People meet relatives at baggage claim while arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport as the U.S. reopens air and land borders to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinated travellers for the first time since the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, in New York, U.S., November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

People meet relatives at baggage claim while arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport as the U.S. reopens air and land borders to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinated travellers for the first time since the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, in New York, U.S., November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

In row 22 of a full American Airlines flight from London to New York on Monday morning, Christopher and Zoe Perrotton fastened their seat belts.

AA 101 was preparing to take off from London’s Heathrow Airport, heading to New York after the United States on Monday lifted travel restrictions slapped on much of the world as the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.

The Perrottons, both British human resources executives, were married last August, but had not been able to celebrate yet. Just over eight hours later, they touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport on a sunny New York day.

“This is a bit of a mini honeymoon,” said Christopher, 36, as they landed. “America said they were going to open up, and we thought on the off-chance we booked some flights to New York.”

Their plan for six nights in the Big Apple? “Eating and drinking as much we can,” Christopher said with a smile at baggage claim.

The travel ban, first imposed in early 2020, had barred access to most non-U.S. citizens traveling from 33 countries – including China, India and much of Europe – and had also restricted overland entry from Mexico and Canada.

The United States lagged many other countries in its decision to finally lift the travel curbs, made possible by the rollout of coronavirus vaccines and critical to reviving tourism around the globe.

Months of pent-up demand triggered a major spike in bookings on Monday, with travelers required to show official proof of vaccination and a recent, negative viral test.

Brad, a 34-year-old American who lives in England, was waiting for his British partner Kelly, 33, to join him, after he’d flown to the United States earlier to visit his parents. Both gave only their first names.

Kelly, who had not traveled to the United States during the pandemic at all, chided Brad about her flight experience.

“It was very busy,” she told him at arrivals. “I kept hearing how your flights were always empty!”

Jill and Stephen Brownbill react as they meet their newly borne grandson Rocco while arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport as the U.S. reopens land borders to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinated travellers for the first time since the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, in New York, U.S., November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Jill and Stephen Brownbill react as they meet their newly borne grandson Rocco while arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport as the U.S. reopens land borders to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinated travellers for the first time since the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, in New York, U.S., November 8, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The flight was smooth, said British couple Jill and Stephen Brownbill, who had crossed the Atlantic to meet their 9-week-old grandson.

“We’ve waited so long for this,” Stephen said after kissing the little boy at arrivals as Jill held him. “Technology is an amazing thing, but this – there’s no comparison.”

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