SAIPAN — The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is looking at the possibility of establishing travel bubble programs with other tourism markets, including Japan.

Gov. Ralph Torres on Monday said that he had spoken with Japanese Consul Kazuhiko Ono regarding the vaccination rate in Japan.

He noted that Japan’s vaccination rate is based on the entire population, while the U.S. rate measures those who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, or individuals 12 years old or older. 

Marianas Visitors Authority Managing Director Priscilla Iakopo on Monday said the MVA board has approved the creation of a Japan Tourism Resumption Investment Plan, or TRIP, ad hoc committee to be chaired by Hyatt Regency Saipan General Manager Nick Nishikawa.

Iakopo said MVA also is communicating with its Japan office to begin discussions with travel partners in Japan.

She said MVA was told that Japan currently is focusing on controlling the coronavirus in the Asian nation.

“When they’re able to control that, I guess, they’ll start discussions with us,” she added.

Last week, she said she spoke with Skymark Airlines, which had to suspend its Japan-Saipan flight service because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re still asking for our patience,” Iaokopo said, referring to Skymark Airlines. “Once they’re ready to resume travel again, whether that will be domestically or internationally, we will be on standby.”

Could vaccines be mandated for U.S. air travelers?

It was reported by the Washington Post that White House Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci is in support of a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel.

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“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people, that you should be vaccinated,” he told theSkimm in a recorded interview.

The U.S. Travel Association disagreed with Fauci, noting that travel precautions used by airlines to control the spread of COVID-19 are already sufficient.

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

“The science—including studies from the Harvard School of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Defense—overwhelmingly points to the safety of air travel as long as masks are worn. And with the federal mask mandate for all forms of public transportation and U.S. airports extended through January 2022, proper tools are already in place to enable safe air travel for Americans,” said U.S. Travel Association executive vice president of public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes.

The association maintained that there should be no mandates for vaccinations for domestic travel.

“Such a policy would have an unfair, negative impact on families with young children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine,” noted Emerson Barnes. “While U.S. Travel does not endorse a national vaccine mandate, we continue to believe that vaccines are the fastest path back to normalcy for all, and we strongly encourage all who are eligible to get a vaccine immediately to protect themselves, their families and their neighbors.”

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Dr Anthony Fauci has backed the idea of banning unvaccinated people from air travel in the US.

“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people, you should be vaccinated,” Dr Fauci, the director of the US’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Skimm This podcast, according to The Hill. The podcast was taped last week and is set to be released on Thursday.

The support from Dr Fauci, who earlier led the Covid-19 task force, comes days after Democrat representative Don Beyer introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to make a proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours from travel a requirement to board an airline or a train.

Mr Beyer, the representative from Virginia, introduced The Safe Travel Act in the House on Thursday.

“Requiring airport and Amtrak travellers and employees to provide a proof of Covid vaccine or negative test is just common sense,” Mr Beyer said on his bill. “These are easy steps we can take to make travel safer, as companies like United have already demonstrated with responsible policy changes.”

Earlier in August another Democrat, New York representative Ritchie Torres, also pushed a bill to require Americans to get immunised or tested before travelling. In his letter to the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, Mr Torres said such a requirement was “common sense”.

On Friday, the White House refused to rule out the introduction of such a policy. “I think we have a very strong track record that shows we’re pulling available levers to acquire vaccinations and we’re not taking any measures off the table,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said.

So far, 54 per cent of Americans have been fully vaccinated, while 63 per cent have received at least one dose, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. Over 35 per cent, or nearly 80 million, Americans are unvaccinated.

President Joe Biden said last week that vaccine hesitancy, which remains a major hurdle for the US, has cost the country a great deal. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin,” Mr Biden said. “And your refusal has cost all of us. So, please, do the right thing.”

President Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has come out in support of banning people from flying on airplanes if they are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Fauci was asked during an interview with theSkimm on Monday if he would support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Americans in order to fly.

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“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated,” Fauci said.

The White House has not explicitly taken a federal vaccination requirement for air travel off the table.

Although, with Fauci’s influence as the president’s top doctor, the administration could sway in that direction if Biden chooses to follow suit, as he often has.

When asked if the White House was considering a vaccine mandate for air travel, an administration official pointed Fox News to White House coronavirus response director Jeff Zients’ comments from Friday when he was asked about the subject and remarking that is where the administration stood on the issue at the moment.

Zients did not take an air travel ban for unvaccinated Americans “off the table.”

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“As to travel, we’re taking further action, as you know, to double the fines for noncompliance of masking on airlines,” Zients said. “So that’s a TSA action that was announced yesterday.

“And overall, I think we have a – you know, a very strong track record that shows we’re pulling available levers to acquire vaccinations and we’re not taking any measures off the table,” he added.

Houston Keene is a reporter for Fox News Digital. You can find him on Twitter at @HoustonKeene.

THE Commonwealth is now looking at the possibility of establishing travel bubble programs with other tourism markets, including Japan.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres on Monday said that he had spoken with Japanese Consul Kazuhiko Ono regarding the vaccination rate in Japan.

He noted that Japan’s vaccination rate is based on the entire population while the U.S. rate measures those who are eligible, or individuals 12 years of age or older, for the Covid-19 vaccine.

“So it’s a little bit different on the vaccine per population requirements, but as you know, around the world, the higher percentage of vaccination per country, the safer it is, so I’m sure that before they open up their borders, they would want to reach a certain number of percentage of their population to be vaccinated,” the governor said, referring to Japan.

With the CNMI recently reaching an 80% vaccination rate, the governor thanked the community, first responders, doctors, nurses, “and everyone involved in the effort to reach this goal.”

He added, “I’m really excited that we reached our goal. I guess when you reach a goal, now we’re going to try to reach another goal, which is hopefully 90%…. Now we’re focusing on our students, our kids, our [Public School System] student body, our faculties, and of course, we continue to push also our government and private entities.”

Marianas Visitors Authority Managing Director Priscilla M. Iakopo on Monday said the MVA board has approved the creation of a Japan Tourism Resumption Investment Plan, or TRIP, ad hoc committee to be chaired by Hyatt Regency Saipan general manager Nick Nishikawa.

Iakopo said MVA is also communicating with its Japan office to begin discussions with travel partners in Japan.

She said MVA was told that Japan is currently focusing on controlling the coronavirus in the Asian nation.

“When they’re able to control that, I guess they’ll start discussions with us,” she added.

Last week, she said she spoke with Skymark Airlines which had to suspend its Japan-Saipan flight service because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“They’re still asking for our patience,” Iaokopo said, referring to Skymark Airlines. “Once they’re ready to resume travel again, whether that will be domestically or internationally, we will be on standby.”

Japanese Consul Kazuhiko Ono, for his part, said establishing a travel bubble between the CNMI and Japan is not easy.

“As you can see, [the CNMI has] a travel bubble with Korea, but how many Korean tourists are visiting the Northern Mariana Islands at the moment? So I think, in my opinion, travel bubble is not a perfect scheme, but now the population of Japan who are already vaccinated is more than 50%, and I think the number is going up, so…maybe October or November…we will [ease] some protocols and some restrictions, including those affecting travel,” he said.

Smoke continues to billow from the remains of the World Trade Center as Continental Express planes sit at the closed Newark, New Jersey Airport 12 September 2001 in the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. One of the hijacked planes departed the Newark Airport and later crashed near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Tannen Maury | AFP | Getty Images

More than a fifth of the U.S. population is too young to remember what air travel was like before Sept. 11, 2001.

Passengers’ loved ones used to be able to greet and bid them farewell at the gate. Travelers weren’t required to take off their shoes and belts or remove liquids from carry-on luggage before going through checkpoints, let alone wait in long security lines. It was years before airlines charged passengers to check their bags or select a seat, though average domestic fares are cheaper today.

The entire industry, from airport security to flight attendant training to even the number of airlines in existence, was reshaped by the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history. That clear, blue morning in late summer, 19 hijackers turned four Boeing jetliners — two American Airlines and two United Airlines planes —into missiles. They crashed two of them into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in a field in southern Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attack.

Cars sit outside Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is closed because of the air attacks on New York and Washington, DC, September 11, 2001, in Los Angeles, CA.

David McNew | Getty Images

Industry shock

Commercial flights were halted for several days. Airline executives pondered the industry’s future.

“We immediately grounded all our airplanes,” said David Neeleman, founder and then-CEO of JetBlue Airways, at that point a new carrier that debuted 19 months before 9/11. “We had planes landing in the Carolinas, Kansas. Our CFO was at the printer. He was proofing the prospectus for our IPO.”

Cancelled flights are displayed on monitors at the Los Angeles Airport terminal September 10, 2001 in Los Angeles, CA.

Jason Kirk | Getty Images

Watching the events unfold, “I started thinking: Why would anybody want to travel again with this going on?”

Global passenger traffic recovered but it took two years, as travelers were reluctant to fly and business travel demand plunged because of the attacks and a recession.

U.S. airlines lost $8 billion in 2001. The industry wasn’t profitable again until 2006. Losses topped $60 billion over that five-year period and airlines again lost money in 2008 during the Great Recession. Job cuts in the wake of 9/11 were in the tens of thousands and workers faced massive pay cuts. Only the Covid pandemic has threatened more jobs but a record $54 billion federal bailout prohibited airlines from laying off staff.

Stranded travelers wait in the United Airlines terminal at O”Hare International Airport September 11, 2001 in Chicago, Illinois.

Tim Boyle | Getty Images

U.S. airline employment even before

Travelers wearing protective face masks wait in line at a Transportation Security Administration screening at LaGuardia Airport in New York last month. U.S. aviation regulators are calling on the nation’s airports to crack down on the defiantly unmasked.

Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images


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Travelers wearing protective face masks wait in line at a Transportation Security Administration screening at LaGuardia Airport in New York last month. U.S. aviation regulators are calling on the nation’s airports to crack down on the defiantly unmasked.

Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden and the Transportation Security Administration are cracking down on those who defy mask mandates on airplanes with one simple message: “If you break the rules, be prepared to pay.”

The White House announced Thursday that the TSA will be doubling its fines for travelers who refuse to wear a mask on flights. The new rules went into effect on Friday. First-time offenders now face a fine between $500 and $1,000, while fines for a second offense will range between $1,000 and $3,000, according to a TSA release.

The mask mandate for air travel has also been extended to January. The new TSA rules are part of an action plan Biden revealed Thursday to combat the spread of COVID-19 by making testing more accessible and by strengthening mask mandates nationwide.

Violent disputes over masks became more frequent on flights as lockdowns lifted and airline travel resumed in earnest: The Federal Aviation Administration said last month that more than 70% of incident reports involving disorderly passengers on airplanes this year were related to refusals to wear a mask.

In 2021 alone, the FAA had already issued more than a million dollars in fines by August.

Speaking to the nation on Thursday, Biden denounced the harassment airline employees have been facing because of mask mandates.

“If you break the rules, be prepared to pay,” Biden said. “And by the way, show some respect. The anger you see on television toward flight attendants and others doing their job is wrong, it’s ugly.”

American Airlines flight attendant Julia Simpson was eager to get back on a plane after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks upended air travel 20 years ago and shifted how the world thought about flying on an airplane.

The first plane to strike the World Trade Center buildings was full of flight attendants from Boston, where Simpson was the local union head. Not only was she grieving, but she and thousands of other employees were wondering if this would be the end of American Airlines after two of the Fort Worth-based carrier’s planes were used as weapons in the terror attacks.

“There was really a team mentality where we all came together because we needed to get this airline up and running again,” she said. “When flights were happening again, American was really good about coordinating and letting flight attendants fly where they wanted to fly, with who they wanted to fly with.”

Commercial air travel resumed just two days later with security checkpoints at airports that would become standard after that day.

Passengers banded together, too, she said. They watched out for signs of suspicious behavior, they were more willing to help out flight attendants and didn’t complain about security searches for box cutters, knives, scissors and the types of weapons that were used to hijack the four planes days earlier.

“They watched that safety demonstration like a hawk — like they had never seen it,” Simpson said. “20 years later, there is none of that now.”

Two decades after airplanes united travelers against a common enemy — terrorism —the COVID-19 pandemic has pitted passengers against passengers on planes and once again left flight attendants and pilots as the first responders to threats 35,000 feet in the air.

There have been reports of passengers attacking one another over wearing federally mandated masks. Others have attacked flight attendants, such as a California woman charged last week in federal court for punching a flight attendant and knocking out two teeth during an altercation in May. The woman could face more than 30 years in jail.

While airline executives suggested 18 months ago that the COVID-19 crisis would have the same financial impact on the airline industry as the 2001 terrorist attacks, few could have guessed that it would spark a similar level of anxiety and trepidation in the air.

The 2001 terrorist attacks instigated the biggest changes in air travel since commercial airlines started flying after World War II. Passengers were now asked to show up two hours or more early and wait in security lines while federal agents searched bags and scanned for weapons on bodies.

Erin Bowen, an aviation psychologist and professor at the University of Texas-Arlington, said the massive changes to public life after 9/11 were met with a united message from political leaders, the business world and the general population. People grumbled, but few lashed out at the new measures.

“There wasn’t a single person out there saying we don’t need security,” Bowen said. “And you had

During the mid-1990s I traveled between Dayton, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., twice a month during the school year as half of a commuting couple. I could leave Dayton by 5:15 p.m., drive nearly 80 miles to the Columbus airport during rush hour, park my car in the economy lot, and still get to my gate in plenty of time for a 7:30 p.m. departure.

The terrorist attacks brought swift and lasting changes to the air travel experience in the United States. And after 20 years of ever-more-elaborate airport security protocols, many air travelers have no knowledge of – or only vague memories of – what air travel was like before 9/11.

On the other hand, it’s been jarring to watch how abruptly the sprawling Transportation Security Agency system was created – and how quickly American air travelers came to accept those security measures as both normal and seemingly permanent features of all U.S. airports.

Security Kabuki

In the early decades of air travel, airport security – beyond basic policing – was essentially nonexistent. Getting on a plane was no different from getting on a bus or train.

But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a wave of hijackings, terrorist attacks and extortion attempts – the most infamous being that of the man known as D.B. Cooper, who commandeered a Boeing 727, demanded US$200,000 and, upon securing the case, dramatically parachuted from the plane, never to be found. Attacks on U.S. flights usually prompted another new security measure, whether it was the formation of the air marshal program, which placed armed federal agents on U.S. commercial aircraft; the development of a hijacker profile, aimed at identifying people deemed likely to threaten an aircraft; or the screening of all passengers.

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By 1973, under the new protocols, air travelers had to pass through a metal detector and have any bags X-rayed to check for weapons or suspicious objects.

Above all, airlines didn’t want to inconvenience passengers, and airports were reluctant to lose the extra revenue from family and friends who might frequent airport restaurants, bars and shops when dropping off or picking up those passengers.

In addition, these security measures, though called for by the Federal Aviation Administration, were the responsibility of not the federal government, but the airlines. And to keep costs down, the airlines tended to contract private companies to conduct security screenings that used minimally trained low-paid employees.

The clampdown

All that changed with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Once the airlines returned to the skies on Sept. 14, 2001, it was immediately apparent that flying was going to be different. Passengers arriving at airports were greeted by armed military personnel, as governors throughout the country had mobilized the National Guard to protect the nation’s airports. They remained on patrol for several months.

Security measures only increased in December 2001, when Richard Reid, the so-called “Shoe Bomber,” attempted to set off explosives in his shoes on an international flight from Paris

DALLAS — Ask anyone old enough to remember travel before Sept. 11, 2001, and you’re likely to get a gauzy recollection of what flying was like.

There was security screening, but it wasn’t anywhere near as intrusive. There were no long checkpoint lines. Passengers and their families could walk right to the gate together, postponing goodbye hugs until the last possible moment. Overall, an airport experience meant far less stress.

That all ended when four hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

The worst terror attack on American soil led to increased and sometimes tension-filled security measures in airports across the world, aimed at preventing a repeat of that awful day. The cataclysm has also contributed to other changes large and small that have reshaped the airline industry — and, for consumers, made air travel more stressful than ever.

There has not been another 9/11. Nothing even close. But after that day, flying changed forever.

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Here’s how it unfolded.

Security measures evolved with new threats, and so travelers were asked to take off belts and remove some items from bags for scanning. Things that clearly could be wielded as weapons, like the box-cutters used by the 9/11 hijackers, were banned. After “shoe bomber” Richard Reid’s attempt to take down a flight from Paris to Miami in late 2001, footwear started coming off at security checkpoints.

Each new requirement seemed to make checkpoint lines longer, forcing passengers to arrive at the airport earlier if they wanted to make their flights. To many travelers, other rules were more mystifying, such as limits on liquids because the wrong ones could possibly be used to concoct a bomb.

“It’s a much bigger hassle than it was before 9/11 — much bigger — but we have gotten used to it,” Ronald Briggs said as he and his wife, Jeanne, waited at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport for a flight to London last month. The north Texas retirees, who traveled frequently before the pandemic, said they are more worried about COVID-19 than terrorism.

“The point about taking shoes off because of one incident on a plane seems somewhat on the extreme side,” Ronald Briggs said, “but the PreCheck works pretty smoothly, and I’ve learned to use a plastic belt so I don’t have to take it off.”

The long lines created by post-attack measures gave rise to the PreCheck and Global Entry “trusted-traveler programs” in which people who pay a fee and provide certain information about themselves pass through checkpoints without removing shoes and jackets or taking laptops out of their bag.

But that convenience has come at