Week in Review: Countries Scrap Visas, The Latest From Ecuador

A winter storm in Chicago has resulted in hundreds of flights either canceled or delayed at its airports, O'Hare International and Midway International. In a recent X (née Twitter) post, the official O’Hare account reported that airlines have “proactively canceled more than 650 flights, and they are reporting delays averaging 30 minutes,” while Midway reported airlines have canceled more than 250 flights, also with delays averaging 30 minutes.

Tip: You can see real-time delays and cancelations at www.flychicago.com.

Elsewhere on the aviation front, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines, according to www.flightaware.com, are reporting high numbers of canceled and delayed flights, mostly relating to the Federal Aviation Administration’s grounding of the Boeing 737 Max 9. The two carriers—the only ones in the U.S. operating the Max 9—have 79 and 65 of the aircraft, respectfully.  Other airlines globally to operate the Max 9 include Aeromexico, Air Tanzania, Copa Airlines, Corendon Dutch Airlines, flydubai, Icelandair, Lion Air, SCAT Airlines and Turkish Airlines.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9
Alaska Airlines operates 65 Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft, while United operates 79—all of which remain grounded. (Photo by Alaska Airlines)

Following an incident where a portion of the fuselage blew out on a flight last Friday night all Max 9 aircraft operating in the U.S. were grounded by the FAA. The administration today announced “new and significant actions” to increase oversight of Boeing production and manufacturing.

"It is time to re-examine the delegation of authority and assess any associated safety risks," FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in the statement. "The grounding of the 737-9 and the multiple production-related issues identified in recent years require us to look at every option to reduce risk. The FAA is exploring the use of an independent third party to oversee Boeing’s inspections and its quality system."

This grounding comes just a few years after the large portions of the Boeing 737 Max line were grounded after two fatal crashes, both involving the Max 8. Those flights were operated by Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines.

New Entry Requirements

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
Americans no longer need a visa to visit Türkiye and all of its sites, including the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, shown above. (Photo by Explora_2005/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

This week, a couple of countries announced new regulations, both making it easier for travelers to visit.

Türkiye is no longer requiring Americans to obtain a visa for visits up to 90 days in any 180 days. Until December 31, 2023, Americans (and Canadians) had needed to apply in advance for an E-Visa, purchasable online for $51.50. There is no alternate authorization American travelers must acquire.

On the other hand, Kenya has gotten rid of its own visa requirement but, instead, replaced it with a new electronic travel authorization (ETA). Travelers from all countries—except for East African Community citizens—will need to apply for the ETA, which has a $30 fee. Applications must be submitted between three months and three days before arrival. While the previous visa program could take up to 14 days for processing, the new system’s waiting period has been reduced to a maximum of 72 hours.

The Latest in Ecuador

This week, Ecuador has “experienced appalling levels of violence and terrorism at the hands of narco-criminal elements targeting innocent civilians,” following the escape of a high-profile prisoner, according to the U.S. State Department. That said, the agency has not changed its advisory for the country, keeping it at Level 2 (where most countries globally reside), except for a few locales that are listed as Level 3 (reconsider travel) and Level 4 (do not travel).

Plaza San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador
Ecuador's Metropolitan Touring reports all its tours and hotels are operating as normal. Shown above is Plaza San Franciso, Quito, as seen from CasaGangotena's rooftop. (Photo by Matt Turner)

Most places travelers would visit, including Andes, Amazon and Galápagos Islands are safe for visitors. Metropolitan Touring, a tour operator in Ecuador, reports to Travel Agent that all of its tours and hotel properties—including CasaGangotena in Quito—remain fully operational.

While several airlines have canceled flights to and from the country, Mariscal Sucre Quito International Airport in Quito and José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil (the gateway to the Galápagos) continue to operate as normal.

We’re told that “the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism has not reported any incidents involving foreign visitors to Ecuador and violent gang-related crime. Metropolitan Touring has [additionally] not experienced any such incidents, either concerning our staff or our guests.”

While the news might not ward off more ardent travelers, those with less international experience may be wary. For those travelers, consider pointing them to Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection’s annual "State of Travel Insurance Safest Destinations" report. In the latest iteration, Canada, Switzerland and Norway took the top three spots on the list of safest countries. Each of last year’s top three destinations—the Netherlands, Denmark and Iceland—dropped out of those spots, but all remained in the top 10.

Iceland Hotel Reopens

Blue Lagoon Iceland
All of Blue Lagoon's facilities have reopened following the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland. (Photo by Blue Lagoon Iceland)

Following a two-month closure related to increased seismic and, later, volcanic activity, Blue Lagoon Iceland fully reopened all of its facilities this week, including the Silica and Retreat Hotels, Blue Café, Lava Restaurant, Retreat Spa, Spa Restaurant and the on-site Blue Lagoon Skincare retail store.

The property had been closed since November 9, 2023, but began reopening on January 6. The complete reopening, according to Blue Lagoon, was decided after careful consideration with the local authorities with whom the company has been in close contact over the last two months. The local authorities and experts will continue to monitor the area and the developments of seismic activity closely.

A Moment of Your Time

Travel Agent has launched another edition of its quarterly "Travel Trends & Advisor Insight Survey." We will use these quarterly surveys to learn more about the current state of the travel industry, as well as your business. Please take a few minutes to fill out the survey; following its conclusion, we will publish the findings here, so you will gain insight into the larger travel ecosystem and your colleagues' businesses.

To see the latest survey results, view its eponymous whitepaper, available for download.

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