“Chaos at the airport!” You’ve seen those headlines and TV shots the last few days, and you know they’re accurate. You also know that, at least for now, the new immigration rules are under legal challenge, with an uncertain outcome.
Most U.S. travelers will not be affected directly. The 90-day blanket entry ban targets citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It also bars Syrian refugees indefinitely and other refugees for 120 days. And it stipulates that resident green-card holders who visited any of those countries may be re-screened on returning to the U.S.
But almost all travelers, even on purely domestic trips, may suffer one secondary effect: Demonstrations at major international gateway airports can disrupt all flights, all processing functions, and even airport access. International travelers face more extensive problems:
- Extra rigorous screening and bureaucratic confusion can delay re-entry into the U.S. for everybody.
- Dealing with passengers denied entry can lengthen aircraft turn-around times and delay outbound flights.
- Aircrews on some foreign lines have refused to fly to the U.S., potentially involving flight delays and cancellations.
Travelers have already experienced some or all of these hassles. Presumably, airlines, airports, and immigration officials will quickly develop workarounds for these and other problems to minimize the impact of the ban.
But nobody can predict when and where some group may decide to stage a demonstration, so anyone traveling in the coming weeks should plan to minimize their risk in the following ways:
- The all-purpose “chicken soup” remedy for possible airport problems remains as always: Allow extra time for passing through an airport.
- Avoid flying to or from those high-visibility gateway airports, such as Atlanta, JFK, Los Angeles International, Newark, O’Hare, or San Francisco, that are most likely to attract demonstrations and confrontations. Instead, use nearby regional fields wherever you can.
- Anyone, regardless of citizenship, traveling from one of the seven countries to a destination requiring a connection in North America should avoid U.S. hubs and instead connect through Canada or Mexico.
- North Americans traveling in other parts of the world—especially Europe and the Middle East—should be aware that the U.S. action has triggered some intense local feelings, both opposed to and in favor of the ban. Even “innocent bystander” Canadians may be challenged.
- Nobody other than a business traveler, aid worker, or government official is likely to be visiting any of the seven countries affected by the ban any time soon. Travelers in these groups should closely follow whatever policies their employer/sponsor/agency specifies.
If you fall into one of the targeted groups, of course, you face tougher challenges. Although the latest pronouncements from the government indicate that legal U.S. residents, with green cards, will be allowed to re-enter the U.S., numerous such individuals have been detained in recent days. Clearly, anyone with roots in one of the seven countries, even green-card holders, should try to defer travel outside the U.S. for at least a few days until the dust settles.
And if you’re in the U.S. from one of the seven countries on a temporary basis, you can leave but don’t expect to return any time soon. Presumably, the details will be worked out fairly quickly. But until they are, anyone with a background likely to raise a red flag should postpone or defer any trips whenever possible.