As those of us in the United States face at least another 30 days of government-recommended social distancing, uncertainty continues to surround the travel community. A torrent of information is circling regarding plans, policies, and the rights that travelers possess in extenuating circumstances such as these. The CDC, TSA, and many major airlines have all issued statements and enacted new policies in recent weeks to address the developments around the spread of COVID-19.
But the sheer volume of information might make it difficult to understand your best option, and in many cases, there is more to the story than meets the eye. For general updates, we recommend looking at the CDC News and CDC Travel FAQs, but there are several other resources available to travelers at this time. While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are some of the most helpful links if you have travel scheduled or are considering travel in the near future.
Restrictions and Advisories
The U.S. State Department is responsible 24/7, 365 for maintaining a list of travel advisories for every country. Even outside of times like these, members of the travel community can check their website for information on whether or not travel to a certain destination is safe. As of March 19th, U.S. citizens are urged not to travel internationally for any reason under the recommendation of a Level 4 advisory, the State Department’s highest level of alert.
You may already know that all non-essential travel across the United States’ borders with Canada and Mexico is banned. The New York Times has also compiled a list of travel and border restrictions that other countries across the world have put in place, if you are seeking succinct and specific information on another nation’s COVID response.
In the meantime, a new program in which American travelers will be required to register online for travel to Europe has been delayed until 2022. The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) was scheduled to take effect in 2021, but be sure to mark your calendars and make any future travel plans with this (quick) application process in mind.
If you’ve been at an airport or on a plane in the past few weeks, you will know that more people than ever are traveling with a handy bottle of hand sanitizer. Well, the TSA has responded to this trend by relaxing its rules on the liquid, allowing for increased personal sanitation measures. Travelers can now bring an entire 12oz bottle of hand sanitizer on their flight, a significant jump from the usual 3.4oz that one passenger is allowed of any given liquid.
Of course, the most reassuring news for the travel community will come from the airlines themselves. The four major U.S. air carriers have all levied some sort of measure to compensate for travel plans changing at the drop of a hat. American Airlines is waiving change fees for any flights booked before March 1, 2020 for trips through May 31, 2020, while also encouraging new bookings by waiving them for all future travel if you book a trip before April 15, 2020. You may still be required to pay a fare difference.
Southwest Airlines have waived both change and cancel fees for new reservations, as well. And if you’re already scheduled to travel between today and April 30, 2020, you can reschedule your travel for a date as much as 60 days in the future from the original departure — without paying any fare difference, either.
Delta Airlines is similarly waiving all change fees, while even allowing you to select a new destination if your flight is eligible for a waiver. Meanwhile, United Airlines has waived all change fees for tickets purchased before March 2, 2020, and will allow you to change any new flights that you might book before April 30, 2020 to a later date up to twelve months in the future.
Finally, per our friends at Scott’s Cheap Flights over on their Twitter, federal regulations state that all travelers are entitled to a cash refund if their flights are cancelled. The airline is considered to be at fault if they cancel the flight without giving you the option to take another on the same route, if they cause you to experience significant delays, enforce a schedule change, or changed the class of service issued to you. If an airline issues you a voucher without presenting a refund option, call and insist on cash or contact the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Maps and Trackers
If your travel is essential and must go ahead in the coming days and weeks, there are several public health resources tracking the spread of the virus, wherever your destination. The TSA in recent days published this map that shows which airports across the country have reported cases of COVID-19 in their employees. Scroll down the page to see a detailed list of the cases, including information about what role the employee was performing and the date of their last shift before diagnosis.
Even if you are feeling healthy, report your condition to the public health crowdsourcing effort COVID Near You before you travel. If you are feeling run down and experiencing any kind of cold or flu-like symptoms, similarly report that to the website and stay home. This tracker is the brainchild of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, looking to put the “public” back into public health for the travel community and beyond. With a better understanding of how people across the country are feeling, scientists can make more accurate models for the progression of the virus.
Last but not least, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering maintains the most reputable and thorough interactive tracker on the virus’s international spread.
FAQs on Personal Travel, Finances, Dining, and More
A development with the far-reaching consequences and nuance of the COVID-19 pandemic is frankly unprecedented in a world so interconnected in 2020. The knock-on effects of the virus will be manifold and unique depending on your age, location, profession, immigration status, and the support available to you. The New York Times put together this Q&A with experts to help us all navigate the changing travel landscape, while our friend Johnny Jet also compiled a remarkably comprehensive list of resources to hopefully assuage one or two of your concerns at this time.
For those of us in the travel community privileged enough to keep our good health at this time, it’s still likely that we experience a tangible financial fallout. For tips to keep your personal finances in order under the economic duress of coronavirus, consult this Twitter thread and accompanying article.
Ending on a Positive
The unfortunate consequence of staying up to speed with coronavirus updates is having to face a constant stream of heavy news, which might leave you gasping for a breath of fresh air and a dose of good news. Luckily, our friends and the experts at Goodgoodgood have set up a handful of services to provide the uplifting headlines you might be needing right now. They offer everything from a print Goodnewspaper delivered to your doorstep to the Sounds Good podcast and the Goodnewsletter, an email delivering five good news stories to your inbox every Tuesday.
Stay well, and stay home!