Biden was ‘reinstating transatlantic travel’.
He also said it will be ‘great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again’.
Britain dropped restrictions on fully-vaccinated US visitors in July as a ‘goodwill gesture’.
But, to the concern of ministers and anger of the travel industry, the US had not reciprocated.
Today’s decision was welcomed by the travel sector, as aviation chiefs said air links between the two countries are ‘part of the bedrock of the global economy’.
Virgin Atlantic reported bookings spiking by a staggering 91 per cent within just an hour of the announcement.
CEO Shai Weiss said: ‘The US Government’s announcement that fully vaccinated UK visitors will be able to enter the US from November is a major milestone to the reopening of travel at scale across the Atlantic, allowing consumers and businesses to book travel to the US with confidence.
‘As the UK forges its recovery from the pandemic, the reopening of the transatlantic corridor and the lifting of Presidential Order 212F acknowledges the great progress both nations have made in rolling out successful vaccine programmes.
‘The UK will now be able to strengthen ties with our most important economic partner, the US, boosting trade and tourism as well as reuniting friends, families and business colleagues.
‘We are thankful to Prime Minister Johnson and the UK Government, the Biden administration and our industry partners for their collaboration.
‘The US has been our heartland for more than 37 years since our first flight to New York City in 1984. We are simply not Virgin without the Atlantic.
‘After 18 months of uncertainty, we cannot wait to welcome our customers back onboard, flying them safely to their favourite US destination.’
ABTA, The Travel Association, was also positive about the move, saying it was ‘great news’ for those looking to see stranded family for the first time since the pandemic.
A spokesman said: ‘The news that double vaccinated travellers will be allowed to travel to the US from the UK from November is great news for holidaymakers, business travellers and those who have been separated from friends and family for so long.
‘The USA is by far our most popular long haul destination and in a normal year attracts almost five million visitors from the UK.
‘The announcement will come in time to allow people to, among other things, take the ever popular Christmas shopping trips to New York and is a very welcome boost for the winter sports market whose customers love the country’s high quality ski resorts.’
British Airways CEO and Chairman Sean Doyle added: ‘Today’s news, which will see our two nations reunited after more than 18 months apart, marks an historic moment and one which will provide a huge boost to Global Britain as it emerges from this pandemic.
‘We are immensely grateful to the Prime Minister and his Government for all the hard work that’s gone into securing this deal with the US, and which builds upon last Friday’s announcement on the lifting of many travel restrictions.
‘Our customers should now feel that the world is re-opening to them and they can book their trips with confidence.’
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said: ‘This is a major breakthrough which coupled with the removal of travel restrictions announced last week represents a substantial reopening of UK aviation.
‘The US is one of our most important markets and the air corridor is worth billions of pounds a year in trade and tourism – safeguarding thousands of jobs.
‘Things are moving in the right direction and ministers deserve credit for getting us to this point.
‘We look forward to seeing the full details so airlines can support seamless implementation in November.
‘Obviously, there is more to be done – including the relaxation in due course of restrictions for unvaccinated passengers – but for now there is light at the end of the tunnel following 18 months of unprecedented uncertainty.’
Travel experts were also broadly pleased with the change, hailing a ‘major milestone’ for those travelling for leisure and business.
Head of the Points Guy UK Nicky Kelvin told MailOnline: ‘The expected announcement on relaxing US entry requirements for travellers arriving from the EU and UK would be a major milestone for both leisure and business travellers as well as travel companies alike.
‘After a long 18-months, the much-awaited relaxation of the rules would mean many families can be reunited, relationships can be rekindled, postponed holidays can finally be taken and face-to-face business can be resumed.
‘For the travel industry, key players like Virgin Atlantic rely heavily on the lucrative trans-Atlantic market and this move could be the lifeline that it and many other similar companies are desperate for.
‘Given that the London-New York route was one of the busiest international air corridors in the world pre-pandemic, the relaxing of the travel ban is a major step forward, not just for Brits but for the global travel industry.
‘As a true marker of how significant the rumoured news is, shares in IAG, the parent company of British Airways, have shot up by over 11 per cent.’
But some sounded a note of caution, warning Britons need to see ‘earthy details on the re-opening’ before they start in November.
CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency Paul Charles said: ‘This is the best news for the travel sector since the start of the pandemic.
‘Transatlantic travel between the UK and US is such an enormous market, worth billions of pounds to major airlines, that its closure has prevented meaningful recovery in the industry.
‘The Biden administration’s decision has been far too long in coming but now it’s here it will save tens of thousands of jobs which were due to be lost with the end of the furlough scheme on 30th September.
‘BA, Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus in particular will be able to celebrate at last and get their schedules back to near-normal.
We need to see the earthy details on the re-opening, such as which date in early November it will start and whether it will apply to under-18s who’ve currently only been told to have one jab. It’s vital they are included so that families can truly re-connect.’
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said: ‘More travel opening up as a result of easing restrictions, both across the UK and abroad, will be welcome news for both travellers and the industry alike. However, it’s important to remember that while the pandemic is ongoing, no travel is risk free and restrictions are liable to change, sometimes at short notice, potentially putting your money at risk.
‘Anyone looking to book travel to the US once restrictions are lifted should still book with a provider with a reliable flexible booking policy, or if appropriate, a package holiday as these come with stronger financial protections. A good travel insurance policy will continue to be essential, and it’s also advisable to book with a credit card to give yourself further protection.’
White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients, who announced the changes, said all foreign visitors will need to demonstrate proof of vaccination and a negative test.
Airlines will be required to collect contact information from international travellers so that they can be traced if required.
Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘I am delighted that from November, @POTUS is reinstating transatlantic travel so fully vaccinated UK nationals can visit the USA.
‘It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also welcomed the move, tweeting: ‘Brilliant collaboration through our UK/US working group has led to Transatlantic flights resuming from Nov for double jabbed! Great outcome.’
In the Commons, he said: ‘The House will recall in August we launched a pilot to exempt from quarantine those who have been fully vaccinated in the US and Europe. This pilot has been successful, I am delighted that is has provided a much-needed boost to international travel this summer.
‘Throughout the crisis I have remained in regular contact with my opposite number, the secretary of transportation Pete Buttigieg, and I am delighted that as the Prime Minister has arrived in the United States of America they have agreed and I can confirm to the House today, announce to the House today indeed, that vaccinated Brits will be able to travel into the US from early November, reciprocating the policy that we introduced this summer.
‘This is a testament to the hard work and progress made by the expert working group set up at the G7 to restart trans-Atlantic travel, the flagship route of international aviation.’
The easing of US travel restrictions came as massive relief to the UK aviation industry.
Heathrow Airport boss John Holland-Kaye said: ‘Connectivity between the US and the UK is part of the bedrock of the global economy.
‘The Prime Minister has secured a massive win for global Britain in getting these links restarted.’
Approximately 3.8 million British nationals visited the US every year prior to the pandemic, according to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
The timing of the change in policy by the US was unexpected, as Mr Johnson and new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss were due to press Mr Biden on the issue during a visit to the White House tomorrow.
Mr Johnson and Mr Biden set up a dedicated working group in June this year to take the issue forward, following talks at the G7 summit in Cornwall.
But although UK officials insisted it was still meeting weekly, progress appeared to have stalled.
At present, travellers from the UK cannot visit the US without special permission from the United States government.
The ban meant that Tennis star Emma Radacanu’s family were unable to travel to New York this month to watch her spectacular victory in the final of the US Open.
It has also deprived the beleaguered aviation sector of one of its most important and lucrative markets.
The US said it was continuing to ban travel from the UK on Covid grounds.
But Mr Johnson has been arguing that the effectiveness of the UK’s vaccination programme means there is no justification for maintaining restrictions on fully jabbed travellers.
The UK move to reopen travel corridors came despite a SAGE scientist warning ministers are risking importing dangerous new Covid variants by ‘abandoning’ the testing system at the same time.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the subcommittee advising on behaviour, said officials could have improved the system which saw ‘absurd rates’ charged for PCR tests by doing such testing through the NHS.
The traffic light system is to be replaced from October 4 by a single ‘red list’ of destinations, and those who are fully double-jabbed won’t need a pre-departure test before returning from non-red list destinations.
From the end of October, they will also be able to replace the day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test.
Speaking to Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, Prof Reicher said the system around PCR tests has been ‘dysfunctional’ with ‘all the different companies charging absurd rates and not providing a service’.
He said the Government has responded to this ‘not by improving the system but by abandoning it entirely’, and added that, domestically, there remains ‘huge uncertainty’ about the effect on virus cases of the return of schools, universities, workplaces and people spending more time indoors in the autumn weather.
On travel, he told Sky News: ‘I think it would have been far preferable to keep PCR tests but to improve the system and to do them through the NHS.
‘I think it (the relaxation) is increasing risk. I think it does limit, in fact it stops our ability to trace different variants, and increases the probability of infected people coming into the country.
‘I think it has increased the risk, quite frankly, and I think we should have improved the system rather than by and large abandoning it.’
Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said: ‘Letting our guard down runs the risk of bringing a new variant into the country, such as the Mu variant first identified in Colombia, which could reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines.’
Another scientist said while easing the rules will ‘inevitably increase the risk’ of infections, high rates in the UK mean travellers could be as likely to catch Covid on a trip to Torquay as one to Turkey.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said: ‘Given the fact that community transmission within the UK is still running at a high level, it seems churlish to put high barriers in the way of international travel when the risks of catching Covid at home are relatively high.’
Under the changed travel system for England, unvaccinated passengers from non-red list countries will have to take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on days two and eight after returning.
However, travellers who have a valid vaccination certificate from 17 additional countries and territories, including Japan and Singapore, will be treated as if they had been jabbed in the UK.
Eight countries, including Turkey, Pakistan and the Maldives, are being removed from the red list with effect from 4am on Wednesday.
Travellers from Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya will also no longer be required to hotel quarantine from that date.
The shake-up will apply to England only, with Scotland saying it will drop the traffic light system but will not follow England when it comes to testing requirements and PCR tests will still be required.
The Welsh Government said it will consider the UK Government’s proposed changes, but health minister Eluned Morgan has warned they could ‘weaken the line of defence on importing infection’.
In Northern Ireland, the traffic light system will change from October 4, with a single ‘red list’ of destinations, while proposed changes to pre-departure and post-arrival testing will be discussed by Stormont ministers next week.