This is the longest I’ve gone without getting on a plane in my adult life. After being on lockdown for the past four months, things are finally starting to open up here in NYC. I know many of us feel an undeniable urge to travel; however, taking a trip right now may not be in your best interest. Staying safe while traveling during COVID depends on how you travel and where you go. Before you book that vacation we all desperately need, check out this helpful information to ensure you stay healthy while traveling during COVID.
Where to Go
That trip to Greece you’ve always wanted to take, the Italian wine tour you’ve been planning, or that journey to the land Down Under you’ve been dreaming about, will need to wait. Despite the many enticing travel deals that exist right now, international travel destinations are limited. At this point, several U.S. destinations can be crossed off your list as well, as many states have reissued stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Due to America’s high infection rate, many countries in Europe, South America, and Australia have implemented travel restrictions. Some require a two-week quarantine upon entry, while others have banned travel to their county altogether.
If you are desperate to travel aboard, you can still dust off your passport and plan a vacation. You will have slim pickings, but a few international destinations are open and happily welcoming tourists. Be aware that there are still policies surrounding travel to these countries, though. In some, you must produce a negative COVID test result within a given number of days prior to traveling to ensure the safety of the other travelers. According to Travel + Leisure, the following countries are currently accepting American travelers:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Turks and Caicos
- United Arab Emirates
Remember to check the U.S. Embassy website for the most up-to-date information regarding travel to any country.
Areas in the Northeast that were hit hard at the beginning of COVID, are fairing much better than the rest of the country right now. If you plan to travel within the U.S., be mindful of regions where cases are spiking. Especially for states in the South and Southwest, local governments may be reissuing lockdown orders.
As a result of spikes in other parts of the country, states like New York and New Jersey are requiring residents who travel from hot spot areas to quarantine at home for 14 days following their trip to prevent new cases from spreading. I recommend planning a weekend getaway at a location that you can easily drive to and that won’t be in a highly populated area.
Traveling During COVID – Before You Book
When you do decide to travel, be sure to check the cancellation policies for your transportation and/or accommodations. Many companies are allowing travelers flexibility regarding cancellations and fees. Prior to booking, make sure you will be able to receive either a full refund or credit to travel at a later date should you need to change your reservation. Also, check any prior restrictions regarding testing and possible quarantine orders. Kayak has a great map that shows all travel restrictions by country and a list of all current travel policies by the company.
Airport & TSA
Delayed flights and long security lines are enough to make traveling stressful under normal circumstances, and traveling during COVID may change your mind about flying altogether. On the bright side, TSA has implemented changes to its security measures to help ensure the safety of all travelers.
I have spoken to several people who have flown recently, and they have confirmed that reduced flight schedules equate to fewer people in airports, resulting in shorter security lines. On average, these sources have spent less than 10 minutes going through security. Additionally, it was comforting to hear that TSA now allows passengers to carry on 12 ounces of hand sanitizer, instead of the three-ounce limit that was customary prior to the pandemic.
It goes without saying that a mask must be worn at all times in the airport. Airports have installed plastic guards at airline check-in counters and TSA security checkpoints. Staff members at the airport are taking serious precautions, and because there are fewer passengers, some airlines are loosening their ordinances on baggage weight limits. In accordance with indoor dining ordinances, restaurants in many airports are closed; however, some are offering drinks to go. Many airport lounges have also closed or are offering reduced services and reduced capacity to meet social distancing protocols in place.
While social distancing isn’t difficult to achieve in the airport, it’s harder to accomplish on a packed airplane. Wearing a mask at all times is required when flying. Some airlines are limiting their capacity and not booking middle seats. Others, such as American and United, are continuing to book full flights. Whenever possible, try to select a window seat to avoid sitting next to someone and contact with those in the aisle.
Airlines have cut beverage service on flights; however, my airline, Delta, provides passengers with a gift bag consisting of snacks and a small bottle of water. Additionally, a friend of mine mentioned that after takeoff, flight attendants thanked all of the passengers by name for continuing to fly with them during these troubled times. #FeelingAppreciated!
Social Distancing Airlines
Delta Air Lines (effective until January 6th, 2021)—Seating is capped at 60% in the main cabin, Delta Comfort+, and Delta Premium Select, with no middle seats; and 50% in first-class and domestic Delta One cabins. On Delta One international flights, seating is capped at 75%.
Southwest Airlines (effective until October 31, 2020)—The airline is booking flights to 2/3 capacity, effectively leaving middle seats open. Southwest doesn’t assign seats, so passengers can sit anywhere on the plane when they board.
JetBlue Airways (effective until September 8th, 2020)—The airline is blocking middle seats on larger aircraft and most aisle seats on smaller planes.
Alaska Airlines (effective until September 30, 2020)—Flights are capped at 65% occupancy, and middle seats are blocked.
Frontier Airlines (effective until August 31, 2020)—The budget airline is blocking approximately 20 seats on every flight, which are unavailable on the airline’s seat map when booking. Frontier is the only U.S. airline taking passengers’ temperatures before they board.
If flying during COVID sounds daunting, renting a car might be a better option. Like most travel companies, car rentals are offering greater flexibility with bookings and cancellations. Car rental companies are disinfecting vehicles and wiping down all surfaces to ensure cleanliness for passengers. Additionally, some companies have waived the fees for renters under age 25 to allow more customers to travel during this time.
Once you figure out where you are going and how you are going to get there, now you must decide where you are going to stay. Finding accommodations shouldn’t be difficult, as vacancies are plentiful right now. The challenge will be making sure that the property has cleaned and disinfected the space thoroughly.
Major hotel brands are cleaning common spaces more frequently and taking additional steps to ensure that rooms are sanitized. Marriott, for example, is using hospital-grade disinfectant and including sanitizing wipes in rooms.
Additionally, as a result of all of the vacancies, you will likely be able to get a lower rate than usual on rooms, use fewer rewards points to book, and earn more points during your stay. IHG is offering no deposit on their lowest and most flexible rate, and you can cancel one day before your stay and still get a full refund.
If a big hotel seems too risky and you opt to stay in a private home or residence through Airbnb, you will find that their cancellation policy is stricter with less flexibility. If you made your reservation after March 14th, then the extenuating circumstances policy will not apply. Read more about how Airbnb is handling cancellations here.
You will be pleased to know that Airbnb has upgraded its cleaning standards and now indicates on the website which hosts are adhering to the new protocols.
When COVID starting spreading back in March, I felt confident that I would be on a beach this summer. While the sand and surf may not be in my future this summer after all, we do plan to take a drive up to the Finger Lakes to get away, and it will be a welcome respite. If you are traveling during COVID, whether it’s by plane, train, or car, just remember that safety should be the number one priority!