Couple separated by travel ban reunites, gets engaged in airport


It took two days for Alexis Olson to fly from Minnesota to England, but she was too excited to sleep.  

The 30-year-old finally got the chance to visit her boyfriend, Josh Atkinson, 32 of England, this month after about a year and a half apart. The two started dating long-distance three years ago, but travel bans between the United States and United Kingdom first imposed in March 2020 meant their regular visits had to be supplanted by daily phone calls. 

But that all came to an end Saturday, when a jet-lagged Olson stepped into the Manchester Airport and spotted Atkinson. She rushed over to hug him, but instead of opening his arms for an embrace, Atkinson dropped to one knee. He proposed with a poem, reading the words he had typed out on his phone, and a ring he designed himself.

“I started bawling immediately,” Olson said, adding that she managed to get out a “yes.” “All I’m thinking is, I just really want to hug you. I haven’t hugged you in a year and a half.”

Travel restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 have also split up families and couples across the globe, with some separated more than a year and counting. But with countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom easing restrictions in recent weeks, there have been a growing number of couples like Olson and Atkinson who have been able to reconvene.  

► US travel ban: How COVID-19 travel restrictions have impacted families and couples

Atkinson and Olson were able to plan their reunion after the UK announced that England would allow fully vaccinated Americans to visit without quarantining starting Aug. 2. 

Olson suspected that Atkinson might pop the question soon but was still blindsided by the proposal. Atkinson had been holding on to the ring for about a year by the time she arrived. 

“We talked about being together,” Olson said. “I had a feeling that something was going to happen while I was here … but I didn’t even think about it (happening in the airport).” 

Olson’s England trip is set to last about two weeks. With the pandemic is going strong – there were about 237,401 new cases reported in the U.K. within the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University – the two plan to stay close to home playing video games, baking and enjoying their time together while they’re not connected only by screens.

“It feels amazing,” Olson said. “Hearing his actual tone of voice again. It’s really nice … to hang out with each other again and just do all the things that you enjoy doing, like watching movies and playing games. Doing that side by side is awesome.”

Atkinson said the two of them were able to pick up their relationship right where they’d left off, despite spending more than a year apart.

“It’s a really good feeling, knowing that you’re with someone who is so compatible with you,” he said. “When we saw each other, it didn’t feel like it’d been a year.”

“He really is my person,” Olson added. “We can jest with each other and poke fun. …  The way that he makes me feel is so loved and cared for.”

► Travel ban to remain: US intends to keep travel restrictions in place against UK, European countries, others

The couple plans to make their marriage official this April and have Olson move to the U.K. Olson said she hopes Atkinson will get a chance to visit her in Minnesota before her move, but the U.S. so far has no plans to ease its travel restrictions. 

“It’s difficult because as much as I want to be able to just go back to normal and be able to travel and do this and that, I realize it’s probably not going to be like that for a while,” Olson said. 

► Hawaii travel: Hawaii’s governor tells tourists to stay away amid COVID-19 surge. What that means for travelers

► Is it safe to travel?Some may be better off canceling plans during COVID-19 surge, experts say

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz

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