Lawyers Travel's weekly client e-newsletter, the Informed Traveler, keeps readers updated on travel industry news and trends.
Following is a recap of March's top 5 (most clicked by Lawyers Travel's clients) e-newsletter stories.
The US Department of State has announced that passport processing times continue to be delayed amid 'unprecedented demand,' reports Travel Market Report. According to the State Department, routine applications are now taking between 10 and 13 weeks, while expedited applications are now taking between seven and nine weeks. These timelines do not include mailing times, which may take up to two weeks for applications to be mailed, and another two weeks for them to be mailed back, possibly extending the entire application process to 17 weeks, or more than four months, from the time of mailing. The main reason for the longer processing time is the higher demand for passports; 2023 is on track to set the record for the highest demand year ever for passports. The State Department has been working to reduce processing times in a number of ways including “aggressively recruiting and hiring,” offering overtime to its current employees, and opening satellite offices to help process the large number of applications coming in. Additionally, the department encourages all travelers to check their passport expiration date before making any plans for international travel, and to take action to renew their passport well in advance this year. “We are committed to transparency and will continue to provide regular updates about passport processing times, and to encourage Americans to apply for their passport well in advance of any planned international travel to avoid last-minute issues,” the State Department said in its latest update.
The European Union (EU) has officially delayed the launch of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) until at least 2024, reports Travel Market Report. ETIAS has been delayed several times over the past few years, most recently in August 2022. The previous postponement pushed the launch date from May 2023 to November 2023. An updated launch date has yet to be determined, but the EU has confirmed that it will not take effect in November 2023 as planned. “It is expected that the ETIAS will be operational in 2024,” said the EU in its latest update. The ETIAS, which has been in the works since 2016, will require all non-Europeans, including those in the US, UK, and Canada, to obtain an electronic travel permit ahead of arrival to any of the 26 European countries that make up the Schengen area. This requirement applies to all travelers who do not need a visa prior to travel.
More than 1,400 security guards at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) will strike for 10 days over the Easter break, forcing British Airways to cancel roughly 32 flights a day to and from LHR during the holiday period, reports BBC. The strike, which is expected to last from Friday, March 31, to Easter Sunday, April 9, includes security guards who work at the airport's Terminal 5, which is used exclusively by British Airways, as well as those responsible for checking all cargo that enters the airport. British Airways has been told by the airport to reduce its schedule on those days by five percent and has stopped selling tickets. The airline has begun to offer a range of options to affected travelers. "We've apologized to customers whose travel plans have been affected and have offered them a range of options, including rebooking onto a new flight with us or another airline, or requesting a full refund," the airline said in a statement. LHR said it was deploying 1,000 additional staff, together with its management team, who will be in the terminals providing assistance to travelers over the Easter break. It said it may take "a little longer than usual to get through security," and advised travelers to help ensure a smooth departure by checking their flight status before travelling to the airport, and by having their liquids and electronics ready for security.
Amtrak has announced that it is partnering with the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) to apply for federal funds to study a new service between New York City, Atlanta, and Dallas/Fort Worth by extending a section of the popular Amtrak Crescent train from Meridian, Mississippi, to Texas. Amtrak has been exploring this idea for more than 20 years, but last year’s Congressional passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now creates new opportunities to study possible expanded long-distance Amtrak service. “This has the potential to be the first new Amtrak service of its kind in more than 25 years and it would come in an area that has long been underserved by passenger rail,” said SRC Chairman Knox Ross. “Now that we have a way forward for new state-sponsored corridor service between New Orleans and Mobile, the I-20 route has been identified by the SRC as its next priority.” If the study produces a sufficient business case for a direct connection between the Northeast Corridor and fast-growing areas in the South and West, Amtrak would partner with the SRC and others to seek federal capital and operating support to initiate the service.
China has reopened its borders to foreign travelers for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing all categories of visas to be issued, reports Travel Market Report. As of March 15, travelers can now apply for Chinese travel visas and foreign offices can process said applications. China has also stated that it will honor valid visas issued prior to the country's shutdown in March 2020. Additionally, China has reopened visa-free entry to some parts of the country, including in Hainan Island and for cruise ship travelers sailing into Shanghai. Individuals traveling to China must still undergo a COVID-19 test within 48 hours before their departure and complete customs health declaration forms upon arrival.