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
- Airline cancellation policies/change fees
- Do you have any tips if I'm trying to cancel things myself and secure refunds?
- Update on border closings (5/13)
- What should I keep in mind if I want to start planning a trip now?
- Will travel insurance protect me?
- Expert-recommended safety precautions
- Resources to reference
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). We'll only be booking select hotels and private rental properties with flexible cancellation policies and refundable rates.
- Vet restaurant/hotel sanitary measures, including employee mask mandates and no-contact check-in
Additionally, we'll be staying up to date on COVID-related travel policies, from health certificate requirements to airport testing.
What should I know about airline cancellation policies 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 1/3/21, regardless of when you purchased your ticket. Travelers can rebook flights in the Manage Trips section of jetblue.com or contact them directly prior to the departure time of the originally scheduled flight. Fare difference may apply. Original travel must be booked on or before 5/31/20. Cancellations will be issued as a JetBlue Travel Bank Credit, valid for 24 months from the date of issuance.
- American Airlines
Waiving change fees (although fare differences may apply) for travelers who purchased their tickets prior to 5/31/20, for travel between 3/1 - 9/30/20. If travelers purchase tickets on or before 5/31/20 for future travel, they can also change it at a later date without change fees. For tickets that are expiring on or before 9/30/20, the value of the unused ticket can be applied towards travel through 12/31/21.
- United Airlines
Waiving change fees for tickets issued on or before 3/2/20 for original travel dates between 6/1/20 and 12/31/20. Changes/cancellations must be made on or before 5/31/20, and rebooked travel must commence within 24 months from the original ticket issue date.
- Delta Airlines
Waiving change fees and providing greater flexibility to travel with eCredits through 9/30/22 for customers who have upcoming travel already booked for March - September, 2020, as of 4/17/20 OR who have existing eCredits or cancelled travel from flights in March through 9/30/20.
- Air France
Waving change fees for tickets purchased on or after 4/22/20 (regardless of the cabin/fare you have selected—Light, Standard, or Flex—as long as the same cabin/fare is available.
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.
Update on border closings:
Here's the latest on international border closings, as of 5/13:
Travelers are not permitted to enter Australia, with exceptions for Australian nationals, permanent residents and their immediate family members, airplane crew members, and diplomats. These restrictions do not apply to transit nationals of the following countries: New Zealand, Micronesia, Solomon Island, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshal Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
Travelers arriving from outside the Schengen zone are prohibited from entering Austria until further notice. Those who do enter (EU citizens and select foreigners) will be subject to a 14-day quarantine unless they opt for a COVID test in the airport or have a health certificate validating their virus-free status.
Austria's Tourism Minister, Elisabeth Köestinger, announced on May 13 that the country's border with Germany will open on June 15.
Travelers arriving from outside the EU are not permitted to enter Belgium. These restrictions do not apply to passengers with a British passport or to those with a long-term residence permit/long-term visa issued by the EEA Member States, Switzerland, or the UK.
- The US / Mexico / Canada
As of April 20, the United States, Mexico, and Canada jointly announced that they are extending restrictions on non-essential travel across borders for an additional 30 days.
The US specifically has banned entry for foreign nationals who have traveled to any of the following countries 14 days prior to arrival in the states: Austria, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK.
As of March 13, Denmark closed its borders to non-citizens, with an exception for residents.
Travelers arriving from outside the Schengen Zone are prohibited from entering France, with exceptions for nationals of EEA Member States, Switzerland, British citizens, permanent residents of France, and all healthcare professionals.
Travelers arriving from outside the Schengen Zone are prohibited from entering Germany, with exceptions for nationals of EEA Member States, Switzerland, British citizens, and passengers with a long-term residence card for EEA Member States, Switzerland, or the UK. Those who are permitted entry must present a Public Health Passenger Locator Form upon arrival in Germany.
Greece has suspended flights to and from Italy, Spain, Turkey, and the UK, as well as passenger ships to and from Italy. No cruise ships are permitted to dock at Greek ports, and all foreigners who enter are subjected to a 14-day quarantine.
Indonesia has banned domestic and international air and sea travel through May 31, with exceptions for repatriated Indonesian and foreign citizens, state officials, diplomatic staff, and representatives from select international organizations.
Travelers are not permitted to enter Italy's airports in the Lombardy region, as well as the following provinces: Alessandria, Asti, Modena, Novara, Padova, Parma, Pesaro and Urbino, Piaceza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Treviso-Venice, Verbano-Cusio-Ossala, and Vercilli. Exceptions will be made for business travelers, or those traveling for emergency/health reasons who formally inform the regional department of their destination—in which case they will be subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
Japan's travel ban applies to 73 countries, including the US, Canada, and the UK. Included in the list are over 40 European countries, 12 Asian countries, six Latin American countries, and Australia/New Zealand.
Morocco has suspended all flights into their country.
Travelers arriving from outside the EU are not permitted to enter the Netherlands, with exceptions for Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein.
- New Zealand
New Zealand has closed its borders to all non-citizens/permanent residents. Those who are permitted entry will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.
All international flights into Peru have been suspended.
Travelers from outside the EU are not permitted to enter Portugal, with exceptions for the UK, USA, Canada, Venezuela, South Africa, and Portuguese-speaking countries.
All short-term travelers are prohibited from passing through Changi Airport or entering Singapore. Those who are permitted entry will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.
- South Africa
Foreign travelers arriving from or passing through Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, the US, China, and the UK are prohibited from entering South Africa. As of March 20, South African airways announced that it was suspending all international flights through May 31.
- South Korea
Travelers arriving from Europe for long-term stays in South Korea are subject to a 14-day quarantine and virus test regardless of symptoms.
Spanish officials have implemented entry bans for most foreigners arriving via air and sea, with exceptions for Spanish nationals, foreigners residing in Spain, diplomats, healthcare workers, and aircrew/cargo staff.
Foreigners are not permitted to pass through or enter Thailand, with exceptions for diplomats and those with a valid work permit.
What should I keep in mind if I want to start planning a trip now?
If you're flying...
- Certain countries have implemented airport safety precautions for inbound travelers, which include comprehensive health screenings. It’s currently unclear to what extent these will continue once restrictions ease, but keep in mind that the added safety measures require advance consideration (currently, these screenings can take upwards of nine hours or more, which can lead to a logistical inconvenience). When you travel with Journy, we'll remain up to date on the daily-changing airport and airline policies, as well as entry requirements, so you don't have to.
- Select countries also mandate 14-day quarantines for inbound travelers, but we expect these restrictions to ease as stay-at-home orders are relaxed over the coming weeks.
- Beyond these safety measures, some countries have also changed their entry requirements (Thailand, for example, previously offered visas upon arrival but now requires a medical certificate to get a visa in advance), so it’s important to double check before traveling.
- Another consideration for travelers who fly is the choice of airline, as select airlines (e.g., Emirates) are testing all passengers for COVID-19 prior to boarding.
- There are a number of countries that travelers are still actively considering visiting in the coming months (due to their respective number of COVID cases, curve trend, and safety measures relative to other countries), which include Taiwan, Japan, Australia, and a number of others. Although it is important to note that, as of right now, all three are still classified under Warning Level 3 (Avoid Nonessential Travel) by the CDC.
If you're driving...
- Don’t discount smaller cities and towns throughout America, as well as the activities (e.g., camping, hiking, wineries, etc) that can be found in the lesser-well-known areas surrounding the cities.
- Because travel by car will likely return with a vengeance before air travel does, it’s important to plan these trips in advance as many of these smaller, more remote places have limited lodging options.
The increasing importance of planning in advance...
- Advance planning will allow travelers time to research hotels/accommodations to see what their cleaning procedures are and if they’ve implemented safety measures in light of the pandemic (i.e. contactless check-in, no buffets, private/in-room dining options, etc).
- When it comes to restaurants, travelers should consider if the servers will be wearing masks and if tables will be spaced at least 6 feet apart from each other.
- Here at Journy, we’re accustomed to calling restaurants on customers’ behalf to ensure they can accommodate dietary restrictions, provide high chairs for children, etc., so enquiring about what specific COVID safety measures restaurants will be taking upon reopening will be part of our new protocol.
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.
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.