Letter to the Editor | Monday, November 15, 2021
For most people, the clock moving from 11:59 p.m. to midnight on Sunday into Monday, Nov. 7/8 proved an event unworthy of much celebration. To me, and many others from beyond these shores, it marked the restart of a hugely important and emotional element of once-everyday life, as the U.S. reopened its border. Beginning on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, “non-essential” travel into the United States by foreign nationals is once again a possibility. To most Americans this news likely means little more than a return of overseas tourists, but for me, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland, the reopening of the air-bridge is an issue that goes to the heart of the emigrant’s experience and the nature of one’s own family.
Many people undoubtedly look upon transatlantic air travel as a luxury, a method to escape for a few weeks of vacation. In my life, however, the direct and unbroken air link between the United States and the European Union has held my family together. For nearly two decades, unhindered ease of access between Ireland and America allowed me to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and even my siblings on either side of the tossing main. That reality, however, ceased to exist in March 2020. In the face of the growing COVID-19 Pandemic, then President Donald Trump restricted travel to the U.S. from the United Kingdom, Ireland and the E.U.’s Schengen free travel zone. From then until Nov. 8 of this year, families in both America and Europe endured the hardship of separation. Like everyone else, transatlantic families missed crucial milestones in life: births, marriages and deaths, due to the COVID crisis. In the United States, however, that anguish for many American families began to recede in the summer of 2020 with the easing of domestic restrictions. Those of us reliant on unimpeded air connectivity, on the other hand, felt no such sweet release from heartache.
To families such as mine, the transatlantic air bridge kept us connected in ways Zoom could never possibly match. The cross-ocean air link exists as far more than a vacation vehicle. It is the glue that holds us all together. Indeed, I often and unironically refer to Aer Lingus as “my cousin” — the company’s frequent and easy Dublin to New York/Boston/Chicago/Hartford flights allowed me to keep one foot firmly planted on both sides of the Atlantic. The past eighteen months brought into focus just how important such flights are to families like mine, and their return is a cause for the utmost joy and celebration. In my case, at long last, my octogenarian godparents can finally make their first trip to the United States to visit us. The pain and agony of long-suffered detachment can now, finally, recede into an unpleasant but bygone memory.
The resumption of non-essential travel into the U.S. may seem like a mere matter of facts and figures. Airlines can expect X dollars of profit, while T.S.A. wait lines will grow by Y minutes each day. This issue, however, is also an emotional one which cannot be encapsulated into statistics. Nov. 8 became a day of unbounded joy, of celebration, of relief, and perhaps most of all, of hope. The erstwhile bitter rivals of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic perfectly captured this hope. Both airlines’ first flights last Monday simultaneously took off from London Heathrow for New York JFK — a unique occurrence in Heathrow’s operating history — to mark the significance of restarted trans-ocean travel. On their wings, those two sleek Airbus A350 jets carry my hopes and thousands of other expatriates, all of us counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to long-awaited reunions. For me at least, I think the emotional tumult wrapped up in renewed E.U.-U.S. travel is perfectly summed up by the words of JFK’s air traffic control to Aer Lingus’ inbound flight from Dublin: “Shamrock 105-Heavy, cleared to land. It’s good to have you back.”
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.