Joe Biden has only been president for a little over 48 hours, but already he has made some big changes. On his first day in office Mr Biden issued executive orders overturning several flagstone Trump era policies, including the construction of the border wall, the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, and the defunding of the WHO.
The former VP has also turned his attention to the travel industry, where he has implemented several major reforms to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. So today we take a look at how a Joe Biden presidency is changing travel in America, and what that might mean for the future.
Arguably the biggest change which the Biden administration has brought to the transport sector is the mask mandate, with face coverings now obligatory on all planes, ships, trains, buses and public transportation.
This comes in response to mass appeals from airlines and flight attendants unions for the government to help enforce mask wearing as an essential safety precaution. In the last few weeks countless videos have gone viral online of passengers harassing airplane staff and in some instances physically assaulting them for asking them to wear their masks.
Allie Malis, a flight attendant for American Airlines and a government affairs representative for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said ensuring passengers wear their masks has become “one of the most difficult parts of our job”.
New federal laws, brought in by executive order on Thursday, will help airlines to enforce the wearing of masks and give flight attendants greater recourse when dealing with difficult passengers.
On Monday, President Trump promised to remove restrictions in place for passengers traveling to the US from Europe, the UK, Ireland and Brazil. However, under the new administration that now seems unlikely.
Rather the Biden White House is taking steps to beef up travel restrictions, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki hinting at the possibility of mandatory quarantines for all travelers arriving the United States.
From January 26 all passengers flying to the United States will also have to provide proof of a negative Covid test before being allowed to travel, regardless of their country of origin.
The Muslim Ban
One of President Biden’s first acts following his inauguration was to overturn the controversial travel ban on visitors from majority Muslim countries.
The so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ was brought in by the Trump administration a week into office and banned immigrants from countries including Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria, as well as most visitors from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
The ban has now been abolished, with Biden branding the law a “moral blight” on the United States, which had undermined foreign alliances and was “just plain wrong”.
Even before the global pandemic, US tourism was struggling, with the number of international visitors declining by some 500,000 in 2019. Needless to say the subsequent onset of Covid-19 has not helped.
However, some industry experts believe a Biden Presidency will breathe new life into the tourism sector. Tori Emerson Barnes, executive VP of public affairs and policy at the US Travel Association, said she thinks President Biden’s international reputation will help to attract a greater number of foreign visitors:
“Once we can reopen travel in a more robust fashion and reopen the international borders, I think Biden’s expertise and experience in working closely with governments across the globe will be an important component to be able to welcome back international visitors,” she said, “which is something we really haven’t seen, that welcoming of international visitors in quite some time, not just as a result of the pandemic.”
Known by his colleagues as Amtrak Joe, it’s no secret that President Biden is a fan of the railways. When he was a senator, Biden famously travelled by train every day between his office in DC and his home in Delaware.
So it may be no surprise that the president has promised a “rail revolution” during his term in office, which he claims will provide jobs, cut commute times and encourage investment in local communities.
His campaign website even pledged to provide America with the “cleanest, safest, and fastest rail system in the world – for both passengers and freight”.
While no details have been provided yet, it’s still early days for Amtrak Joe and this will be an area to watch closely over the next four years.