If you’re traveling by plane for the holidays this year, your top concern should be reducing your risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus.
Of course, the biggest way to reduce your risk is by not flying at all. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put it, travel “increases your chances of getting and spreading” COVID-19. But if you must, you should know what you’re getting into. Science is clear that face masks and social distancing work well at reducing infections, and all U.S. airlines have policies requiring travelers to wear masks on board.
But are airlines still blocking off the middle seats on each plane?
After the pandemic began, three of the nation’s four biggest carriers ― American, Delta and Southwest ― initially agreed to leave the middle seats empty so passengers could sit at a distance. A working paper out of MIT argued this practice makes a difference: Assuming that every seat is sold and every passenger is wearing a mask, professor and aviation expert Arnold Barnett said that the probability of getting COVID-19 from a nearby passenger on a flight of average duration drops from 1 in 4,300 when middle seats are sold to 1 in 7,700 when they are left empty.
Some airlines have since updated their policies, however, and others never stopped selling middle seats at all. Below, see which carriers are currently blocking them off and how other safety measures differ, too.
American Airlines: Not Blocking Middle Seats
American Airlines no longer blocks off the middle seat and allows planes to fly completely full. AA says it will instead alert passengers when their flights are getting full during the check-in process, giving them the chance to switch, free of charge, if their flight is eligible.
Only children under 2 years old are exempt from wearing a face mask, and if you decline to wear one, “you may be denied boarding and future travel on American,” AA’s COVID-19 policy states. Face shields are not an acceptable substitute for a mask, and masks may not have exhaust valves or vents.
For flights under 900 miles, in-flight water, canned drinks and juice are by request only and no snacks, alcohol or food are available in the Main Cabin, though you can bring your own snacks. For flights above 900 miles, complimentary pretzels or cookies and bottled water will be available in the Main Cabin and First Class.
Delta Air Lines: Middle Seats Blocked Until The End Of March
On Wednesday, Delta announced it would continue to block the selection of middle seats through at least March 30, 2021.
If you are a party of one or two people, you cannot buy a middle seat, but if you are a party of three or more, you can buy the middle seat if you wish to sit next to your travel companions.
For planes without middle seats, Delta will block one aisle of seats.
In October, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in an internal memo that 460 people have been added to Delta’s no-fly list for refusing to follow its mask requirement. Only “children under the age two and young children who cannot maintain a face covering are exempt,” Delta states. If you have a medical condition that doesn’t allow you to wear a mask, you must complete a complete a “Clearance-to-Fly” process prior to departure.
In all U.S. domestic and international flights to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Central America, a snack selection is available but meal pre-select and special meal service is temporarily suspended. The only time you can take off your mask is while eating and drinking, but you are expected to immediately put it back on afterward. You can still bring your own snack and nonalcoholic beverage.
JetBlue: Not Blocking Middle Seats
JetBlue said it will keep flights under 70% full through Dec. 1, 2020. This means some seats will be blocked, but it is not guaranteed that this will include the middle seat next to you. From Dec. 2, 2020, to Jan. 7, 2021, JetBlue will bump capacity to 85% of available seats, then resume selling all available seats on Jan. 8, 2021.
Only children under the age of 2 are exempt from JetBlue’s face covering requirement.
Iced drinks, alcohol and hot beverages have been suspended, but you can still get a free snack and bottled water delivered in a pre-sealed bag in Main Cabin.
Southwest Airlines: Middle Seats Blocked Until Dec. 1
Southwest will stop blocking middle seats after Dec. 1, the airline’s CEO announced. The airline’s blog says Southwest will notify customers two to three days before travel if their flight is booked to a capacity at which middle seats will likely be occupied, and customers will be given the option to change flights at no charge if another is available that is less full.
You must wear a face mask. Bandanas, face shields and neck gaiters do not count, and Southwest has removed noncompliant passengers. Only children under 2 are exempt from the mask policy; medical excuses are not accepted.
In-flight beverage and snack service is possible on some flights over 200 miles, but on all others, snack and beverage services are indefinitely suspended.
United Airlines: Not Blocking Middle Seats
United Airlines makes no commitment to blocking off middle seats, but says it will notify customers when “their flight is fairly full” to give them the option to change it.
You must wear a face covering on the plane and at the airport. If you refuse, you “may be refused travel and banned from flying United at least while the mask requirement is in place,” the airline states.
United says you can bring your own snack, but food is not available in Economy for flights under 2 hours and 20 minutes or in First Class for flights under an hour. For flights between an hour and 2 hours and 20 minutes, passengers in First Class receive an “all-in-one” bag with a wrapped sanitizing wipe, bottled water and two snacks. That option is available for Economy in flights 2 hours and 20 minutes or longer.
SUPPORT THE TIMES CLOCK
Funny Tweets About The Things You Forget To Pack
While some travelers have a tendency to overpack, others often find themselves forgetting to bring crucial items on their trips. And a good number of people manage to simultaneously overpack and forget things.
The good news is we can always laugh about it. A lot of funny folks on Twitter have lamented their packing fails, from missing toothbrushes to a complete absence of underwear.
We’ve rounded up 30 funny tweets about the things people forget to pack. Enjoy!
Stunning Photos Of Castles Around The World
And given the media frenzy around the British royals over the past year, we’ve got castles on the brain. From the English countryside to the cherry blossom-filled landscapes of Japan, there are countless gorgeous castles to spark wanderlust, inspire royals fanatics and fuel our inner history buffs.
Below, we’ve rounded up 60 stunning photos of castles around the world. There are debates around what technically counts as a castle, but for our purposes, we stuck with sites that include the designation in their names or are often considered to be castles.
The Destinations People Want To Visit First When It’s Safe To Travel
Over the past year, the idea of travel has carried a sense of risk, fear, uncertainty and shame. But now that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidelines on travel and COVID-19, many people are dipping their toes back into trip planning.
Last week, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people may “travel safely” within the United States. Domestic destinations in places like Hawaii and Florida are already seeing small booms in tourism, and that demand is bound to remain high as the vaccine rollout continues.
But people are dreaming about their first post-pandemic trips outside the U.S. as well. Many travel platforms and experts have observed interesting trends when it comes to Americans’ destination goals. Here’s what they’re finding.
Staying Close With Beach Destinations
“I think there is pent up demand for international travel,” Mike Kennedy, co-founder of the travel marketplace Koala, told HuffPost. “Caribbean and Mexico in particular, will likely see a huge uptick in tourism from Americans. It reconciles that sense of wanderlust we’re all feeling without taking too much risk. Flights that aren’t much longer (or in some cases shorter) than domestic flights.”
In January, Koala released a future travel trends report based on Google data, which found that Puerto Rico and Mexico were the top two destinations outside the 50 states generating travel search interest. Others in the top 10 included Jamaica, Aruba, Costa Rica and the Bahamas ― indicating an interest in beach vacations that aren’t too far from home.
The beach craze is consistent with trends we’re already seeing this year among those who opted to travel before the CDC’s announcement.
The hotel price comparison site Trivago reported that the top five destinations on its platform for March 2021 were Las Vegas, Miami Beach, Orlando, Myrtle Beach and Cancun. Trending destinations for U.S. travelers in the “international” category also included Playa del Carmen, Mexico; Playa Bavaro, Dominican Republic; and San Juan, Puerto Rico (though Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, many platforms consider places outside the 50 states to be international destinations).
A Tripadvisor report from mid-March found that the 10 fastest-growing destinations for Americans are Isla Verde, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas; Playa Maroma, Mexico; Tulum, Mexico; Key West, Florida; Key Largo, Florida; Miami Beach; Christiansted, U.S. Virgin Islands; Cruz Bay, U.S. Virgin Islands; and Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
Additionally, Squaremouth travel insurance revealed in March that most of the most popular international destinations for U.S. travelers using the platform are island countries and territories, with Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Costa Rica and Mexico in the top five.
As people start to plan their so-called “revenge travel” to make up for the trips canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear sunshine and relaxation are top of mind.
“We believe travelers will either visit places they’re familiar with, as they’ll find comfort in that familiarity, or seek out new places where they can roam freely and safely,” said Carolyne Doyon, president and CEO of Club Med North America and the Caribbean.
“At Club Med, we’re already seeing increased interest in bookings for our resorts in Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico, with more than 40% of bookings from guests who haven’t stayed with us before or guests who are staying with us for the first time in over three years, and anticipate as travelers continue to feel more comfortable with vaccine distribution more widespread, we’ll eventually see a burst in bookings all throughout the same time period,” she added.
Going Beyond The Western Hemisphere
Still, plenty of would-be travelers are daring to dream of destinations farther afield.
The Maldives, Japan, Greece and Iceland were also on Koala’s top-10 list of trending future travel destinations. Its list of top city and region destinations also included Bora Bora, Paris, Dubai and Bali.
When news of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines’ promising efficacy rates broke in November, travel searches spiked on Skyscanner. International cities like London, Paris, Copenhagen, Madrid and Amsterdam were among the top searches.
But while these destinations may be on people’s minds, they don’t seem to be on their actual travel itineraries. Squaremouth reported in March that the share of travelers buying insurance for trips to Europe has dropped to 8% in 2021, compared to 25%-45% in pre-pandemic years.
This is likely due to a combination of distance and the fact that most European countries still have travel restrictions for U.S. visitors, vaccine rollout has been slow, and increased COVID-19 cases and lockdowns abound. Still, a number of countries across the Atlantic are reportedly allowing (or planning to allow) vaccinated foreign travelers, including Iceland, Cyprus, Estonia and Poland.
Just because you can go somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean you should, however. As the CDC has advised, domestic travel is the name of the game for now ― and only for those who are fully vaccinated.
Even if you do fall into that group, it remains important to take the proper safety precautions wherever you travel. Wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance and stay home if you aren’t feeling well. Times like these call for collective responsibility.
‘Revenge Travel’ Will Be All The Rage Over The Next Few Years
With the vaccine rollout picking up pace, Americans are starting to feel more cautiously optimistic about the prospect of traveling again.
Those in the travel industry are hoping for a surge in bookings in the coming months and years. A sense of wanderlust has been building, after all ― it’s only natural that we’ll want to explore new places after so much time at home. Many are calling this phenomenon “revenge travel.”
But what exactly does “revenge travel” mean and how might it manifest? HuffPost asked travel experts to share their thoughts about “revenge travel” and the future of Americans’ vacation plans.
What is ‘revenge travel’?
“While the term may sound silly, ‘revenge travel’ refers to the idea that there will be a huge increase in travel as it becomes safer and things open back up,” said Eric Jones, co-founder of The Vacationer travel journal and planning guide. “Many Americans and those around the world had their vacations altered or outright canceled last year, so they are all looking to satisfy their travel itch at the same time. The term is also retribution against COVID-19 and how it is losing its power to control our lives, including canceling travel plans.”
If vaccination rates continue to increase and case counts decline, many travel experts predict many Americans will book more trips than they did before the coronavirus era to make up for lost time and to reconnect with friends and family.
“After being confined for a year, ‘revenge travel’ is essentially a slingshot back into the world. It’s a visceral response to pent-up travel demand,” said Mike Kennedy, co-founder of the travel marketplace KOALA.
“While ‘revenge travel’ is the hot new term, it explains exactly what travelers have been saying since the pandemic started,” noted Konrad Waliszewski, co-founder and CEO of the travel app Tripscout. “We are no longer going to take for granted that there will always be a flight tomorrow and an open border waiting to greet us. We will make up for the lost time and experiences with a vengeance.”
Experts are expecting a boom.
“After all the trauma, frustrations and sacrifices made by so many people throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the sudden surge in vaccinations across the country is trailblazing a sense of urgency, and impatience, to travel once again,” Fyall said.
He noted that there’s already a boom in travel bookings, as people are eager to spend the miles, points and vouchers that have accumulated and gone unused over the past year.
“We’re already seeing a surge in ‘revenge travel,’ as the vaccine becomes more widely distributed and as people become more comfortable with traveling,” said Carolyne Doyon, president and CEO of Club Med North America. “Since the end of 2020, we were seeing a large increase in family reunion bookings for the 2021–2022 holiday season, with a 17% increase compared to the 2019 holiday season. This shows us that families are really looking forward to reconnecting after so much time spent apart and coming together for the holidays, as so many plans were canceled in 2020.”
Jones noted that the TSA has been screening over 1 million passengers most days since mid-February, an uptick from the general pandemic lows.
“Additionally, the TSA is looking to hire over 6,000 screening officers for the anticipated summer rush,” he added. ”The Vacationer’s recent survey also supports the idea of travel picking up. After being largely confined to their homes for an entire year, Americans are ready to experience new places, food, and activities again as it is finally becoming safe to do so.”
People will want relaxation and time outdoors.
“We’re seeing the biggest excitement for post-pandemic revenge travel initially to the sun and sand destinations,” Waliszewski said. “Everyone has had a hard year, so while they’re craving new cultures and adventures, they want to give themselves a much-needed break first. They want to sit on a beach and give a cold cheers to the people they missed most during the pandemic.”
Time on the beach is consistent with another travel trend prediction: continued interest in outdoor adventures due to their safety.
“People are most excited to revenge travel to places where they can spend a lot of time outdoors without a mask,” Jones said. “This includes beaches, places with a lot of hiking such as national and state parks, and camping destinations. COVID-19 is thought to spread far less outside compared to indoors, so a beach vacation or camping trip still allows for adequate social distancing. While it is thought that the COVID-19 vaccines also prevent infection and spreading to others, some people still like the added security that the outdoors provide.” There is some promising early data that suggests COVID-19 vaccines can reduce transmission of the coronavirus, but research is still ongoing.
They will play it safe with their initial destinations.
“Most of the revenge travel in the next few months will likely take place in the United States,” Jones said. “Of the limited number of foreign countries that are permitting United States citizens, many of them have COVID-19 testing requirements that can be quite extensive.”
Alan Fyall, the interim chair for the tourism, events and attractions department at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, believes focus will still be on driving destinations like state and national parks and coastlines. However, he added, “The desire to visit friends and relatives will drive traffic to all destinations as families and loved ones reconnect.”
Even those who are interested in going beyond the continental U.S. will probably play it safe.
“For American travelers, the deep desire to get away combined with the looming uncertainty is causing a surge in planning trips to destinations like Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Waliszewski said. “People want to go as far away as they can get without actually leaving the country.”
Kennedy echoed this sentiment, predicting that people yearning for true international travel will likely turn to Mexico and the Caribbean.
“It reconciles that sense of wanderlust we’re all feeling without taking too much risk. Flights that aren’t much longer ― or in some cases shorter ― than domestic flights,” he said.
Travelers may feel more inclined to splurge.
After more than a year of restrictions, many “vengeful” travelers may feel more inclined to splurge and treat themselves when leisure travel becomes an option again.
“With so much pent up demand around, all indications are that people are prepared to spend more on their travel experiences than would have been the case pre-COVID. Hence, upgrades will be the norm with travelers determined to compensate for ‘lost time’ over the past year,” said Fyall.
As vaccination rates vary across different countries, he believes trips across the U.S. will take precedence over international travel, but that travelers still will opt for premium domestic experiences like longer vacations and with upgraded airfare.
“It has been a really hard year for most Americans, and we know that our travelers are keen to treat themselves and their loved ones to special trips once they are able to,” said Skyscanner global travel expert Laura Lindsay.
There’s hope for international travel.
Travelers treating themselves to upgraded experiences in the U.S. may well evolve into trips abroad if the public health situation improves and vaccination rates rise.
“Although the domestic travel trend should continue well into this year, we are already seeing some far-flung, bucket-list hotspots creep up our top searched destinations,” said Lindsay. “While travel has changed, it is clear that the desire to discover will endure. Time spent under severe travel restrictions appears to have increased the value of travel in people’s minds, with a greater appreciation of the ability to get away.”
She noted that popular international destination searches from U.S. travelers on Skyscanner in the last month include Singapore, Tokyo, London and Madrid. The company believes this indicates an eagerness among Americans to plan long-haul travel and a rapid return to pre-COVID international travel rates if the pandemic recovery process allows it.
“Of course, all of this depends on rules and regulations relaxing to allow safe travel,” Lindsay added. “In a recent survey we did of over 1,000 Americans, a third said they would be more confident about travel if their destination required all travelers and or guests to be vaccinated. Where people go will also depend on the destinations and airlines that provide simple information relating to quarantines, vaccine roll-outs, digital health passes and pre-departure testing.”
But there are more immediate priorities.
While it’s fun to fantasize about traveling the world again or for the first time, it’s important to consider more immediate priorities like health, safety and financial wellbeing as we continue to navigate the pandemic.
“With so many people still furloughed or unemployed, and with so many experiencing financial challenges at some point throughout the past year, for many ‘revenge travel’ is but a distant dream with job and food security a more real and urgent priority!” Fyall said.
If you do find yourself in a position to take an excursion. Kennedy emphasized being mindful of health and safety measures and price efficiency when choosing a destination. Careful planning and budgeting go a long way.
“We all want to travel as soon as humanly possible,” he noted. “That said, travel safely.”
Is It Ethical To Travel Internationally Before The World Is Vaccinated?
Many Americans are longing for the days when they could take a dream vacation to Paris, Bali, or even just over the border to Toronto. As vaccine availability increases in the U.S., people are feeling a glimmer of hope that international travel will be back on the table soon.
But even as more people get vaccinated and countries open up to American tourists, traveling abroad may remain inadvisable for a time, especially to places with less widespread vaccine access. As we move forward and start planning trips again, there are important factors to consider before grabbing our passports and jetting off.
HuffPost asked bioethicists, as well as public health and travel experts, to weigh in on the ethics of traveling abroad before vaccines have been widely administered worldwide. Read on for their thoughts.
We haven’t ruled out transmission risk.
“Individuals who are vaccinated have protection ― although not 100% protection ― against developing severe disease if infected with SARS-CoV-2,” said Amy McGuire, professor of biomedical ethics and director of the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine. “However, we are still generating evidence of how well different vaccines protect against transmission of the virus.”
It’s possible that vaccinated travelers could still transmit the virus to others, so until we have more data on how much vaccines reduce transmission risk, we can’t draw particularly meaningful conclusions about the ethics of travel in the coming weeks and months.
“If someone in the U.S. travels to another country, they may have an asymptomatic infection that they bring with them to the other country, putting people there at risk,” William Miller, senior associate dean for research at the Ohio State University’s College of Public Health, told HuffPost in an email. “Or they may acquire an infection there and bring it back with them to the people they are close to. The vaccinated traveler may not get sick but they may cause others to become sick ― that’s why, in general, it still is not a good idea to travel yet.”
Virus variants can be a cause for concern.
“Other countries may have higher rates of virus variants that are more transmissible and, in some cases, may cause more severe disease,” Miller said. “The transmission of these variants to and from vaccinated people is a concerning possibility.”
As we still have much to learn about new variants (like whether the currently approved vaccines protect against them and reduce their transmission), it’s important to remain cautious and keep unnecessary travel to a minimum.
“Travelers may be infected with a novel variant and get sick, and potentially increase its spread in the U.S.,” said Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz, an assistant professor at Baylor’s Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy.
All health care infrastructure is not created equal.
“Please keep in mind that vaccine rollout in most countries is just getting started and they may not have COVID under control,” Lázaro-Muñoz noted. “Travelers could add more pressure to strained health care systems in other countries.”
Countries with minimal outbreaks can also be vulnerable, especially if they don’t have the same health care and vaccination resources that wealthier nations do. A recent piece by James Hamblin in The Atlantic pointed to the disparities in vaccine access.
“Vietnam, for example, is a country of 97 million people that has had fewer than 1,600 cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths,” Hamblin wrote. “They have done an exemplary job of controlling the virus, and presumably have very low levels of immunity.”
Nicole Hassoun, a visiting scholar at Cornell University and professor of philosophy at Binghamton University who studies public health ethics, made a similar point to HuffPost.
“While most people in rich countries will probably have access to a vaccine this year, those in poor countries will likely have to wait years to get vaccinated,” Hassoun said.
“However, poor countries might rely on the tourism international travel brings, and in some cases even do worse, all things considered, without it,” she added. “So if you decide not to travel, you might consider finding other ways to support businesses and people in poor places this year. If nothing else, you might consider donating the money you would have used traveling for fun.”
There’s reason to be cautiously optimistic for the future.
As the number of vaccinated people increases worldwide, prospects for international travel may improve as well.
“As vaccine rollout advances, there will be much less community transmission, less likelihood of infection, and less likelihood of novel variants emerging,” Lázaro-Muñoz explained. “This will likely make tourism more manageable for host countries and greatly decrease the risk you may pose to others. At that point, you should feel more comfortable traveling to other countries.”
High vaccination rates and low COVID-19 rates, in both the traveler’s destination and country of origin, may make travel possible again, assuming we learn the current vaccines provide lasting immunity and considerably reduce transmission rates.
“One way to think about this is that you want to be in a fairly normal situation where your own local situation is open, with more or less normal activities albeit with masking and distancing,” Miller said. “And you want to be going to a place that is also fairly normal. And in both of those situations, you want rates low, despite the openness.”
In this scenario, travel demand is likely to reach new heights, said Konrad Waliszewski, co-founder and CEO of the travel app TripScout.
“Once a high percentage of the world is vaccinated, prepare to witness the biggest travel boom the world has ever seen,” he said. “Pent-up demand from a year of lockdown, combined with a significant increase in remote work flexibility, a decrease in required business travel, and respect for the fact you never know when the world will shut down again, will cause people to travel like never before.”
Still, it’s imperative we continue to act with caution. The key to global travel will be making the vaccine accessible to as many people around the world as possible, and preventing the development and spread of new coronavirus variants.
“We are currently in a race to get enough people vaccinated that we achieve herd immunity before new viral strains that are resistant to the vaccines emerge and spread,” McGuire said. “So the answer to that question depends on how successful we are over the coming months at vaccinating large percentages of the population, while controlling the spread of new viral strains.”
The answer may vary based on the destination.
If we’re in a position to travel abroad this year, there will still be factors to consider when choosing a destination.
“I would look at how well the virus is being controlled in a certain destination, number of deaths and health care access,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of public health at New Mexico State University.
In addition to community transmission and health systems, Khubchandani advised taking into account the prevalence of new variants of the virus. Even if you are vaccinated, a country with a rapidly spreading variant is not the best place to visit, since we aren’t yet sure how well the current vaccines protect against them. A country’s vaccination rate will also affect the health care situation there.
“Many countries are heavily dependent on tourism and may allow travelers because it is such an important part of their economy, but that may not mean that they have COVID under control, and their health care system could be struggling,” Lázaro-Muñoz said. “Think of yourself as being a guest at a friend’s house. If your friend was having some serious difficulty, and your presence at the house somehow added to that, you would not want to add more trouble.”
Check the latest COVID stats on the State Department’s website or elsewhere. Consider the public health measures that a given destination has in place. If there are strict lockdowns and quarantine requirements (likely for good reason), you probably won’t be able to have the tourism experience you’d prefer.
Still, there are some international travel scenarios that could be lower-risk and doable this year. Just think about the impact of your travel on yourself, the people who live wherever you’re going, and the ones you’ll be returning home to.
One big consideration is “whether the visit will be spent mostly indoors or outdoors,” Miller said. “If someone goes to a Caribbean island and will be spending all of their time outside, including when they are eating, and only spend time inside in their hotel room, then the risk would be very low. The same would be true of any vacation or trip where the activity is primarily outside ― hiking and boating. But a trip with a focus indoors, like visiting museums, eating inside in restaurants, [and] visiting pubs, will have a higher risk.”
If you do travel, take precautions.
Some reasons for international travel are better than others ― like an emergency, visiting a dying relative, or getting a rare treatment for a serious disease. Still, many people are choosing leisure travel, and that number will inevitably grow as vaccinations rates increase. If you decide to travel abroad, it’s important to take the necessary health precautions to protect yourself and the people you’ll encounter.
“You have to be willing to follow the COVID preventive measures those countries have in place,” Lázaro-Muñoz said. “This could include pre-travel COVID testing and wearing masks. Being a tourist does not mean local rules do not apply to you.”
Keep your distance from others, mask up and wash your hands. Follow public health measures, and make smart decisions as the situation evolves. Make sure your travel companions, and the businesses and lodgings you plan to visit, do the same.
“Research and detailed trip planning is more important than ever,” Waliszewski said. “American travelers must constantly stay up to date on rapidly changing situations on the ground and the corresponding guidelines in the States and abroad. Travelers must also consider testing and quarantine requirements, safety guidelines, and local health care infrastructure prior to departing for any destination. I don’t see this sort of planning going away anytime soon, even after a high vaccination rate [is achieved].”
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that your personal health isn’t the only thing that matters.
“In this pandemic, we always have to consider how our behavior affects others,” Miller emphasized. “Your vaccination protects you, for sure, and it may protect others. But until we know for sure that it protects others by reducing transmission, we have to remain cautious.”
Should You Book Travel Now For Later In 2021? What You Need To Know
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the globe, non-essential travel is still off the table. But many would-be travelers are holding out hope for later this year.
“Safety has rightly been the top priority for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, but with news on vaccine readiness and approvals being granted around the world, we see the appetite for travel in 2021 growing,” said Mark Crossey, U.S. traveler expert for Skyscanner.
“The events of 2020 have underscored the importance of human connection and quality time with loved ones, and we know from our website traffic and customer behavior that travelers are turning their gaze to later this year,” he added. “We predict that many customers will prioritize spending on experiences over material goods in 2021, looking to make special memories with loved ones.”
But if you’re thinking ahead to potential travel later this year, should you go ahead and book things now ― or wait until you have a better sense of what’s feasible down the road? Below, Crossey and other experts share their advice.
Take advantage of good deals that come with flexibility.
With recreational travel at a low, there are some surprisingly inexpensive flight options right now. Crossey noted that “fares are currently still cheaper than normal seasonal trends.”
At the same time, airlines have responded to the pandemic by making their cancellation and rebooking processes more flexible. Because of this, TripScout co-founder and CEO Konrad Waliszewski recommends going ahead and booking your next trip, even knowing there’s a chance you’ll have to postpone or cancel it.
“If you’re planning any post-pandemic trips, book now,” he advised. “It’s unlikely you will ever see better prices, availability and perks again ― but make sure it’s a flexible booking that you can change for any reason. Travelers who decide to wait until the pandemic has stabilized will miss out this rare opportunity as they compete with the millions of travelers eagerly trying to satisfy their pent up wanderlust.”
The Points Guy founder and CEO Brian Kelly echoed this sentiment, noting that there are amazing deals to be had. He also advised booking a trip with airline miles, which have been sitting unused for most people over the past year.
“Almost every airline will give you your miles back if you don’t want to take the trip because they’ve gotten rid of redeposit fees, so it’s like booking a refundable ticket,” he said.
Although airlines have generally done away with change fees, another reason to book with airline miles instead of dollars is that you then hold onto your cash, which would become airline voucher money in the event that you change your plans.
“You can’t pay rent with an airline voucher,” Kelly noted. “So I recommend book a trip with miles and a refundable hotel, so if you’re unable to take it, you can get your miles back and you aren’t out any cash.”
Read the fine print.
While airlines and other travel vendors have generally adopted more flexible cancellation and rescheduling policies over the past year, this phenomenon is by no means universal, so it’s important to always read the fine print.
“Not all airlines are being as flexible, and every airline differs and is constantly updating their policies,” said Jeremy Prout, director of security solutions for International SOS. “I encourage anyone traveling to ensure they have read and understand the most up-to-date airline cancellation policies. In regards to flexibility persisting for a long time, we are a year into the pandemic and many of us know the risks associated with travel, which gives airlines and hotels the opportunity to change these flexible policies, as when you book you know the risks associated and are still doing so willingly.”
Lodging may also be less flexible, so pay attention to the terms of your booking when you reserve a hotel room or home rental. Melanie Fish, a travel expert at Vrbo, told HuffPost that their hosts set their own rules, and although many have increased cancellation flexibility during the pandemic, there is a range.
“It really comes down to personal preference,” Fish said. “One reason to wait could be that local government travel restrictions will not overrule a host’s cancellation policy. So let’s say the beach you’re going to shuts down, it doesn’t necessarily nullify the rental contract for the house on that beach. Some travelers wait to book closer to their travel date to feel confident guidelines from health authorities or local travel restrictions make it possible to travel.”
Fish and Crossey both noted that their respective travel platforms offer flexible booking policy filters in their search functions. If you understand and feel comfortable with the cancellation policies for your trip, there’s little harm in booking it so that you have the option should you feel safe traveling at that point.
Still, Waliszewski advised being mindful of which vendors you use, given the economic impact of the pandemic on the travel industry.
“Avoid booking with lesser known booking sites and suppliers that have a higher risk of near-term bankruptcy,” he noted.
Keep up with public health guidance.
“We’ve seen how engaged our community is as behaviors on our site have changed in line with the evolving news agenda and government advice,” Crossey said. “Before planning your next flight, I strongly recommend reading the coronavirus travel advice from your local authorities and governments as well as the guidance from the World Health Organization.”
If you decide to go forward with your travel planning process, booking flexible flights and lodging in advance gives you more time to conduct in-depth research on your chosen destination’s state of COVID-19, restrictions and risks to mitigate. As your trip approaches, stay up to date with the evolving pandemic situation, both at home and your destination, and be prepared for adjustments.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic and fighting against a novel virus that we truly still know little about, even a year into it,” Prout said. “This virus is constantly changing and evolving, which is reflected in the recent news around multiple new and more contagious strains being found in parts of Europe and now in the United States. With this, we cannot predict whether certain states or countries will go into another lockdown, if restrictions will increase in the coming months, and more, all of which can heavily impact travel plans.”
Consider a “flexcation.”
“The pandemic has ushered in some interesting new travel behaviors and many families are discovering new and different ways to get away together,” Fish said. She noted that Vrbo has observed a rise in what they’re calling a “flexcation,” which combines “work or school with vacation time, taking road trips, and visiting the great outdoors.”
Basically, families are renting homes for longer spans of time and mixing remote work with vacation time, often in places that offer fishing, hiking and camping.
“Many people are still working from home and employers are offering more flexible remote work policies, which means families have the freedom to keep flexcationing and take longer vacations,” Fish explained.
Instead of returning to the same popular locations year after year, she advised looking for off-the-beaten-path destinations. This approach tends to be more affordable, presents fewer COVID-19 risks and “can be a refreshing experience,” she added.
If you don’t want to book, try planning anyway.
Even if you decide not to book any flights, hotels or outings, it may still be a nice experience to spend some of this extended time at home researching travel options and putting together your dream itineraries.
Psychology research over the years has found that the act of planning a trip can boost your mental health. Kelly has certainly found this to be true, even during the pandemic.
“I personally recommend at least planning,” he said. “Just planning a trip releases endorphins, at least for me. And I think it’s a great time to research what your next trip will be.”
Airlines No Longer Have To Treat Emotional Support Animals As Service Animals
WASHINGTON, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Only trained dogs qualify as service animals on U.S. airlines, as regulators rejected requests to extend legal protections to miniature horses, monkeys and other species, under final U.S. Transportation Department rules issued Wednesday.
Airlines can still choose which other species to allow onboard, but the rules issued on Wednesday largely resolve years of disputes with passengers who falsely claim pets as “emotional support animals,” which may travel in the cabin with little oversight.
Under existing rules, airlines were required to recognize with limited exceptions emotional support animals as service animals. Now they can classify them as pets.
Legally protected service animals are now limited to dogs trained to do perform tasks for a person who may be visually impaired or have psychiatric or other disabilities, and airlines do not have to allow “emotional support animals.”
Airlines charge as much as $175 to transport pets, a good reason to claim pets as emotional support animals. As recently as 2017, U.S. carriers transported 751,000 of them.
Species such as horses, cats and capuchin monkeys will not get service animal status from U.S. regulators, but airlines may recognize them as service animals if they choose. Airlines may still not refuse a service animal based solely on breed or generalized physical type.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said the rule”will protect the traveling public and airline crew members from untrained animals in the cabin.”
U.S. carriers including Southwest Airlines Co, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines in recent years have limited emotional support animals in cabins to largely dogs and cats after passengers boarded with exotic pets such as monkeys, pigs and birds that could pose a safety risk.
Spirit Airlines Inc told regulators it had lost”millions of dollars in pet carriage fees from passengers fraudulently claiming their ‘house pets are service or support animals.’”
In 2018, Delta noted some passengers “attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes”and spiders. That year, American Airlines said it would not allow a wide variety of creatures on flights as support animals including goats, ferrets, hedgehogs, amphibians and reptiles.
The new rules will take effect 30 days after publication in the federal register.
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