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Families from around the world reunite in Austin after 18-month travel ban

(Pexels file photo)

When London resident Jess Rimer put all of her off days in one to go on vacation this November, many of her coworkers thought she was taking a much-needed breather to a warmer, more tropical locale. While Austin is certainly warmer, Rimer had a different motive in mind.

Rimer and her husband, Frank, set out on a long-awaited trek across multiple countries to visit family in Toronto and Austin just after the 18-month travel ban was lifted.

"Everyone's like, 'Oh, where are you going, somewhere sunny?' And I'm like, 'Well, yes'... but (it's for) family," Rimer said.

The year-and-a-half pandemic pause on nonessential travel for non-U.S citizens left many families suddenly cut off by borders. But many Zoom holidays later, thousands of long-separated loved ones had tearful reunions at airports across the country this week as the ban was lifted for vaccinated travelers.

Rimer came to Austin to spend a week with her stepdad Michael Langolf after spending years apart. Instead of planning something grand for the reunion, Rimes said the trio is looking to slow down and soak it all in.

Jess Rimes (left) and her husband Frank are visiting her stepdad Michael Langolf (right) after 18 months apart due to the travel ban. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

"In Canada, we were there for a few weeks, and it was literally nonstop to see family and friends," Rimer said. "It's kind of like one big trip now... I don't know when we'll be able to see each other next, (probably) next year when we have more vacation time."

Austin doctor Harry Thomas already has family visiting his Austin home. His parents, who hadn't seen his two young sons in two years, made it into town on Monday, the same day the ban was lifted.

Everything fell into place—the ban happened to be lifted on his oldest son's birthday, and his youngest son was finally able to connect with his grandparents after years apart.

Harry Thomas' (left) parents visited his young sons for the first time in years after the travel ban was lifted in November. (Harry Thomas)

"There's nothing to replace that in-person contact," Thomas said. "The last time they saw him, he was like a year old, so we weren't even sure what he'd be like, but somehow he just instantly connected. I think he kind of recognizes them as grandparents in life as opposed to on the screen."

Thomas' parents initially planned to come to the States back in July, when it was rumored that bans would be lifted before the onset of the third COVID surge. As a family of avid Austin FC fans, Thomas wanted to take them to a match, and with safety protocols in place—travelers that are non-U.S. citizens are required to be both vaccinated and receive a negative test before they can make it across—he plans on bringing them over again for a match as soon as possible.

"It was great! I'm happy they were able to come and everything went safely," Thomas said. "Now we're just reconnecting and spending time together."

As the ban was lifted, airports across the country awaited high traffic and long lines from travelers eager to see their loved ones after countless nights of FaceTime. While Austin-Bergstrom International Airport doesn't have specific stats on arrivals, ABIA's Sam Haynes said traffic has mostly leveled off since its record-breaking weekend when Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix was in town.

The airport has recently made it easier for families to reunite with new international flights. British Airways resumed a nonstop service from Austin to London on Oct. 13, while American Airlines began nonstop service to Cancun, Mexico and San Juan, Puerto Rico on Oct. 7. American also added new nonstop destinations including Liberia, Costa Rica; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in early November.


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