LAX Sign. Photo by John Schreiber.

LAX is preparing for a surge in international travelers after the U.S. Monday ended a pandemic ban that prohibited travelers from 33 countries from entering the U.S.

The federal government first restricted travel from Europe in March 2020 over concerns about the coronavirus, followed by travel bans for other countries. On Monday, restrictions were lifted for the 26 European countries that don’t have border controls, as well as China, India, South Africa, Iran, Brazil, Britain and Ireland.

The first group of previously restricted passengers arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight from Amsterdam, and planes will be arriving throughout the day from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland and more, according to Heath Montgomery, director of public relations for Los Angeles World Airports.

Federal guidelines require international travelers to show proof of full vaccination by a vaccine approved by the World Health Organization, along with proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel.

People under 18 are exempt from the vaccination requirement, but they will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. The vaccination exemption also includes people medically unable to receive the vaccine and emergency travelers who do not have timely access to a vaccine.

“It’s also a big deal not only for the airport, but for the L.A. economy,” Montgomery said, adding that L.A. Tourism projects that the lifted restrictions will result in a million extra tourists to the area through June of next year.

The million people are expected to spend about $1 billion in L.A. and the surrounding area.

“There’s huge economic implications to this in addition to just seeing passenger numbers rise, so it’s a win-win,” Montgomery said.

In recent weeks, the airport has been processing about 13,000 international visitors per day, but that number is expected to gradually increase to 35,000 or 40,000 per day by the end of the year.

Montgomery noted that it wouldn’t be like “flipping a switch,” but that as airlines add capacity and additional flights, and as more people book flights into the U.S., the airport expects to see a tripling of international travelers.

The airport has a long way to go before returning to pre-pandemic levels. During the first nine months of 2021, the airport saw about 5 million international travelers, down about 75% from the approximately 20 million international travelers who arrived at LAX during the same period in 2019.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials implemented a facial-recognition process at LAX in 2020 that airport officials say will speed up the entry process for international travelers.

The “Simplified Arrival” process uses facial biometrics to automate the manual document checks that are already required for admission into the U.S.

Previously, there was a multi-step process that took several minutes, but under the biometric process people can be screened within several seconds.

“It will literally take a picture of a person who walks up and automatically associate that with the passport information and the traveling information. … They don’t have to provide fingerprints, they don’t have to hand over a passport, they don’t have to fill out a document at a kiosk. They can just go up and have that conversation with the officer,” Montgomery said.

American citizens have the option to opt out of the biometric process and use the old multi-system process, Montgomery said.

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