Tips and Tricks for Taking a Trip During the Covid Era
As travel resumed in 2021, we learned that doing so in the Covid-era requires a little more planning, and a lot more flexibility. Travel interruptions due to Covid can affect both domestic and international travel. In the United States alone, almost 7,000 flights were canceled between Dec. 24 and Dec. 30 — that’s over 1,000 flights a day on average.
So, if you choose to travel right now, what can you do to make sure Covid doesn’t ruin your plans?
When traveling outside the U.S., you’ll need to do a little research to find out what the entry requirements are for any countries you’re visiting. You’ll also need to comply with the rules of any countries in which you have a layover.
Things to know:
- Are vaccines required? If so, how recent must they be?
- Are booster shots required?
- Are negative Covid tests or proof of recovery required? How recent?
- Are there testing sites available for return tests within 24 hours of your departure?
- Is travel insurance required?
- Is Covid medical coverage required?
If any of these requirements are not met, you may be denied boarding, or denied entry on arrival.
Give Yourself a Buffer
With the possibility of delays and cancellations so high, it’s a good idea to plan a couple days off after your trip in case your flights home are delayed. This way you’re not stressed about missing work/school on top of dealing with delays.
Have a Back-Up Plan
This is where being flexible really comes into play. My original plan when I took time off over Christmas was to go to Hungary, Germany, and France to visit Christmas markets. I bought a plane ticket to Paris (cheap hub!) in September when the Covid situation in Europe looked completely under control.
In October, that started to change. I saw that cases were beginning to rise in Hungary and Germany, and I didn’t want to chance buying more plane and train tickets and making hotel reservations just to have the Christmas markets be canceled – which they were.
I still had my flight into Paris, so I decided to just fly south instead of west and visit Portugal instead. But in November, cases started to skyrocket in France and Portugal as well. Not wanting to end up in another lockdown situation, or end up catching Covid and having to quarantine until I got a negative test, I decided to stay stateside and go to Florida for Christmas.
Know Your Airline’s Change/Canceling Policies
Due to Covid, many airlines have relaxed their policies on ticket changes and cancellations. They may allow you to change your travel date, flight, or even cancel your ticket if you become sick, or just no longer feel safe about traveling.
However, the most basic (cheapest) economy tickets may still be non-changeable so make sure you read the rules when buying your ticket and choose accordingly. Sometimes paying extra for flexibility is worth it.
What If Your Flight is Delayed or Canceled?
If you experience a flight delay or cancellation, you are at the mercy of the airline. If your flight is canceled, your airline will probably try to book you on the next available flight – but this may not be for hours, or possibly until the next day or longer. On a trip home to Oregon, my connecting flight in Orlando was delayed overnight and I was rebooked the next day through Charlotte, Minneapolis and finally Phoenix before finally boarding a flight to Portland 19 hours later.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, if your flight is canceled or “significantly delayed” and you choose not to travel, you are entitled to a refund of your ticket cost.
Flights are usually canceled with a little advance notice. So, it’s a good idea to check your flight status before heading to the airport. You can also sign up for text alerts from the airline and you’ll be notified of any schedule deviations.
If your flight is delayed or canceled after you arrive at the airport, try to get to the agent’s desk as soon as possible because service for rebooking is first-come, first-served. It’s also a good idea to jump on the phone with the airline while you wait, as you may be helped faster that way.
If your flight is delayed overnight, or the airline can’t rebook you until the next day, they may be able to offer things like a hotel voucher and meal tickets, but you’ll have to ask for them. Research the airline’s policies to see what they offer while you’re waiting in line.
Where You Book Matters
When booking with a third-party such as Expedia, you’ll need to deal with them in the event of a cancellation or delay for things that are not the airline’s fault (such as weather). When booking, check the price if purchased directly from the airline and, if it’s the same or similar, book directly with the airline.
How You Pay Matters
Many credit cards offer perks like trip insurance when used to pay for plane tickets or vacation packages.
This can include things like meals, lodging, transportation, or even buying essentials if your bag is lost or delayed. Check with your card company to see what’s covered.
If You Get Covid While Traveling
If you become ill with Covid while traveling, or if you’re outside the U.S. and your mandatory return Covid test comes back positive, you may be in a very expensive situation. You’ll need to quarantine in a hotel or private residence until you can test negative and can fly home. If you need medical attention, you may be paying out of pocket in some cases. This is where travel insurance comes in.
Buy Travel Insurance
Travel insurance has always been an essential – especially when traveling overseas. But for travel in the pandemic era, it is more important than ever.
When choosing a plan, make sure it clearly states that it includes a Covid travel endorsement. Without this, any Covid-related medical expenses or trip cancellation costs won’t be covered.
Many countries even require you to carry a travel insurance policy with certain medical thresholds in case you fall ill with Covid while traveling.
In addition to emergency medical care, travel insurance also covers things like meals, transportation and lodging if your flight is canceled, or if you need to quarantine with Covid. It will also reimburse you for lost or delayed luggage. And because it’s quite affordable, usually only $100 or so, it’s definitely worth purchasing.
Even though travel is a little more complicated right now, it is far from impossible. If you’re ready to travel, do your research, make a plan, and enjoy your trip!