JFK AIRPORT, Queens — From tears of joy, to bear hugs, to mile-wide smiles, the displays of emotion varied, as families and friends separated by COVID were reunited on Monday for the first time since the pandemic began.
It was the day that the Biden Administration lifted the travel ban on international visitors, and the people waiting for the first international flights of the day finally saw an end to longstanding anticipation.
“It’s been 730 days since I’ve seen her,” said Louise Erebera about her sister, Jill Chambers, who lives in Lancashire, England.
Since their mother passed away four years ago, the sisters, who’ve always been close, have become even closer. COVID, though, separated them physically.
On Monday, however, that changed. Chambers had been selected by British Airways to be one of the first passengers to fly from London to New York since the Biden Administration lifted the ban.
When asked about her sister’s pending arrival, Erebera couldn’t hold back tears.
“I’m sorry,” she said, as her eyes welled up. “I’m so excited. I’ve won the lottery.”
The pair Zoom, FaceTime or WhatsApp on a daily basis.
“But the fact that she hasn’t been physically here… I can’t wait,” Erebera said.
Bobbe Fernando was also waiting for a passenger on the same British Airways flight, which was appropriately designated BA-1. It took off from London’s Heathrow Airport at almost the same time that rival carrier Virgin Atlantic had a plane take off on its way to New York, in a show of solidarity in overcoming the virus.
On board Flight BA-1 was Fernando’s brother, Phil.
She spoke about him as she referred to her son, Phil’s nephew, Ben, who’d also come to JFK to greet his uncle.
“This little guy is almost two years since he saw him,” Fernando said, as she gestured to show how much her son has grown since then. “So he’s like this much higher,” she continued. “[There have] been a lot of changes, so it’s been tough.”
Ben, 6, had a plan for his first sight of Uncle Phil: run and hug him.
Then, at around 11:45 a.m., after most of the passengers had gone through customs, they came through the arrivals gate, while British Airways staff applauded, and handed out cookies and other treats.
Uncle Phil was among the first out of the gate.
“Can’t wait to get home and have a good old cup of British tea,” Fernando said, after a long embrace with her brother.
He, like all of the other passengers, as well as all international travelers to the U.S., had to have proof of full vaccination in order to be allowed entry.
Once they’ve arrived, as sisters Louise Erebera and Jill Chambers showed, the tears flowed, the smiles were broad, and the level of joy was insurmountably high.
“Oh my God,” Chambers exclaimed, after spending a couple of minutes hugging and kissing her sister. “This is the best thing ever in the whole world. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”