Is It Safe To Travel Again? Your Coronavirus Questions Answered

A Q&A for anyone confused about traveling right now. The latest news on travel restrictions at home and abroad, how to stay healthy and what you need to know about booking vacation rentals

American citizens are still urged to avoid all non-essential international travel.

Photo: David J. Phillip/Associated Press
As countries begin to reopen, is there any place abroad where I can travel right now?

2020欧洲杯APPNot easily. The novel coronavirus has raged through every continent except Antarctica, with at least 177 countries reporting cases, and under the U.S. State Department’s “Do Not Travel” advisory, American citizens are still urged to avoid all non-essential international travel, citing ongoing health risks due to Covid-19.

Most airlines have drastically cut international flights, paring back service from the U.S. to just a few cities overseas, including Tokyo and London. More international routes are expected to start up again in June, but for now, that won’t do the average traveler much good: Most nations have closed their borders to nonresidents, and even if you do manage to get through, you’ll likely face a two-week quarantine. Some countries are allowing in residents of neighboring nations, creating a “tourism bubble,” but timetables for fully reopening the borders and ending mandatory quarantines remain uncertain. Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe by the coronavirus, began loosening its lockdown in the past few weeks, though the government hasn’t indicated when it will rescind the country’s ban on U.S. tourists. Some destinations, including Iceland, Portugal and parts of Mexico, have suggested that they might reopen to U.S. travelers for at least part of the summer season, although there have been no official announcements yet.

If you have a fever—considered by medical professionals to be a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher—you likely won’t be permitted to board a flight, or, if you are arriving in from another country, you’ll be referred to local health authorities.

Photo: apu gomes/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
What about traveling domestically? Should I plan a summer vacation now that some states are loosening their lockdowns?

Noting that cases of the coronavirus disease have been reported in every state, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) strongly advises against all non-essential travel within the U.S.—even camping—warning that travel “increases your chances of getting and spreading Covid-19.” That said, the does offer advice for minimizing risks while staying in hotels or rental properties or taking road trips. (For example: “When you get to your room or rental property, clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, remote controls, toilets, and sink faucets.”)

State-mandated travel restrictions vary widely. A number of states, including Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont require all out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days. Violating the quarantine order in Hawaii incurs a $5,000 fine. In Florida, only visitors from outbreak hot spots, such as the New York tri-state area, must quarantine. Beaches, parks and campgrounds are gradually reopening, but not everywhere. The same goes for hotels. Openings largely depend on how slowly the virus spreads within state borders, as well as guidance from county health officials.

Should I avoid flying altogether?

Health authorities, including the CDC, maintain that the risk of infection on airplanes is low. That may be even truer now that air travel has dropped dramatically. According to the latest industry data, the few flights that are operating have been, on average, around 30% full, making it easier to adhere to social-distancing practices. To that end, many airlines are cordoning off middle seats and allowing passengers to move to empty rows. Some are capping total occupancy to 50% or 60%. Major airlines are also drastically curtailing in-flight food and beverage service to limit contact between customers and crew.

Still, to be on the safe side, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises travelers to exercise the same precautions they’d follow to avoid catching any bug: Keep hands clean and use antiseptic wipes on any surfaces, such as tray tables and armrests, where germs could linger. Contrary to popular belief, cabin air is less of a concern; virtually all international jetliners are equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, similar to those used in hospital operating room, capable of blocking more than 99% of airborne microbes. Cabin air is circulated vertically, from ceiling to floor, and refreshed every two to three minutes. Between flights, airplane cabins are scrubbed down with anti-microbial disinfectants.

If I have to fly, should I wear a mask?

Yes. An increasing number of airlines—and many airports—are now requiring passengers to wear a mask or face covering, and will provide one if necessary. The new measure followed an extensive debate among health officials, after which the CDC revised its recommendation, now advising everyone, feeling ill or not, to wear a cloth face-covering when you might not be able to stand—or sit—at least 6 feet apart from another individual. Recent studies show that Covid-19 can be spread by people who don’t exhibit any symptoms and might not even realize that they’re infected. Face masks, or even cloth coverings, might not be a fail-safe, but they can help reduce transmission. Other than the industrial-strength N95—which the CDC says should still be reserved for health care workers—other masks don’t fully protect you from other people’s illnesses but they do prevent your own germs from spreading. Keep in mind that the virus spreads by droplets, when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes. The droplets spread through the air and can land on another person’s mouth or nose, or possibly be inhaled into their lungs, infecting them. The droplets can also settle on nearby surfaces, where they can survive for two to three days.

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I’ve heard that airlines and airports are taking fliers’ temperatures. What happens if you are found to have a temperature?

2020欧洲杯APPIf you have a fever—considered by medical professionals to be a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher—you likely won’t be permitted to board a flight, or, if you are arriving in from another country, you’ll be referred to local health authorities. “If someone is showing signs of a generic illness or Covid-19, they’ll likely be tested if they’re arriving from a country that has identified cases,” said Courtney Kansler, senior health intelligence analyst for risk management company WorldAware. Since by now nearly all countries with flights to the U.S. have reported cases, that means any international passengers arriving stateside will be checked. Those who might have been exposed to a suspected case but aren’t exhibiting signs of illness are sent to quarantine.

Is flying private safer than flying commercial from a health point of view?

Potentially, but not in all cases. If you’re chartering a private plane, you can avoid the uncertainties of navigating large airport terminals and sharing space with total strangers. Even so, how could you know who was last sitting in your seat? Many private operators report that they’re doing extra cleaning after each trip. And, in other measures, Flexjet says its pilots and cabin crews are avoiding commercial flights, which they would normally use to commute to work.

Are hotels open in the U.S.?

2020欧洲杯APPYes and no. Many hotels, deemed essential businesses by state or local authorities, never fully closed, but a number of them have only been permitted to house medical workers, non-critical Covid-19 patients or other pandemic-related guests, not leisure travelers. As some states begin to lift their stay-at-home orders, restrictions on hotels (and vacation rentals) are starting to ease too, and more hotels across the country are starting to welcome standard guests. To try to reassure skittish travelers, the bigger brands are rolling out heightened safety protocols. Starting in June, for example, will launch its “CleanStay” progam, with contact-less check-ins and more rigorous cleaning practices based on advice from the Mayo Clinic. And convened its “Cleaniness Council,” to help overhaul its standard housekeeping practices. Earlier this month, the (AHLA) issued enhanced cleaning and safety guidelines to its more than 27,000 members.

Can I book a vacation rental?

2020欧洲杯APPYes, but not everywhere. And depending on where you’re headed, you may need to stay awhile. Several states and counties temporarily banned Airbnb, VRBO and other short-term vacation rentals (typically defined as fewer than 31 days). Those bans still apply in California, Connecticut, Maine and Vermont among other places. But earlier this month, Georgia and South Carolina as well as coastal counties in North Carolina lifted their bans. Starting in July, Maine will allow out-of-state visitors to book short-term vacation rentals again (and hotel rooms), while Vermont officials have indicated that the state may rescind its rental ban in mid June. But keep in mind your short-term rental still comes with restrictions—both Maine and Vermont require all out-of-staters to self-quarantine for 14 days, which means no trips to the gas station, grocery store or to pick up takeout. Vermont regulations are even stricter, advising not to go out for bike rides, hikes or even walks until two weeks have passed. To help prospective renters sort out the patchwork of regulations, Airbnb lists on its site, but be prepared to wade through the fine print.

If I need to rent a car, what precautions should I take?

Renting a car tends to pose fewer risks of getting or spreading Covid-19 than taking public transit since you’re exposed to far fewer people and transmission is mostly caused by Even so, research shows that the novel coronavirus can linger on some surfaces for two to three days, or even suspended in the air for up to an hour. “To reduce the risk in a rental car, it would be a good idea to wipe down high-touch areas and increase ventilation through the windows or air conditioning,” says Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, director of Bloomberg American Health Initiative at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In response to the outbreak and plummeting sales,2020欧洲杯APP most rental car companies are instituting their own more rigorous cleaning procedures. Hertz, for example, now seals vehicles after a between each rental, while Enterprise details similar protocols under its

Should I avoid cruises altogether?

After the widely reported quarantines of passengers on ocean liners and the rapid rise of confirmed cases among the passengers and crew, the CDC and the U.S. State Department issued heightened travel warnings, advising travelers to defer all . The CDC points out that the people at highest risk of falling seriously ill from Covid-19 are older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, lung disease and diabetes. On April 9, the CDC renewed a prohibiting cruise ships carrying 250 or more passengers and crew from sailing in U.S waters until July 24 or sooner, if Covid-19 no longer constitutes a public health crisis. Most cruise lines have temporarily suspended voyages worldwide, with plans to resume in late June or early July. A few cruise lines, including Princess Cruises and Holland America, have suspended sailings until fall 2020.

If I already have a cruise booked for later this year, can I cancel it without penalty?

In the event the cruise line itself cancels a voyage, passengers are typically given a full refund and often credit for a future departure. And now many cruise lines, including Viking and Norwegian, are extending similar policies to most if not all of their voyages. “Some lines have begun offering cancel-for-any-reason policies,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, chief content officer of Cruise Media. “Travelers who want to cancel an existing booking will either get a refund or 100% credit for use on another trip.”

How are airlines changing their cancellation or booking policies in light of the coronavirus?

Major airlines, facing soft demand for future trips, are continuing to extend flexibility to new ticket purchases. Customers who book between now and May 31 on most U.S. airlines will be allowed one fee-free change. Fliers may also be allowed to postpone their travel for a longer period. Delta, for example, is letting customers who have existing reservations for trips through May 31 rebook for any destination within the next two years.

I want to cancel my flight, not postpone it. How can I get refund?

Under most airlines’ policies, if you are choosing to cancel a flight that is still operating simply because you don’t want to travel—now or ever—you are not entitled to a full refund, just a credit for future use. That doesn’t mean you should accept that without a fight, said Kurt Ebenhoch, executive director of the aviation consumer advocacy group Travel Fairness Now. Given the uncertainty over when the travel industry might rebound, Mr. Ebenhoch says you can argue your case to an airline customer service agent, if you can get one on the phone, that is. A better bet might be to dispute the charge with the credit card you used to buy it. And if you’ve got a ticket for travel in the near future, you could simply wait to see if the airline scrubs it—as most carriers are still adjusting schedules. If it’s the airline’s call to cancel, it owes you the full amount. The U.S. Department of Transportation, in fact, in April took the unusual step of Even so, some airlines are working hard to persuade customers to hang on the ticket, with some even offering a “bonus” on top of the face value of the ticket.

What about hotels?

A number of hotel chains—including Marriott, Hilton and IHG—are temporarily waiving cancellation and rebooking fees for all properties worldwide. Even if your hotel hasn’t revised their cancellation policy in the wake of the coronavirus, there might still be some wiggle room. It doesn’t hurt to go directly to the travel provider if you don’t want to travel at all, said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at creditcards.com. “Your best odds of getting a refund is through the supplier,” he said

The Champs de Mars park near the Eiffel Tower on April 4, 2020. France is under a national lockdown until April 15.

Photo: cyril marclihacy/Bloomberg news
Is there any point in buying travel insurance if coronavirus isn’t covered by it?

2020欧洲杯APPIf you’re insuring your trip because of Covid-19 you are probably out of luck; most trip-protection policies won’t refund you if you back out of an upcoming trip because you’re afraid to go. But there are plenty of other reasons to insure your trip; you might get a partial refund if your policy includes trip interruption coverage and you fall ill while traveling, or have to return home earlier than expected, depending on the circumstances. Another option is to buy a much more expensive “cancel for any reason” policy. These CFAR plans, as they’re known, frequently cost 40% more than basic insurance, and the coverage often pays out only 50% to 75% of your total expenses, compared with the full cost paid by regular policies. Consumers should make sure to check the fine print for any exceptions. Websites like SquareMouth and Travelinsurance.com let you comparison shop among insurers and filter search results by specific parameters.

Is now a good time to buy an airline ticket for the fall or winter? Will I get a good deal?

If you spot a low fare for travel later in the year, you might want to snap it up now, especially for travel over a holiday. Currently, bargains abound and if you book before June 1, you can change your dates without penalty for flights on most U.S. airlines. But don’t be surprised if your fare searches also turn up some steep prices too, especially for busy times like Thanksgiving; with many planes grounded, airlines have fewer seats to fill and if demand rises, so will prices. And, caveat emptor: don’t buy a ticket if you have any doubts that you’ll want to use it because if you change your mind you won’t get your money back, just a travel voucher for future use. And if your new flight is more expensive, you’ll be charged the difference in fare.

Corrections & Amplifications

An earlier version of this article misspelled Kurt Ebenhoch’s surname as Ebenhock. (April 2, 2020). Maine’s ban on short-term rentals will be lifted in July. An earlier version of this article said that Maine would lift the ban on June 1. (May 15, 2020)

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