As the world furiously refreshes the news, hoards Purell, and sings happy birthday twice as they wash their hands, the question on everyone's minds (and the one travelers have been asking us most frequently) remains...is it still safe to travel?
...followed closely by questions about airport/plane safety precautions, flight cancellations/change fees, and travel insurance.
So we put together a guide summarizing how we've been answering prospective travelers' questions, along with what we're doing to help those who have cancelled and those currently deciding whether to pull the plug on their trip plans or still go.
Table of contents:
- Journy's stance on travel during the coronavirus outbreak
- What Journy is doing to help travelers
- What do I need to know about the President's recent Europe ban? (3/13)
- Update on border closings (3/20)
- Do you have any tips if I'm trying to cancel things myself and secure refunds?
- Resources to reference
- Expert-recommended safety precautions
- Flight cancellations and change fees
- Will travel insurance protect me?
- Is it still safe to travel?
Journy's stance on travel during the novel coronavirus (aka COVID-19) outbreak
We've been keeping a close eye on developments and tapping into our global network of experts for on-the-ground updates—but ultimately, we're not doctors. At the end of the day, whether or not you travel and where you go is entirely up to you. Because yes, we're in the business of travel, but your health will forever be infinitely more important.
Our goal with this post is simply to share what we know and answer some of the most frequently asked, travel-during-coronavirus questions.
What is Journy currently doing to help travelers?
1. Calling hotels, tours, and restaurants on travelers' behalf to cancel and ask for refunds
For travelers that have cancelled their trips, our team has been spending hours on the phone calling each and every hotel to assess the feasibility of getting a full, or at least partial, refund. The same goes for all bookings, tours, and restaurant reservations.
If cash refunds aren't available, we've been asking for credit-based refunds. In those select cases, we can refund the traveler in question the monetary amount and apply the credits to another traveler.
2. Saving your trip details to re-do your entire itinerary for free when/if you do decide to travel at a later point
When you're ready to travel again, we're ready to plan it and will happily re-make all bookings for your new dates–without having you pay again.
What if I'm thinking of submitting a trip request now?
If you do choose to submit a request now and plan a trip with Journy, your personal trip designer will go the extra mile to help you:
- Secure appropriate travel insurance (more on that below)
- Provide support if you need to change the dates of your trip (including securing new reservations, rescheduling tours, etc)
What do I need to know about the President's recent Europe ban?
As it stands now (3/12), this 30-day suspension on travel from Europe to the US does not apply to US citizens or legal permanent residents, so it will likely not affect you. However, we understand and empathize with the reality that we are navigating uncertain times and announcements like these—regardless of whether they directly impact you or not—can be unsettling and nerve-wracking.
If it’s any consolation, we do still have travelers proceeding with their Europe trip plans; however, should you choose not to travel (or decide mid-trip that you’d like to return home), we will do everything in our power to try and secure refunds for every booking we’ve made for you (hotels, tours, restaurants, etc).
The most important thing right now—whether you choose to travel or not—is to stay safe and healthy. So please use your best judgment and know that we have a dedicated team standing by to fully support you.
Update on border closings:
As of midnight on Saturday, 3/21, the US-Canada border and US-Mexico border will be closed to non-essential travelers. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Americans abroad to "arrange immediate return" unless they extend to remain abroad for an extended period of time. “If you choose to travel, it may well be fairly disruptive,” Pompeo said.
Do you have any tips if I'm trying to cancel things myself and secure refunds?
Expedia doesn't pick up their phone... ever. However, Journy does have an account manager, so now the policy is that travel agents have a way to send an email and get a refund from all those hotels/bookings.
Keep in mind, though, that you have to call the hotel directly to first get approval from them. Generally, we’ve found that you will have more leverage with the hotel since the third party will have to be calling and asking for the same thing. Hotels are much more likely to refund the client directly than a third party.
If you’re told that you have to pick dates by the end of the day (but you don’t plan on traveling anytime soon or can’t think that far ahead), just choose a date far in the future. You can always change it.
Travel safety resources to reference
For the latest information on travel advisories
- W.H.O. Coronavirus Q&A
For information surrounding symptoms, how it spreads, what you can do to protect yourself, how likely you are to catch it, etc.
- NY Times
For live updates on new coronavirus cases and policy
What safety precautions should I be taking?
No destination is completely free from risk, coronavirus or not. But in light of the pandemic, there are specific steps everyone can take to reduce their risk of contracting the virus—steps that have been expert-recommended by James Robb, MD, FCAP, an American pathologist and molecular virologist who, during his time as professor of pathology at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the first to work on coronaviruses.
1) NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.
2) Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches, elevator buttons, etc...
3) Open doors with your closed fist or hip—do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and commercial doors.
4) Use disinfectant wipes at the stores when they are available, including wiping the handle and child seat in grocery carts.
5) Wash your hands with soap for 10-20 seconds and/or use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.
6) If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more.
Note: This virus is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing. This means that the air will not infect you! BUT all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average—everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious. The virus is on surfaces and you will not be infected unless your unprotected face is directly coughed or sneezed upon. The only way for the virus to infect you is through your nose or mouth via your hands or an infected cough or sneeze onto or into your nose or mouth.
What should I know about flight cancellations and change fees?
These are the major airlines that have announced waivers for flight change fees in light of the coronavirus:
Waiving fees for changes and cancelled bookings for travel through 4/30/20, regardless of when you purchased your ticket. And no change or cancel fees on new flights booked through 3/31/20 for travel until 9/8/20.
- American Airlines
Waiving change fees (although fare differences may apply) for travelers who book flights between March 1 and March 16, with the original travel scheduled between March 1, 2020 and January 26, 2021. The changes must be made at least 14 days prior to the outbound travel date. Full refunds are being offered for flights to Hong Kong or China.
- United Airlines
Waiving change fees and fare differences for travelers who have booked flights to Northern Italy, China, Hong Kong, and South Korea through June 30—as long as the new flight is in the same ticketing class as the original booking. Full refunds are being offered for flights to China, even if tickets were advertised as nonrefundable.
- Delta Airlines
Waiving change fees (although fare differences may apply) for travelers heading to Beijing, Shanghai, Incheon, and Italy through April 30. Travelers also have the option of cancelling their booking and applying the value towards the purchase of a new ticket within a year of the original issue date.
- Air France
Waiving change fees for travelers to China and Italy. For China in particular, flights booked on or before February 19 (for travel dates through May 31) can be postponed at no extra cost until June 30, or refunded for the full amount.
Will travel insurance protect me?
Unfortunately, standard travel insurance doesn't cover disruptions caused by global health crises—even ones like coronavirus that have been declared pubic health emergencies by the W.H.O. The exception is the highest tier of "cancel for any reason" travel insurance, which must be purchased within a set amount of days after making the first payment for the trip—but it'll cost you.
And when it comes to credit card-supplied travel insurance, the prospects of receiving coverage are equally as bleak. Chase Sapphire, for example, will reimburse you only if you're explicitly quarantined at the hands of a governmental authority with jurisdiction, but they won't due to a "disinclination" to travel resulting from an epidemic or pandemic.
We direct all our travelers with questions about insurance to travelinsurance.com. From there, you can compare different plans based on the cost of your trip, primary destination, trip date, number of travelers, citizenship, etc. There's a safe and secure checkout with instant confirmation of coverage.
Is it still safe to travel in light of the novel coronavirus?
It's pretty clear where people shouldn't go right now, namely mainland China, Northern Italy, and South Korea—all destinations classified at an "Avoid Travel" Level 3 C.D.C. risk level. And then there's Japan, which has been classified at a lower "Reconsider" Level 2 risk level—targeted primarily for those most susceptible to the virus (e.g., travelers aged 65+, or those with preexisting conditions).
Important considerations if you travel to a higher risk destination:
- Even if you're a young, healthy traveler, you can contract the virus and be completely asymptomatic, but still transmit it to others who may be more vulnerable.
- Upon your return, it's advised to self-quarantine yourself for 14 days which, according to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), is the average incubation period for the virus.
In the meantime, go wash your hands like you mean it, don't touch your face, and stay healthy!!