Many industries were hit hard due to the coronavirus and the airline industry definitely took the brunt of that pandemic pain. Thousands of jobs have been cut, travel restrictions and general passenger fears of increased exposure have forced the industry to come to a screeching halt. The industry has been ultimately shut down since March and as we creep into October, it’s slowly starting to see the light again.
Recent holidays like Labor Day weekend saw a generous uptick in airline travel. The TSA reported that it screened more than over 3M passengers during Labor Day weekend, a 30% increase from the busiest travel day during the Fourth of July weekend.
Certain travel restrictions are being lifted and the numbers show that more and more passengers are starting to board flights for the first time in months. There is, of course, still a lot of uncertainty and safety concerns that passengers have about whether they should fly. With regulations, restrictions, and new scientific health studies continually emerging about the coronavirus, it can be tough to navigate.
Considering a trip? Need to take a flight? There is vital information you should consider before, during, and after a flight. We’re here to help you navigate the skies and weigh the pros and cons of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. We'll cover everything from international vs. domestic travel, travel restrictions/bans, what to do before traveling, while traveling, and after traveling to help keep you safe from the coronavirus.
On August 6, the U.S. State Department lifted its nearly five-month-old travel advisory warning Americans against all international travel. It cited improved coronavirus safety conditions in some countries, while others are deteriorating. So it is not safe across the board, and they have since returned to its previous system of country-specific travel advice.
For international travel, U.S. citizens should follow the U.S. Department of State travel advisories. These advisories vary by country and each country is assigned a level 1-4, with level 1 being “Exercise normal precautions” to level 4 “Do Not Travel.”
For reference, traveling to an area with a level 3 assignment (“Reconsider Travel”) is deemed a high-risk activity during the pandemic.
If you are still considering international travel, challenges to consider may include:
Foreign governments are able to implement new coronavirus restrictions with little notice, even in destinations that were previously deemed low risk. If you choose to travel internationally during this coronavirus pandemic, you should plan to potentially have your trip be severely disrupted and/or it may be difficult to arrange your travel back to the United States.
Before pressing “book,” there are CDC-guidelines in place that you should adhere to. You should also consider how you will be getting to the airport, as both public transportation or ride-sharing can also increase your risk of exposure to covid-19.
If traveling within the U.S., check your destination’s covid-19 cases within the last 7 days. The CDC has provided a comprehensive data tracker to do so here.
Does your destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers? Some states, local, and territorial governments may have requirements, such as mask mandates and a mandatory 14-day quarantine for those who recently traveled.
Are you, or someone you live with, at increased risk for COVID-19?
Whether international or domestic travel is on your to-do list, one other thing to consider that often doesn’t make the list of booking preparations is travel health insurance. Especially in a time like this. Most health insurance plans do not cover medical costs while abroad. If you’re interested in getting health insurance while traveling, reach out to us to discuss all your health insurance options.
Be sure you’re aware of how to protect yourself and others. The steps you should follow don’t differ too much from the general guidelines we’re all following right now.
Wear a mask. Over your nose AND mouth.
Practice social distancing and stay at least 6 feet away from people.
Wash your hands often. Or use hand sanitizer.
one liquid hand sanitizer (up to 12 oz.) per passenger in carry-on bags.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
Look up your airport's security lines and airport terminal precautions.
Airlines are taking extra precautions to provide a safe screening experience, including additional screening lanes to allow passengers to maintain social distancing at airport checkpoints. The TSA is also continually working on deploying new technologies, to reduce physical interaction between passengers and TSA officers.
Some airports have installed credential authentification devices to enable passengers to insert their ID directly into a card reader for verification instead of handing it to the TSA officer. Other airports also now have enhanced CT scanners that allow the officers to manipulate the image on-screen to get a better view of its contents, rather than having to open passengers' carry-on bags.
There is contradicting information about whether the coronavirus is spread more easily on the flights themselves. Contrary to popular belief, some say that viruses and germs do not spread easily because of how air circulates and is filtered on planes. Mostly all commercial flights are equipped with HEPA filters, which are similar to those used in a hospital operating room. Cabin air on a plane is circulated vertically, from ceiling to floor, and refreshed every few minutes.
This is, of course, not conclusive though, as new scientific data and studies about the coronavirus continue to emerge. The CDC recently referenced two new studies produced in a scientific journal that raise questions about whether the virus is more easily spread on lengthy commercial airline flights. The study cited that seat proximity “was strongly associated with increased infection risk.” Both flights they referenced in the studies were 10 or 15-hour flights, one from Boston to Hong Kong and the other from London to Hanoi, Vietnam.
Social distancing is of course hard on crowded flights. As a solution, some airlines have removed middle seating, for now, to further spread passengers out. This is not uniform across airlines, though, and is also continuing to change.
As of July 1, American Airlines announced it would drop its capacity restraints which have been in place since April. However, you have airlines like Alaska, Delta, and Southwest that say they will continue to block middle or adjacent seats through September 30.
These policies won’t remain intact forever, though, as airlines can’t financially afford to leave seats open as travel demand rebounds after the coronavirus pandemic devastation.
There has also been a debate amongst airlines as to what purpose blocking middle seats actually serves. Some have insisted that there’s no way to keep passengers six feet apart on a plane. An executive from United Airlines went so far as to call seat blocking a “marketing ploy” rather than a safety strategy.
Whichever side you’re on, you should follow all the above protocol before you decide to take the plunge and board an airplane. The CDC does continue to warn that travel “increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19” and restates that staying home is the safest way to protect yourself and others.
Now more than ever, people are having to cancel flights, change plans, and adjust travel. Airlines have responded to this by adjusting their cancellation or booking policies to meet the demand.
Airlines have extended these policies for months, and a few have even announced they will permanently eliminate change fees on most domestic flights. Seems like a long term win for travelers.
No, the CDC is not actively encouraging you to travel or take a flight right now. There are plenty of countries and international travel restrictions on areas that U.S. citizens cannot even enter right now.
If you do have to travel, especially domestically, there are steps you can take before, during, and after your flight to ease your mind, protect yourself and others, and reduce your exposure.
None of these methods are 100% foolproof, as new data, scientific studies, and information continue to emerge. At the end of the day, it is a personal decision if you want to or have to travel during these times. Airlines, airports, and TSA officers are all adjusting to the new normal of what travel in a post-pandemic era looks like. However, we cannot rely on their efforts solely and must do our part, too.
If you want to discuss your travel insurance or health insurance options while abroad, you know where to find us.