The United States will allow fully-vaccinated Irish travellers and Europeans to enter from Monday, fully re-opening to two-way traffic for the first time since the pandemic started.
Passengers from across the world are preparing to be reunited with loved ones in the United States for the first time in nearly two years, as restrictions were lifted to allow non-U.S citizens to fly there, provided they are vaccinated.
The extraordinary US travel restrictions first imposed in early 2020 to address the spread of Covid-19, had barred access to non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days had been in Ireland, Britain, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
Trade group US Travel said the countries accounted for 53 per cent of all overseas visitors to the United States in 2019.
The unprecedented ban had dealt a huge blow to tourism but also kept friends and families from attending weddings, funerals, or meeting new babies
From Monday, travellers who can show official proof of vaccination and a recent, negative viral test can fly to the United States and many headed to airports in London, Paris and beyond.
"We went from zero activity to one that is similar to October 2019 levels, so before Covid," said Jerome Thomann, of Paris-based Jetset Voyages travel agency, which specialises in trips to North America.
There are expected to be few if any empty seats on many of the international flights on Monday, and passenger volume is expected to remain high in coming weeks.
Children under 18 are exempt from the new vaccine requirements. Non-tourist travellers from nearly 50 countries with nationwide vaccination rates of less than 10 per cent will also be eligible for exemption.
Some travellers are desperate to get back over to the otherside of the Atlantic.
"We are in a relationship business and travelling is necessary to meet clients, to win deals," said Anthony Diamandakis, Citi's co-global head of Global Asset Managers.
For smaller, non-financial businesses too, travel is essential for trade.
"In my experience of the USA, it's a people market - deals get done face to face, with a handshake and looking into each other's eyes," Tony Kinsella, chief executive of UK-based materials development and testing company Lucideon, said.
"USA, here we come," said Kinsella, who already has his tickets booked.
Most experts believe that corporate travel will lag the recovery in leisure travel.
U.S. spending on corporate travel is expected to reach only 25 per cent–35 per cent of 2019 levels by the fourth quarter of 2021, and 65 per cent–80 per cent a year later, according to a Deloitte survey of 150 travel managerss.
That means the full transatlantic restart might not be as lucrative as airlines would have hoped.
Europe-based carriers tend to be more reliant on transatlantic revenues than their U.S. competitors.
Airlines are going to be looking to leisure to fill the gap left by corporates, and after months of lockdowns their pockets will be deeper, encouraging them to splash out on that premium economy or business class seat.