Coronavirus: Air Travel Restrictions

image of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

As U.S. federal, state and local public health agencies attempt to contain the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), several travel restrictions impacting the aviation sector have been and will continue to be implemented. These restrictions are summarized in the below timeline, which will be regularly updated by KMA Zuckert as developments unfold:

  • January 29, 2021: The CDC issues a new Order, effective February 1, 2021, requiring most persons to wear masks (over the nose and mouth) when traveling on aircraft and other conveyances into and within the United States, and to wear masks at airports and other transportation hubs. Included within the definition of persons are travelers (i.e., passengers and crew) and any workers or service providers in transportation hubs. Aircraft and other conveyance operators, when transporting persons into and within the U.S., also must require all persons onboard to wear masks for the duration of travel. The Order further requires that conveyance operators ensure passengers wear masks on conveyances departing the United States to a foreign destination if, at any time while the Order is in effect, passengers or crew onboard will be returning to the United States. Conveyance operators are required to use their “best efforts” to ensure persons wear masks when boarding, disembarking and for the duration of travel. Finally, the Order: (i) provides limited exceptions from the mask requirement, such as children under the age of two years and persons with disabilities who, because of their disability, cannot wear a mask or cannot safely wear a mask; (ii) is to be enforced by the TSA and other federal agencies; and (iii) may also be enforced by cooperating state and local authorities.
  • January 25, 2021: By presidential proclamation, the Biden administration re-instates prohibitions against entry into the U.S. for most aliens (previously scheduled to be lifted on January 26th) who have been present within the Federative Republic of Brazil, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, and the 26 European countries comprising the Schengen Area, during the 14 days preceding their attempted entry into the United States. The proclamation also (i) adds the Republic of South Africa to the prohibition given widespread person-to-person transmission in that country of the virus that causes COVID-19, including a variant strain known as B.1.351, and (ii) contains limited exceptions for certain individuals (e.g., legal permanent residents (LPRs), immediate family of either LPRs or U.S. citizens, aliens traveling as crew, and a handful of other visa categories).
  • January 12, 2021: In further response to a more transmittible variant strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 (B.1.1.7, traced to the United Kingdom), the CDC issues a new Order, effective January 26, 2021, requiring passengers aged two years or older arriving by air into the United States from any foreign point to either (i) get tested for COVID-19 (NAAT or antigen test) no more than three days before their flight departs for the U.S. and provide their airline with documentation of a negative viral test result or (ii) provide their airline with documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 (a positive viral test result accompanied by a medical professional’s or public health official’s letter clearing the passenger for travel). As with the December 27, 2020 Order covering passengers arriving from the U.K., this Order (a) requires airlines to provide specific disclosures to their passengers, and for such passengers to provide an attestation form to the airline confirming their compliance, (b) applies regardless of the passenger’s nationality and (c) exempts airline crew under certain circumstances.
  • December 27, 2020: The CDC, in response to a new, and more transmittable, variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 (detected in the south east of England) issues an Order with immediate effect, requiring negative pre-departure COVID-19 test results for most airline passengers arriving in the United States on aircraft departing from the United Kingdom, regardless of the passenger’s nationality. The test must be conducted on a specimen collected during the three calendar days preceding the passenger’s departure from the U.K. Passengers covered by the CDC Order must provide an attestation form to the airline confirming their negative test results. Additionally, airlines are required to provide passengers with specific disclosures regarding the requirements and retain completed passenger attestation forms for two years. Airline crewmembers and passengers beginning their journey outside the U.K. and transiting through the U.K. on a flight with a connecting time of no more than 24 hours are exempted from the Order’s requirements.
  • May 26, 2020: DHS issues an NAR requiring all inbound U.S. flights transporting passengers who recently have been present in the Federative Republic of Brazil (i.e., within 14 days of their attempted entry into the U.S.) and who are not otherwise inadmissible under the May 24th proclamation to land at the same 13 U.S. gateway airports applicable to passengers who recently have been present in the other regions subject to arrival restrictions (Mainland China, Iran, the Schengen Area countries, the UK, and Ireland). Through this Notice, DHS adds two additional airports to the designated list, FLL and IAH. Airline crew and flights carrying only cargo are exempted from this Notice.
  • May 24, 2020: By presidential proclamation, the U.S. suspends indefinitely the entry of most aliens who have been present within the Federative Republic of Brazil, during the 14 days preceding their attempted entry into the United States, with similar exceptions as those provided for in the January 31st proclamation (Mainland China), the February 29th proclamation (Iran), the March 11th proclamation (Schengen Area countries), and the March 14th proclamation (United Kingdom and Ireland). This presidential proclamation takes effect at 11:59 p.m. on May 26, 2020.
  • March 23, 2020: The FAA approves a request from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to restrict entry of passengers traveling to Puerto Rico to specific airports in order to centralize screening of passengers for COVID-19. Effective at 11:59 pm on March 24, 2020, all scheduled and unscheduled commercial air carrier flights are required to land at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU), while all domestic and foreign general aviation and charter flights arriving from a location outside Puerto Rico are required to land first at SJU, Isla Grande Airport (SIG) or Rafael Hernandez Airport (BQN) for passenger screening before continuing to their final destinations. The restrictions do not apply to cargo-only flights.
  • March 20, 2020: CDC issues an IFR with immediate effect, establishing procedures for the CDC to suspend, by order, the “introduction into the United States” of persons from designated foreign countries or places (including by any U.S. or foreign carrier, to include ships, aircraft, trains, road vehicles, or other means of transport) to the extent necessary for the public health. U.S citizens, lawful permanent residents or certain members of the armed forces of the U.S. and associated personnel of the Department of Defense are excluded.
  • March 16, 2020: DHS issues an NAR requiring all inbound U.S. flights transporting passengers who recently have been present in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland (i.e., within 14 days of their attempted entry into the U.S.) and who are not otherwise inadmissible under the March 14th proclamation to land at the same 13 U.S. gateway airports applicable to passengers who recently have been present in the other regions subject to arrival restrictions (Mainland China, Iran, the Schengen Area countries).
  • March 14, 2020: By presidential proclamation, the U.S. suspends indefinitely the entry of most aliens who have been present within the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, during the 14 days preceding their attempted entry into the United States, with similar exceptions as those provided for in the January 31st proclamation (Mainland China), the February 29th proclamation (Iran), and the March 11th proclamation (Schengen Area countries).
  • March 13, 2020: DHS issues an NAR requiring all inbound U.S. flights transporting passengers who recently have been present in the Schengen Area (i.e., within 14 days of their attempted entry into the U.S.) and who are not otherwise inadmissible under the March 11th proclamation to land at the previously-designated 11 U.S. gateway airports applicable to passengers who recently have been present in Mainland China or Iran. Through this notice, DHS adds two new airports to the designated list, BOS and MIA. Airline crew are exempted.
  • March 11, 2020: By presidential proclamation, the U.S. suspends, for at least 30 days, the entry of most aliens who have been present within any of the 26 European countries comprising the Schengen Area (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland) during the 14 days preceding their attempted entry into the United States, with similar exceptions as those provided for in the January 31st proclamation (Mainland China) and the February 29th proclamation (Iran).
  • March 2, 2020: DHS issues an NAR requiring all inbound U.S. flights transporting passengers who recently have been present in Iran (i.e., within 14 days of their attempted entry into the U.S.) and who are not otherwise inadmissible under the February 29th proclamation to land at the same 11 U.S. gateway airports applicable to passengers who recently have been present in Mainland China. Airline crew are exempted.
  • February 29, 2020: By presidential proclamation, the U.S. suspends indefinitely the entry of most aliens who have been present within Iran, during the 14 days preceding their attempted entry into the United States, with similar exceptions as those provided for in the January 31st proclamation (Mainland China).
  • February 18, 2020: CDC issues an Order requiring airlines, with respect to any inbound U.S. flight carrying a passenger who has been present in Mainland China within 14 days of his or her attempted entry into the U.S. and who is not otherwise inadmissible under the January 31st proclamation, to transmit the contact information identified in the February 7th IFR. The information must be transmitted through existing, technical channels for delivery to CDC within two hours of the flight’s departure.
  • February 7, 2020: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues an Interim Final Rule (IFR) with immediate effect, requiring all airlines, with respect to passengers and crew aboard flights inbound to the U.S., to collect, and retain for transmittal to the CDC upon the issuance of an appropriate order, the following information: address while in the U.S.; primary and secondary phone contact numbers; and email address. The purposes of the collection and (if requested) transmittal is to allow CDC and other public health agencies to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing of persons suspected of having contracted the virus.
  • February 2, 2020: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues a Notice of Arrival Restrictions (NAR). Under the NAR, all inbound U.S. flights transporting passengers who recently have been present in Mainland China (i.e., 14 days of their attempted entry into the U.S.) and are not otherwise inadmissible under the January 31st proclamation are required to land at either JFK, ORD, SFO, SEA, HNL, LAX, ATL, IAD, EWR, DFW, or DTW, where U.S. officials have established enhanced health screening measures. Airline crew are exempted. 
  • January 31, 2020: By presidential proclamation, the U.S. suspends indefinitely the entry of most aliens who have been present within the People’s Republic of China, with the exception of Hong Kong and Macau (i.e., Mainland China), during the 14 days preceding their attempted entry into the United States. U.S. legal permanent residents (LPRs), immediate family of either LPRs or U.S. citizens, aliens traveling as crew, and a handful of other visa categories are exempted from the entry restrictions.