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Lawyers Travel's weekly client e-newsletter, the Informed Traveler, keeps readers updated on travel industry news and trends.

Following is a recap of February's top 5 (most clicked by Lawyers Travel's clients) e-newsletter stories.

1. TRAVELERS WILL SOON NEED TO OBTAIN OFFICIAL PERMISSION TO ENTER THE UK

In conjunction with its goal of fully digitizing border systems by 2025, the UK has announced that it will soon require inbound international travelers to obtain a British entry permit document, reports Travel Pulse. Called the Electronic Travel Authorization UK (ETA UK), approval will be mandatory for all foreign travelers looking to enter or transit the UK, including those who are nationals of visa-free countries, such as the United States. Additionally, the requirement will apply to all types of visitors, including, “those traveling to the UK for tourism, business, short-term education and medical reasons.” The ETA system is intended to optimize the UK’s entry and exit processes, as part of a wider “permission to travel” policy. Inbound travelers will be able to apply from home and the application form should take only a few minutes to fill out; individuals will need to provide valid passport data, some personal information, travel plans, and a debit or credit card. Applications will be processed automatically, and most people are expected to receive authorization within 48-72 hours. As of now, the UK government has yet to announce a release date for the online application process, but officials expect the ETA system to be fully implemented by the end of 2023.

2. US LOOKS TO END COVID-19 VACCINE MANDATE FOR FOREIGN TRAVELERS

The US House of Representatives plans to vote on a bill that would end the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for most foreign travelers, reports Skift. Last June, the Biden administration dropped its negative COVID-19 testing requirement but has not lifted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination requirements. The CDC says vaccines continue to be the most important public health tool for fighting COVID-19 and recommends all travelers be vaccinated. Currently, adult travelers visiting the US who are not citizens or permanent residents must show proof of vaccination before boarding their flight, with some limited exceptions. Republican Representative Thomas Massie introduced the measure to rescind the vaccine requirement with public support from the US Travel Association, which stated that it has “long supported the removal of this requirement and see no reason to wait until the May expiration of the public health emergency — particularly as potential visitors are planning spring and summer travel.” The group says the US “is the only country that still has this requirement for international visitors when there is no longer any public health justification.”

3. REFUNDS, FLIGHTS IN US LAWMAKER PROPOSALS TO PROTECT AIR TRAVELERS

US air travelers would be offered refunds for delayed flights and transportation on rival carriers under new consumer protections proposed on Tuesday, reports Reuters. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey have introduced the measures under the "Passengers’ Bill of Rights and the Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous Fees (FAIR) Act." Lawmakers said the measures would require airlines to pay at least $1,350 to travelers that are denied boarding as a result of an oversold flight, prohibit airlines from further reducing seat sizes pending regulatory changes, and give travelers new rights to sue airlines for unfair practices. A group of House of Representatives lawmakers also introduced the FAIR act which they said would "prohibit airlines from charging unreasonable fees... not proportional to the costs of the service actually provided."

4. CHINA VISA OFFICES OVERWHELMED SINCE BORDER OPENING

Processing times for visas to enter China have increased as the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, and consulates across the US struggle to keep up with a wave of applications, reports The Wall Street Journal. During the pandemic, China closed its physical US-based visa offices, discontinued in-person appointments, and required application materials, including passports, to be mailed in. Despite China recently reopening its borders, many visa offices remain closed, and those that are open are understaffed, leading to complications in issuing visas and delaying the resumption of international business activity. Visa agencies say it now takes two to three weeks to get a visa, compared with three to four days before the pandemic. Visa issues have also impacted holders of 10-year multiple-entry visas that haven’t expired. Before the pandemic, such visas were popular among people who frequented China to see family or conduct business activities. During the pandemic, the Chinese government suspended their use, requiring individuals to apply for separate single-entry visas to access the country. China has yet to reinstate multiple-entry visas, causing many to urge the Chinese Embassy in the US to “remove obstacles for visiting China."

5. HEATHROW AIRPORT SEES BUSIEST START TO YEAR IN THREE YEARS

London Heathrow Airport (LHR) reported traveler numbers of 5.48 million in January 2023, more than double the 2.6 million traffic in the same month in 2022, reports Airport-Technology. The latest figure is said to be the airport’s busiest January since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Outgoing Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said that the airport was ‘back to its best,' even though traveler numbers are still below the January 2020 level of 6.1 million. He stated, “Heathrow is back to its best, with passenger satisfaction scores meeting or exceeding 2019 levels.” The growth in traveler volume is led by Asia/Pacific, which recorded a 181.3% surge in foot traffic to 764,000 travelers. North American traveler volume also jumped 119.7% to 1.2 million in January 2023 while EU traffic soared 135% to 1.62 million.