Thinking You Want To Travel Again? What To Expect With COVID Travel
For those considering a return to travel, here’s what to expect in the COVID travel era. To be blunt: a lot has changed. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 more than a year ago, many people have not traveled anywhere. As more people start traveling again, airlines are calling back flight attendants and pilots to prepare for a big increase in travel by summer. No one can decide for you when you will start traveling again.
The point of this article is NOT to tell people what they should/shouldn’t do. However, if you’re thinking about getting back on a plane (or even just a road trip to somewhere new), we believe you should have the necessary information to make an informed decision that’s best for you. If you’re considering a trip, here’s what to expect with COVID travel.
By now, we all know that there are places you can and can’t go. Given that restrictions at certain destinations change often, how can you stay on top of this? Here are resources I recommend:
- IATA / Timatic Map – tells you who can enter a country, testing/quarantine requirements, special visa rules, etc. for international travel
- State restrictions by CNN – updated frequently, it covers rules about what’s open/closed, masks, quarantine, testing, etc.
- Delta Discover Map – even if you aren’t flying Delta, you can filter destinations by type (beach, city, etc.) and restrictions (e.g. restaurants are open)
Remember that the CDC has also changed its guidelines, saying that vaccinated people do not need to quarantine. That being said, your destination can still require it.
At The Airport & On The Plane
Starting May 1, 2021, Delta will start selling middle seats. They’re the last airline in the U.S. still blocking middle seats. Depending on where you’re going, which airline you’re flying, and the popularity of that route, your plane could be empty or packed like sardines.
Masks are mandatory in airports and planes, as well as ride share vehicles, taxis, buses, etc. Depending on your destination, check the CNN link above to see if you are required to wear masks in the mall, public parks, etc.
Snacks & meals on flights have changed radically. This can vary greatly, depending on the airline & distance flown. Expect ‘no contact’ options, like a pre-prepared baggie, to be your snack–if you get one. Check with your airline to see what they’re offering in your cabin on your specific flight.
What’s Happening At Hotels
Most hotels have some sort of new cleaning policy & mask policy. Generally, you can expect something like this when visiting a hotel now:
- Your temperature may be taken to enter the property for the first time / to check in
- Masks are probably required in public areas, such as the elevator & lobby
- Many locations require you to fill out forms, stating that you have not recently tested positive for COVID, that you agree to follow their safety protocols, and even accepting possible fines for not cooperating
That being said, not every hotel is a cookie cutter of the next. Mark shared a not-so-good experience here. My review of a Park Hyatt property stated that my wife and I were the only guests with masks during our 5 days there. Just because a company headquarters sets policies doesn’t mean the local hotel / its employees enforce it. What you see on a company website and what happens when you get there might be different. Look for recent reviews of the property to see what people are saying.
If you went outside the U.S., then you will need a COVID-19 test to return. Click here for Ian’s experience of getting tested for a flight back to the U.S. Many hotels are offering testing to guests, in order to entice customers. But what if you test positive?
Part of your “coming home” plan needs to consider a delay. What if 1 person in your family of 4 tests positive and can’t fly? Will the rest of you fly home, leaving that person behind? Or will you all stay and wait? What’s your work situation, and how will that affect your plan for coming home?
If you can’t get home on your original flight, will you have to pay change fees? Enter government quarantine at your location? Can you cover the bill for extra hotel nights? This is not fear-mongering, but you need to really consider what might happen and have a plan for it. We talked about that in this podcast (jump to 12:25) with emergency planning for possible flight cancelations or someone testing positive for COVID.
And while you aren’t required to quarantine/self-isolate after returning home if you’re vaccinated, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Consider whether you will isolate after returning home, whether that means more days off work, if you should take a COVID test before going back into your normal life, etc.
Staying Safe During The Trip
Most people are heavily focused on the ‘stay safe in the plane’ aspect of travel right now. In fact, I rarely hear anyone discuss anything else in terms of travel safety. However, that’s really not sufficient.
According to Rui Pombal, medical director of the Aviation Medicine Centre and Travel Clinic at TAP Air Portugal Group Health Services:
“When we think of flying, we also need to think in terms of the whole trip as an end to end process. It is in fact a journey that starts the moment you walk out the door to get into a vehicle—car, train or bus—that will take you to the airport, through airport procedures, flying itself, all the way to the activities you are going to engage in once you get to your destination. You cannot dissociate the risk from all those steps.”
According to the American Medical Association, if you keep your mask on and stay in your seat, the flight is likely the least risky part of your trip. It’s all of the other stuff, like being in a restaurant eating with your mask off while surrounded by strangers at the next table, that you need to also factor into your safety plan.
Consider the things you plan to do on your trip, and determine how you will stay safe during those. It’s more than just ‘wear masks’, too. Will you go out to restaurants? Maybe outdoor dining only? Food delivery to the room only? Apply those same questions to all other aspects of the trip. Also, your safety plan only covers the things you can control.
Knowing What You Can & Can’t Control
Which brings me to one of the most important parts of what to expect during COVID travel: some people won’t do the right thing. You can only control what happens in your travel group, which you should discuss in advance. If you show up for a flight & someone isn’t wearing a mask, you can notify a flight attendant. There is a person whose job is to resolve that situation. What about out in public?
What will you do if you wind up in an airport shuttle to the rental car lot, and some people aren’t wearing masks? And what if you ask them to put one on, but they don’t? This is something you need to consider prior to travel, because a situation like this is bound to happen. You can’t control what other people do, so consider this element. More than anything else right now, the biggest thing you need to consider (in my opinion) is how you will respond to others not following rules, CDC guidance, common sense, etc.
You want to know what to expect during COVID travel? Expect that some people won’t do what you think they should, and you can’t force them to fall in line. Will that ruin your trip? If so, it’s probably not the right time for you to return to traveling, because I promise you this will happen somewhere during your journey.
What To Expect With COVID Travel – Final Thoughts
Not everyone is ready to start traveling again. While more people are getting vaccinated and feeling comfortable traveling, that’s also correlating with an increase in COVID cases. Whether it’s because they’re vaccinated or maybe just feeling like they “need to get out”, more people are traveling.
The point is not whether or not you agree with this. People are starting to travel, and many of them have not gone anywhere for over a year. Things are different now. Hopefully, this helps you know what to expect with COVID travel, so you can make an informed decision about when/if you will go somewhere.