A comment by President Joe Biden is encouraging airlines to hope that travel between the United States and Europe could be expanded in time for last-minute, late-summer vacation trips.

At a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Biden was asked about ending restrictions that bar most European visitors from entering the United States.

Biden said Thursday that a team that is advising him on the pandemic “brought that subject up. It’s in the process of (considering) how soon we can lift the ban … and I will be able to answer that question to you within the next several days.”

An official with the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group for the broader tourism industry, praised Biden’s comments.

“The science says we can safely reopen international travel now, particularly for countries that have made considerable progress toward vaccinating their citizens,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, the travel group’s executive vice president of policy, citing studies that concluded there is a low risk of transmitting the virus during flights. “Each day that outdated restrictions on travel exist wreaks economic damage on our nation.”

Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. carriers, said “the time for action is now” to reopen to international visitors. The group noted that the U.S. allows travel to and from Mexico, where less than one-third of the population is vaccinated, while severely restricting travel from Canada and the United Kingdom, two countries with relatively high vaccination rates.

The rise and prevalence of COVID-19 variants in Europe, especially the delta mutation that is also spreading throughout the U.S., has caused the Biden administration to tread slowly about increasing transatlantic travel.

Last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration was anxious to restore travel “as fully and quickly as possible,” but said he couldn’t put a date on reopening the country. “We have to be guided by the science, by medical expertise.”

Most of continental Europe has relaxed restrictions on Americans who are fully vaccinated, although the United Kingdom still requires quarantines for most visitors arriving from the U.S. Airlines say, however, that the lack of two-way travel is limiting the number of flights they can offer and seats they can sell.

In recent months, U.S. airlines have started new service to European countries that are open to American visitors. Delta launched new or resumed service to Greece, Iceland and Croatia, which opened early to vaccinated foreigners. In some cases, Americans who tested negative for the virus were able to skip quarantine requirements that were in place for other visitors.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said this week that bookings by Americans surged when those countries reopened and others followed.

“The problem is, there are only Americans that we are carrying in (to Europe) and carrying out,” Bastian told The Associated Press.

With most Europeans unable to enter the U.S., Delta has been forced to keep its transatlantic capacity at around half the level it was before the pandemic, he said.

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David Koenig

Beverly Pickering's pet sitting business cratered during the height of the pandemic. Now, she says, it's booming, and her customers are traveling again.

Beverly Pickering’s pet sitting business cratered during the height of the pandemic. Now, she says, it’s booming, and her customers are traveling again.

Beverly Pickering

Beverly Pickering says her neighbors in suburban Detroit are hitting the road. And that’s good news for her pet sitting business.

“I have people going to California, Florida, the Carolinas — all over the country,” she said. “It’s travel, travel, travel. It’s just exploded.”

Pickering’s business all but evaporated last year when most people were stuck at home with their pets. But now her phone is ringing steadily, with customers eager to travel and make up for lost time.

“When vaccinations here really ramped up, that is when the calls started coming in,” Pickering said. “I can absolutely draw a direct line from the increase in vaccinations to the increase in business.”

Newly vaccinated Americans are emerging from their coronavirus cocoons, giving a lift to restaurants, beauty salons and other face-to-face businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

Jaime Lopez took his family to a professional soccer game Saturday in Orlando, Fla., 2 1/2 weeks after getting his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“It was very exciting,” Lopez said. “We were able to go with friends of ours. They were themselves vaccinated. So it turned into a great evening.”

It was the family’s first big celebration of newfound freedom from pandemic fears. But it won’t be the last. After more than a year of staying close to home, Lopez, his wife and two children are planning trips to Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

“We’re thinking about summer vacations,” Lopez said. “I have a nephew that’s graduating high school. And then [we’re] visiting my wife’s sister around the Fourth of July. So we’ve got some pent-up vacation time we’d like to take care of.”

Airlines are launching new routes to capitalize on the growing demand from leisure travelers. More than 1.6 million travelers passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints on Sunday — the highest number since the pandemic began.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully vaccinated people can travel safely within the U.S., although masks and social distancing are still recommended. More than 100 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. President Biden said Tuesday he hopes to increase that number to 160 million by July Fourth.

Pandemic restrictions are gradually being relaxed at restaurants, gyms and amusement parks around the country — a boon for businesses and workers who depend on customers showing up in person.

“Barbershops, nail salons, small-engine repair — these are the businesses that can expect to see a lot of spending coming back online over the course of the next several months,” added Tim Quinlan, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities.

A survey of service-oriented businesses found strong growth in April.

“We’ve had pent-up demand,” said Anthony Nieves, who oversaw the survey for the Institute for Supply Management. “As things start to reopen, we’re seeing businesses have their volume increase.”

Some businesses surveyed said growth would have been even