- If you're planning on booking air travel during the coronavirus pandemic, you may be worried about whether travel insurance will cover a cancellation as well as how to stay physically safe while on board.
- Travel writer Caroline Morse Teel spoke with travel insurance expert Stan Sandberg about the best insurance to cover your trip; he recommends a plan that allows cancellations "for any reason."
- Teel also spoke with two epidemiologists who offered their best tips to reduce your exposure to potential infection throughout the flight (hint: lots of hand sanitizer).
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Confused about all things travel right now? You're not alone. To clear things up, we consulted the experts on the questions that are on all travelers' minds right now, getting the inside answers on everything from coronavirus travel insurance to masks on planes so you can travel confidently (or decide to stay at home) this summer.
If I buy travel insurance now for an upcoming trip, will it cover a cancellation due to the coronavirus?
The fine print that comes along with travel insurance can be headache-inducing under normal circumstances, let alone in a pandemic.
Stan Sandberg, cofounder of Travelinsurance.com, broke down different coronavirus coverage options. The simple answer: It depends on your policy, so you'll need to carefully check terms and conditions before you buy.
Sandberg says to avoid standard travel insurance policies (which tend to be the cheapest, most easily available policies, like the ones offered as add-ons when booking), as they usually have a general exclusion for pandemics and won't cover you at all for anything coronavirus-related. Trip cancellation travel insurance plans could be an option, as these will cover you if you get sick (including with COVID-19), but they won't help you if you need to cancel because your vacation destination has become a hotspot or if you're just worried about the virus.
According to Sandberg, your best bet is a 'cancel for any reason' plan, which lives up to its name by allowing you to cancel for any reason up to two days before your departure. Just be warned that these plans may only reimburse you for 50% or 75% of your trip, and that this insurance option can be really pricey — so it may only be worth it for a seriously luxe trip.
Which airlines are blocking off seats for social distancing?
A middle seat assignment on a packed flight used to be the uncomfortable price of budget travel, but now it may seem downright dangerous. If you don't want to risk getting stuck on a full flight, you're going to want to avoid American Airlines right now. The airline just recently ended its policy of blocking off middle seats, joining United, Spirit, and Allegiant in operating flights at up to 100% capacity.
These airlines are the best option for social distancing:
- Delta: blocking off all middle seats as well as some aisle seats on planes with 2×2 configurations through September 30.
- Southwest: blocking off middle seats through October 31.
- JetBlue: blocking middle seats through September 8.
- Alaska Airlines: blocking seats through September 30.
- Airline policies are changing frequently, so be sure to check with the airline about their rules before you book (you'll find a coronavirus FAQ or advisory on the homepage of every airline right now, which will give you the most up-to-date information).
Is it safer to fly or take a long road trip (with stops at gas stations, hotels, rest stops, etc.) right now?
Everything — even a trip to the grocery store — can feel risky right now. But the risk of travel comes down to one major factor: other people.
When you're in a car, you can control your exposure to other people. But on a plane, you don't have many options to remove yourself from a risky scenario, like sitting near a coughing person or being stuck within six feet of another flyer.
Pia MacDonald, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the nonprofit Research Triangle Institute explains that "risk is determined by how 'safe' you and those you come in contact with are."
Before you embark on road trip or flight, Dr. MacDonald says to consider questions like: "Are the people in the airplane coming from high transmission areas? Are the stops on the long drive in low or high transmission areas? Are people compliant with physical distancing and face coverings? The flight involves interacting with people beyond who is on the airplane. Did people take a taxi, Uber, or Lyft to get to the airport? How long were they in the airport? What did they do while they were waiting?"
Do I have to wear a mask on a flight? What if I have a medical condition that makes wearing a mask impossible?
Yep, you're going to have to wear a mask if you want to fly — no matter what.
Almost all US airlines are enforcing strict face covering requirements (meaning they will kick you off the plane if you refuse to comply). Until recently, most airlines were giving passengers with a disability or medical condition a pass on this rule, but no more. Now, pretty much all American-based airlines (with the exception of Delta) are no longer allowing anyone to fly without a mask (even those with a true medical condition).
Delta still has a medical exemption for masks, but anyone claiming the exemption will need to undergo a strict "clearance to fly" process at the airport that can take over an hour.
So, think of your mask like an airline ticket now — if you don't have one, you're not getting onboard.
Can I take off my mask to eat or drink during a flight?
Yes, you can briefly take off your mask to eat or drink during a flight, but remember that the mask rule is there to protect your fellow passengers, so don't abuse this loophole. If you need to slip off your mask for eating or drinking, make sure you sanitize your hands before touching your mask, and bring a clean paper bag or other container to store your mask in (rather than resting it on the germy tray table).
If I'm going to fly, is there anything I can do (besides wearing a mask) to keep myself safe from COVID?
Flying used to involve a basic checklist before heading out to the airport: ticket? ID/passport? Now your mental list should look more like: ticket, ID, mask, sanitizer.
Dr. Lisa Lee, an epidemiologist and associate vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech, offers final day-of basic rules to follow while flying during the pandemic:
- Don't travel if you're sick
- Keep six feet away from everyone else
- Wear a mask around other people
- Wash your hands frequently
- Bring extra masks
- Have a plan (for example, how will you handle crowded areas like baggage claim or the security line)
- Sanitize your seat
Caroline Morse Teel is a travel writer who has pursued stories from Antarctica to Zanzibar and (almost) everywhere in between. Her work has appeared on Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, USA Today, TripAdvisor, Jetsetter, SmarterTravel, and more. Follow her travels on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline or at CarolineMorseTeel.com.
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