When will you decide to fly again? And what will it take to get you back onto planes? Recent surveys show that travelers are itching to get going: One such survey, from OAG, reports that some 73 percent of North Americans plan to fly internationally within the next six months. Clearly, that's a lot of wishful thinking, especially given how tenacious COVID-19 has proven to be. In reality, it's not at all clear when and how airlines, airports, and governments that regulate travel matters will reduce the COVID-19 risk to an acceptable level.
Currently, travelers see almost no consistency or certainty. Just days ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) refused to set a consistent rule mandating that air travelers wear masks during flights. It noted that "the market" would solve this problem. It hasn't. Many airlines have established mask policies, but without the backing of federal requirements, they frequently encounter passengers who refuse to wear a mask. Closure and limiting rules vary among different districts of even just one city — New York, for example. At this writing, several important visitor destinations are still quarantining travelers who arrive from specified destinations, often including the U.S. or Canada, for 14 days.
For the foreseeable future, you have to evaluate the likelihood of encountering three major risks: Catching the virus during travel, being quarantined at a travel destination, and being unable to take part in meaningful destination activities. Absent effective governmental coordination and consistent policies, individual airlines and airports have improvised approaches that provide some assurances to prospective travelers.
Sanitizing. Many Airlines and airports have been proactive about sanitizing their facilities. They often promote their approaches. IATA, the most prominent international airline association, claims that fewer than one out of 3 million air travelers have contracted the virus on a flight.
COVID-19 Insurance. Some airlines include "COVID-19 insurance" when you buy a ticket: If you get hit with a quarantine on arrival, the insurance pays for your medical and extended-stay expenses. As far as I know, Air Canada and WestJet are the only large North American airlines to offer this incentive, but a few European and Asian lines do, at least for some destinations.
COVID-19 Testing. Quite a few airlines and airports have established on-the-spot testing facilities for air travelers, many with immediate results. Testing on arrival protects destinations, but from a traveler viewpoint, departure testing is the only rational approach: If you don't find out about a positive test until after you arrive somewhere, you either have to go right back home or suffer a possible quarantine.
Even where they don't test on arrival, some destinations require certification of a negative COVID-19 test as a condition of entry, often taken within 72 hours of arrival. The problem you face is getting the test, which can often require a week or more for results, and may be expensive. Again, so far, there is neither a consistent international testing standard nor easy access to testing in many areas.
The current solution de jour is to establish "bubbles" and corridors linking those bubbles where people can travel and move around in limited areas within larger areas that are not fully open. The leading candidate for now is New York-London.
Vaccine. A "health passport" verifying that you have been vaccinated for COVID-19 is, in many ways, the gold standard for getting back out there. The problem, of course, is that neither a vaccine nor an internationally accepted form exists yet. I know quite a few people who say they won't fly again until they get a vaccine — and that means they can't even start planning a trip yet.
Dealing with It. At this point, you can't be certain of any travel plans for the rest of the year or into next summer. Follow the situation in any destinations of interest carefully. Don't hesitate to make arrangements, if they're refundable, but don't count on being able to use them. Most important: Don't put any nonrefundable payments on the line until the circumstances for any particular trip you want to take are firm.
© 2020 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
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