Here’s What President Biden’s New Executive Order On Travel Actually Does (And Doesn’t Do)

President Biden issued an executive order on mask wearing, as well as testing and quarantine for international travel.

The order doesn’t actually do anything. Instead it outlines Administration policy and instructs various departments of government to come up with plans to implement. Here are the key elements of the plan, most of which are fairly non-specific at least where they do not duplicate existing policy.

  • Masks Provides for mask-wearing in airports; on commercial aircraft and trains; in public ships, boats, and ferries; on intercity buses; and public transportation. The relevant agency and department heads (Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, TSA, FAA, Coast Guard) are supposed to consult with local officials, transportation heads and self-appointed consumer advocates in formulating rules making sure not to pre-empt stricter rules already in place and documenting where exceptions are made.

  • Domestic travel: Agencies are supposed to come up with recommendations for new measures and restrictions to reduce Covid-19 spread in domestic travel.

  • Testing for international travel: The Trump administration’s testing policy for everyone entering the U.S. starting January 26th remains in place. Within 14 days they will re-assess what kinds of tests are accepted, and what alternatives to a negative test prior to air travel might be permitted under what circumstances. They could reconsider whether to accept antigen tests.

  • Quarantine on arrival in the U.S.: “to the extent feasible,” travelers should be required to comply with CDC recommended “periods of self-quarantine or self-isolation after entry into the United States.” The CDC currently recommends

    • Get tested 3-5 days after travel, stay home for 7 days after travel, or
    • Stay home for 10 days after travel

    There is no plan yet for how to implement this or when it might start. Instead they have to come up with,

    a plan for how the Secretary and other Federal Government actors could implement the policy stated in subsection (a) of this section with respect to CDC-recommended periods of self-quarantine or self-isolation after a flight to the United States from a foreign country

  • Land borders and sea ports they’re going to work on a plan, in consultation with Canada and Mexico, for what will be required at land borders and separately come up with a plan for ports.

  • Vaccination certificates they will assess linking records of COVID-19 vaccination to International Certificates of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) and producing electronic certificates.

We know that the Administration wants masks basically where masks are already required, testing for international travel which is about to be required anyway, and quarantining on arrival though they don’t have any idea how to enforce it. And they see vaccination as a path out of some of these rules.

The relevant action is going to be in formulating policies and procedures that come next, following this executive order. And what really matters for U.S. citizens is speeding up vaccination, where government has failed at all levels so far (and where Biden’s goal of 100 million doses in 100 days is spectacularly unambitious because it’s the current pace we’re already on, even as production begins to ramp up).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. As above Joe has no clue what he is signing(killing 55,000 jobs lost in one day) We were already at up to 800,000 doses given a day so 1 mil is an easy goal

  2. Strict quarantines for US arrivals (a la Singapore and Australia) will basically kill all international leisure travel from USA, devastating Mexico etc. Also pointless as community spread has – since April- been the primary driver of new infections. For the same reason testing on arrival is also pointless though pre-flight testing makes a lot of sense to keep people safe on airplanes.

    For the same reasons the land crossings should be opened as there is no chance of infecting fellow travelers like airplanes (assuming there is distancing at the border).

  3. Gary, anything in the EO or in your understanding of it that would change the AA, WN, UA policies of 2+ have to wear masks?

  4. @Econometrics – the executive order just directs the government to make a policy, it doesn’t say what the policy is yet. The EO says not to pre-empt stricter government rules. Perhaps they won’t pre-empt stricter airline rules. We don’t know yet.

  5. This is what I don’t understand from the executive order. Will it require a test of all international arrivals (including US citizens)? Or only to board planes entering the US?

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