The unexpected top international flight destination winner

The top international flight destination from the U.S. has been announced by OAG. However, it is not to a destination most would expect. Aviation journalist Alex Martinez Rivera explains:

Top international flight destination: Puerto Rico!

For people reading this, COVID has made international travel difficult. However, OAG in February declared Puerto Rico as the king of international flights. Furthermore, airline schedules for March and April may place the island in contention for the title again. Unfortunately, it isn’t a good thing.

If COVID hadn’t happened I would shout the news up from the rooftops. Although, with COVID present in our environment things are more complicated.

It is a delicate dance between overseas states and territories

If we come to look at the restrictions on overseas states and territories of the United States until recently Puerto Rico was the more lenient on the restrictions. The neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) protocols are one of the most strict ones along with Hawaii. They have similar protocols enacted, although I’m still waiting on herd immunity (I’ll come back to that later). The different protocols on states and territories have to do with being open while being safe with different protocols is one to get a doozy.

The difference in covid travel protocols

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico travel protocol April – May 2021. YouTube.


  • Travel Screening must be completed within 5 days of travel to get authorized to travel to USVI.
  • All travelers over the age of 5 must use the screening tool; there are no exceptions.
  • All travelers going to USVI have taken a molecular or antigen test and appear negative within 5 days of travel.

Any person who do not take a test may be denied boarding their flight.

It isn’t necessary to take a test to return back to the U.S. or to your country of origin unless your country or states explicitly requires one. My home state of Florida doesn’t require one.

If we go to the other side of the world, Hawaii has enjoyed latitude when placing restrictions.


  • Travel Screening must be completed within 24 hours of travel.
  • All travelers going to Hawaii have taken a test and appear negative within 3 days of travel that is to escape the 10-day quarantine either print out or on your Safe Travels account.

A happy medium between Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands

Three weeks ago Puerto Rico had to follow the Executive Order 2020-052, which stated that:

  • Any passenger who arrived at any of the airports in Puerto Rico shall remain under quarantine for 14 days or the duration of tourist stay in Puerto Rico. Whichever was shorter, if the passenger failed to present a negative molecular COVID test within 72 hours.
  • Likewise, all passengers need to fill a “Traveler Health Declaration,” which is online or provided at the airport.
  • Any interaction violating the terms was six (6) months or a fine not to exceed $5,000 or both penalties at the court’s discretion.

That certainly didn’t curb the wave of tourists going to Puerto Rico.

Now the current Executive Order 2021-028 which which supersedes the previous one, states the following.

  • It changes the Traveler Health Declaration for a Traveler Declaration Form COVID 19 alert. It needs to be filled before arriving at the airport (major change here).
  • Providing a negative COVID molecular test at hand (here’s the controversial point) 72 hours before arriving or 48 hours after arriving. Those who failed to provide it within that timeframe need to pay a fine of $300. A change causing the local population to go up in arms.
  • Any interaction violating the terms has the consequence of six (6) months in jail or a fine not to exceed $5,000 or both, Penalties are at the court’s discretion.

Why Puerto Rico couldn’t go the route of USVI?

Puerto Rico officials stated that because of federal law and the passenger volume received at the airport they couldn’t go the USVI route.

I would love to have a representative from the Puerto Rico Tourism Company or the government to explain that!

If we compare USVI under the eyes of the territory the federal government has more power there, but the island exercises its right as a territory.

Puerto Rico with more tools under the Law 600 of the Federal Relations Act couldn’t exercise the same right?

Airlines keep adding capacity to Puerto Rico

Furthermore, to keep the injury fresh, American Airlines declared it would use its Boeing 777 on the airline’s Miami to San Juan route.

United will increase its routes 18 times a week from Houston and Chicago with daily flights; while they are reserving the type of aircraft to use, most likely a widebody.

OAG data of the busiest International flight came from Orlando to San Juan route where JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit fly.

The data suggest breaking more records and probably keeping Puerto Rico in the top 10 list of International flights with more flights to Puerto Rico popping up like franchises every 2 miles.

Throwing Darts in the Dark – An Authors Opinion

I don’t know the end game for the Puerto Rico Government, I sincerely don’t.

I want to know why there are differences between the USVI and Puerto Rico because as territories I don’t see them.

  • They have a lab at the airport but the test costs more than an airfare to go to Puerto Rico.
  • They don’t want flights, yet they don’t ask the FAA or airlines for inputs.

It is the paradox as an American born in Puerto Rico who moved to the mainland that I will never understand.

What do you think about Puerto Rico becoming the top international flight destination out of the U.S.? You can contact Alex Martinez Rivera below.

Captain Jetson news reporter and aviation analyst aviation analyst Alex Martinez Rivera
Alex Martinez Rivera

Alex Martinez Rivera is the Senior Aviation Contributor for Captain Jetson. Ask questions or connect with him about aviation, aerospace, business, or government via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Featured Image: Unsplash.

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