Continuing AFS-USA’s efforts to improve the participant travel experience by streamlining travel plans and reducing overall travel time – as well as striving to reduce COVID-19 risk – AFS-USA is expanding our efforts to book participant travel directly through to the closest major airport to the placement (referenced as through-ticketing) for CORE participants on scNH21 and beyond.
What is the Through-Ticketing and Host Family Pick-Up Model?
Through-ticketing for participant travel to the USA means that AFS-USA Host Families/Area Teams will receive their participant at the Host Distribution Site (nearest major domestic airport) as agreed upon with the Regional Field Specialist and Travel and Logistics staff members. This model of travel provides all Area Teams with the option to have host families pick up their participants directly at the airport.
For AFS Partners sending to the USA, this means that they will no longer arrange a ticket for their participants only to a “gateway” airport in the USA. Rather, Sending Partners will arrange (wherever possible), the most expeditious and cost-effective flight plan for their participant to the Host Distribution Site (HDS).
As in years past, hosted students must participate in an Arrival Orientation within one week of arrival, either immediately upon arrival and before travel to the Host Family, or after travel to the Host Family, otherwise known as the “Host Family airport pick-up” model. Teams have the option to hold in-person or virtual orientations. However, any in-person orientation must include a virtual option given that some volunteers, participants and host families will be more comfortable attending a virtual orientation. AFS-USA staff have developed Best Practices for In-person Events and Orientations for resuming in-person orientations. Arrival Orientation materials are currently being updated for the 21-22 cycle.
What are the benefits of Through-Ticketing and Host Family Pick-Up?
Flexibility for Area Teams
Area Teams that previously had charter bus arrivals will have students flying in to their Host Distribution Site (HDS). With participants arriving to their Host Distribution Site (HDS), Area Teams can decide whether they wish to have host families to receive their participants at the airport or continue to have participants received by a volunteer – or a mix of both according to availability of volunteers and host families. This model provides Area Teams with the opportunity to choose how they structure their arrival and orientation operations.
Improved Participant Experience
In many cases, the through-ticketing model will reduce total participant travel time dramatically. For participants who in the past would have flown into a gateway airport and waited for participants from other sending countries to arrive before boarding a charter bus or group flight to their Host Distribution Site (HDS), a shorter overall travel time should be expected. This will mean fewer overnight bus trips upon arrival to / departure from the USA, leading to more rested participants upon arrival.
Similarly, for participants who would have previously been routed through a gateway airport that may not be the most expeditious route of travel, the sending partner may choose to book them direct to their final destination without transiting their “gateway”. (E.g., Participants traveling to Kansas City may transit through Chicago, Dallas, Houston or Atlanta).
In addition, participants who are through-ticketed with a flight plan that requires them to transit in the USA before reaching their final destination (HDS), will be able to check their luggage all the way through (interlining). Additionally, in some transit airports, they will not need to exit security, which will limit confusion for participants and save them time.
Potential Cost Savings for Participants
Participants who are through-ticketed to final destination – and whose luggage can be interlined to their final destination – will save money on luggage fees for domestic travel within the USA.
Reduced Interaction Between Participants Upon Arrival to Lower Risk
Since AFS-USA is not operating the gateway distribution model upon arrival – and participant travel time for many participants will be reduced – participants will interact with fewer other people during their travel to the USA, potentially reducing risk of exposure to COVID-19.
How will this impact our Area Team?
For some Area Teams, this change will have limited impact because students have already been traveling directly to their Host Distribution Site (HDS) directly. For example, Area Teams like Greater Chicago, Dallas or Greater Los Angeles should expect to see limited change to their arriving participants’ travel plans since these teams are near to major international “transit” airports (i.e., ORD – Chicago, DFW – Dallas-Ft. Worth, LAX – Los Angeles).
For those Area Teams who have always received their students arriving on domestic flights, you will most likely have a few additional arriving flights in the afternoon through late evening as partners will book on various domestic airlines.
For some Area Teams, it may impact how your team leadership wishes to plan arrivals and orientations operations.
AFS-USA’s Travel and Logistics Team will send a message to Area Team Chairs (likely in early May) requesting that each team identify a Travel Representative Volunteer who can work closely with AFS-USA staff and the TAG volunteer members to ensure a smooth arrival for NH21 participants to your team. Additionally, training for Travel Representatives is planned for June 2021 to review travel reports, manage day of arrival travel, and develop communication plans.
AFS-USA staff are committed to working closely with Area Team Travel Representatives to ensure a smooth arrival for our NH21 participants.
Will CORE participants also return to their home countries from their Host Distribution Site (HDS) and when will they be scheduled for return?
Yes, NH21 semester program participants, return travel will be arranged (wherever possible) from the host distribution site.
For semester participants, return travel will be scheduled on or about January 13, 2022.
As is the case for NH20 (2020-21 school year) year program participants, there will be three Return Dates for our year program students in Spring 2022. Host school end dates vary widely across the USA. Some host schools close the third week of May while others close near the end of June (a span of approximately 6 weeks). By aligning departure dates more closely to school end dates, AFS-USA is meeting an often-voiced request of volunteers not to have the students in community with so much unprogrammed time.
Return travel will be scheduled within approximately 1-2 weeks after the end of host school activities as defined by the the last day of school, graduation and/or prom date (whichever comes latest, as indicated by Regional Field Specialist when assigning the school placement in Global Link) in the Spring of 2022 on one of three return dates in 2022:
- June 1
- June 20
- June 27
Approximate return travel dates for participants will be available in Global Link by the time of NH21 CORE student arrivals. Return travel information can be found using the information in the recent MyAFS News posting here.