By Jessie Fetterling for Far & Wide
As the world continues to fight a pandemic, with extended shelter-in-place orders, the reality of exactly how long we might have to social distance is starting to take hold. Yes, staying home continues to be the right thing to do, but travelers are understandably starting to feel antsy, wondering if it will be safe to travel this summer.
The short answer: It’s really your call. But here are some things to consider as you start weighing your summer travel plans.
If you own a car or RV, camping will be the easiest and safest way to escape your routine this summer. While national parks are currently closed in the U.S. and other countries, there are several regional parks and campgrounds that allow for camping.
Kampgrounds of America (KOA) suggests going to a park that you think will be less crowded to ensure you’ll be able to keep a distance from any fellow travelers. Also, try staying within a few hours of home to avoid too many touchpoints — i.e., gas stations, convenience stores and coffee shops — along the way.
On April 27, Airbnb released a statement that says it’s launching an Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, taking guidance from former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivel Murthy. Its Cleaning Protocol provides hosts who opt-in procedures and guidance on how to clean every room, which includes a 24-hour waiting period before entering a property. The other option for hosts is to use a Booking Buffer that allows them to commit to a vacancy period (currently 72 hours) between stays. Guests will be able to identify and book the enrolled listings.
Because Airbnbs are less frequented than major hotels, this might be a good option for timid travelers willing to take the risk to stay in a luxe treehouse or bubble suite.
Of course, hotels announced their own cleaning protocols, eager to attract guests after losing about $3.5 billion a week in the U.S. alone, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Assocation. As of April 29, eight in 10 hotel rooms were vacant.
On April 21, Marriott International launched the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 at Marriott properties. Quick to follow, Hilton announced its new standard of cleanliness on April 27. And that was followed on April 29 by Hyatt, which also promises that by September 2020, every Hyatt hotel will have at least one dedicated Hygiene Manager who will be responsible for ensuring the property is adhering to all cleaning protocols.
Is It Safe to Fly?
While local travel may be achievable this summer, what about booking a flight? On April 27, JetBlue became the first airline to require passengers to wear face masks or coverings starting May 4. It’s no surprise that other major airlines like Delta and American quickly followed suit.
Earlier in April, airlines had already turned to new boarding methods, boarding back-of-plane passengers first and only boarding a few customers at a time to allow for social distancing.
What About Air Circulation?
Perhaps the biggest fear of travelers is the air circulation in planes. But it’s important to remember that, as this Forbes article points out, an airplane’s air circulation is vertical, not horizontal, being delivered from the top and flowing to the side walls.
That means the circulation system won’t be delivering fellow passengers’ germs to you and could even be considered better than most restaurants and office buildings, according to Forbes.
What About Booking a Flight?
If you’re less concerned about hygiene and more concerned about costs or hidden change fees, you’ll be happy to know that most airlines are waiving change fees for the foreseeable future. Southwest Airlines already offered this before the pandemic, but now American, Delta and United are all encouraging travelers to book by offering them the ability to change trips or cancel them and rebook later.
Most of the policies are similar to Delta’s in that any flight booked from now until May 31, 2020, can be changed without a change fee for up to a year, and any travel booked through Sept. 30, 2020, (regardless of when it was booked originally) can also be changed without fees.
Amtrak in the U.S. has currently reduced services due to less demand. It is also adhering to all safety protocols by recommending face masks and reducing sales to only 50 percent capacity to ensure proper social distancing.
It, too, is waiving change fees for any reservations made before May 31, 2020.
Outside of air travel, a lot of travelers are worried about getting refunds or making changes to current activities or tours they’ve booked. If you have travel insurance, it depends on the policy, but simply fear of traveling due to coronavirus is not covered in many cases. If you are no longer taking the trip, though, you may be able to get a refund for the travel insurance or travel insurance voucher to use for future bookings.
That said, it’s a good idea to go straight to the source and speak with your tour operator. Several are offering vouchers for future bookings.
Of course, if you’re too scared to travel this summer for fear of contracting or spreading COVID-19, then don’t do it.
If you do take a summer vacation as a way to stay sane, then it’s important to abide by travel advisories and take the extra precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means wash your hands, practice social distancing and wear masks when you come into contact with other people, whether you’re simply traveling to your local coffee shop or venturing several hours away.
Never has the “safe travels” sentiment rung truer.