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Families Reunited At JFK Airport For 1st Time In Nearly 2 Years, As Vaccinated International Travelers Allowed Back Into U.S.

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- International travel to the U.S. resumed Monday for tourists, as historic restrictions were lifted for those who are fully vaccinated.

With these restrictions lifted for the first time in nearly two years, airlines warn travelers to prepare for long lines.

Travelers CBS2's Natalie Duddridge spoke to didn't mind. They said they would do anything to finally see their loved ones again on American soil.

"It was the best day of my life," Jhuly Soares told Duddridge.

Soares was picking up her mother, Maria, at the airport after she landed from Brazil, seeing her for the first time in what she said felt like forever.

Adriano Silva was also overjoyed to see his mother, who arrived on the same flight.

"One year and nine months," he said. "It's good, it's great!"

For more than 20 months, a travel ban has prevented visitors from 33 countries from coming to the United States, but that changed Monday.

In celebration, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic teamed up for the first ever commercial dual take-off at Heathrow Airport from London to New York.

Airlines have to check to make sure international travelers are fully vaccinated with vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those approved in the U.S. Children under 18 are exempt from this rule.

Land borders with Mexico and Canada are once again open for fully vaccinated tourists, and border security will be spot checking documentation.

"It's been a long 20 months — today is the day so many of us have been waiting for. To our Canadian friends: Welcome back to New York!" Gov. Kathy Hochul tweeted Monday.

New York City's official tourism agency says foreign travelers are key to recovery.

"It's usually about 20% of volume, but they represent 50% of spending, because they tend to stay longer and spend more while they're here," Chris Heywood, executive vice president of NYC & Company, said.

Hotels in the city have already started to see an influx of tourists. Rooms at the Hyatt Grand Central are almost sold out.

"We're seeing bookings, a majority coming in from the U.K., Spain, Italy, France, Canada," Gaeta said. "We're continuing to see that through not only the holiday season, but going through q1 and q2 of next year."

Airlines are required to verify travelers' vaccination records and match them with ID. If they don't match, they could be fined.

CBS2's own Jenna DeAngelis joined some travelers making long awaited trips to the U.S. Look for her reports on CBS2 News at 5 and 11 p.m.

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