Travel as we know it has been completely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. From total lockdown in nearly every country across the planet to unprecedented international restrictions on airline routes and traveler mobility, nothing about the travel industry is the same post-COVID.
You may have heard rumors that flights are cheaper than ever right now. You may also have heard that travel is more costly and difficult than it has been in years. Confusingly, both answers are true, depending on the destinations or routes you’re evaluating. Airlines have been hit hard by the uncertainty of this period and are trying to figure it out as they go.
So what should you do about planning future travel? Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you make plans for your next trip.
How have flights been impacted by COVID-19?
International flights have been impacted by two major developments.
When the virus first struck, many governments around the world initially banned foreign airlines from operating flights in and out of their countries. As a result, airlines themselves have cut several routes to save on operating costs.
Even with people traveling again, the impact of the coronavirus lockdown remains; some routes still operate less frequently than they used to, people are required to wear masks in airports and onboard and many destinations have begun asking travelers to provide medical proof of clean health before traveling.
All of these factors combined have created several travel disruptions, including mass airline layoffs, frequent flight changes, rescheduling and aircraft swaps and heightened focus on increased sanitation and cleanliness routines.
Is it safe to fly during the pandemic?
Post-COVID, there are two ways in which you need to think about safety when traveling. The first is the obvious one: It’s important to look out for your health, especially since a vaccine doesn’t yet exist.
The second safety consideration is for your financial investment; the flights, hotels, rental cars and excursions you may have booked but now have to cancel or postpone. Unfortunately, thousands of people found out the hard way that most travel insurance plans don’t cover pandemics. So when you plan for travel post-COVID, make sure you know your options for refunds or future travel credit.
Tips for safe travel during COVID
If you are planning to travel right now, here are the precautions you should keep in mind.
- Know your airline’s restrictions on health and hygiene requirements. You may need to bring test results that show you are negative for COVID.
- Check your local destination’s guidance on masks, social distancing and other safety protocols. These can vary by destination and are updated frequently—sometimes even daily.
- Research the cancellation and refund policies for every leg of your trip—from flights to hotels to rental car reservations. Many companies are offering generous change or cancellation policies during this time, so make sure you know what the rules are in case something comes up and derails your plans last minute.
- Pack hand sanitizer and wipes to keep yourself as protected as possible.
- Many airlines are requiring masks on board, and some—like Philippine Airlines—even require face shields. Know the rules: Most airlines allow you to remove your mask for short periods such as when drinking coffee or water.
- Build in an extra 20 to 45 minutes into your airport routine to give yourself ample time to pass through security screenings.
- Maintain safe social distances whenever possible.
- Follow all guidelines for on-site arrival testing, wait times and possible quarantine instructions.
What cheap flights are available right now?
We’ve seen inconsistent pricing for international flights this year, which makes sense considering U.S. travelers are banned from entering many countries around the world.
There have been some great fares, such as business-class deals between Mexico City and Cape Town for a $600 round trip. But many other routes have gotten way more expensive and tedious than usual. It isn’t unusual to see a route that would normally cost less than $2,000 with a single layover now cost $4,000 with two or three layovers one way.
However, 2020 has proved to be a pretty good year for domestic flight deals. We’ve seen low-cost carriers offer flights as low as $11 one way—and even include free companion tickets for those fares, too. Meanwhile, you can find good deals on cross-country flights, such as from New York to Los Angeles and back, for less than $100 round trip.
Should you book flights right now?
It’s a great idea to book travel right now, especially if you can find a good flight deal. Whether or not you should make a trip right now is a different story and will depend on many factors, including personal health risks and the health of others. But with many great refund and cancellation policies, it’s risk-free to plan for future adventures.