The conversation around the coronavirus seems to have only intensified over the weekend. And there are some tough realities settling in now — with scores of people canceling upcoming travel plans or skipping events (SXSW canceled, other fests are likely to follow) and mandated quarantines beginning (Israel has initiated a 14-day quarantine for all inbound travelers).
If you happen to have upcoming travel plans, dealing with this situation is a real concern (depending on your age and immune health) as well as a logistical nightmare. Cancellations, delayed flights, and travel advisories are all in full effect right now. If you’re not careful, it could wind up costing you some serious money (and again, there’s your health to consider).
Below, we’ve put together a guide to help make traveling during the coronavirus outbreak easier. We’ll be sure to update this post regularly as travel advisories and precautionary measures change and evolve and keep it up to date with all the information available.
Where Can And Can’t We Travel To Now?
Currently, the CDC’s travel warning for China and Iran is at its highest level and recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to the two countries (you wouldn’t be able to find a flight anyway). On top of that, the entry of foreign nationals from these countries has been temporarily suspended. So if you have a flight to either of those two countries in the next few months — it’s not going to happen. If you were in these countries and just want to come home, there’s no definitive word on when you’ll be able to come back, still.
Travelers have also been advised to stay clear of traveling to South Korea or Italy. So if you have any trips planned to either country within the next four months, you should immediately look into canceling them. Whatever event you planned to attend is probably being canceled anyway. The CDC also advises older travelers or those with chronic medical conditions to postpone any travel plans to Japan, as there are current reports of ongoing community transmission of the virus.
In terms of domestic travel, according to NBC News, as of March 9th, there are currently over 533 cases of coronavirus infection in the United States, spread across 34 states including, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Hawaii. The CDC has not issued travel warnings for a single one. So traveling to any state is indeed safe (though those in risk groups might want to think about postponing), but we’d like to offer a word of caution. The New York Times reports that Washington, California, and Oregon all have reported incidents of the virus in people with no high-risk travel history, which strongly suggests that the virus could be spreading undetected in the United States.
With that in mind, it’s not a bad idea to practice some extra safety precautions when traveling to these states. We’re not saying rock a full-on hazmat suit, but maybe be aware of the surfaces you touch and any sick people you may come in contact with, and make a habit of washing your hands.
As for masks? You do not need a mask unless you’re sick. Even if you’re traveling to a city with an ongoing outbreak, a mask will not protect you.
What If I Have To Cancel My Flight?
If you just booked a flight a week ago, already had a flight booked, or need to book a flight soon, we wish we had better news for you. Several airlines are offering fee waivers for rescheduled and canceled flights due to health concerns, but there’s a high chance that you’ll have to pay fare differences or won’t be able to receive a full refund.
We’ve broken down what each airline’s current policy is below, but be sure to check out each’s policy page for a full breakdown and any changes (remember, this is a constantly evolving situation).
If you happen to book a flight to Hong Kong or China refunds are available so long as the cancellation is made before the scheduled flight date. If you’ve booked a non-refundable flight elsewhere, or plan to book a flight anytime from March 1st to the 16th, you’ll be able to change your travel plans without being charged a fee, so long as your travel was to occur between March 1st, 2020 and January 26th, 2021. Your new travel date must take place within a year of the original travel date and you’ll have to pay any difference in fares. Any changes to your flight must be made two weeks advance from the outbound date.
Those who purchased a “Saver Fare” between February 27 and March 31st, 2020 for travel through February 28th, 2021, may cancel their trip and deposit their funds into the My Account Wallet to use as credit for future flights. If you purchased a nonrefundable first-class or main fare ticket between February 27th and March 31st you have the option to make a one-time change so long as your new travel date occurs before February 28, 2021, and you’ll have to suffer a possible fare difference charge, or you can cancel your trip and deposit the funds into the My Account Wallet.
Change fees on all new bookings made between March 3rd and March 16th have been waived.
If your flight has been canceled, you may receive a refund through British Airways’ “Manage My Booking” webpage. If you had a scheduled flight to or from Hong Kong anytime between now and May 31st, 2020 you may rebook to a later flight date. If you booked travel to Northern Italy (Milan, Turin, Bologna, Venice, Bergami, and Verona) between now and April 4th, 2020, you may rebook so long as your new travel date falls before May 31st or you may receive a full refund.
If you had a trans-Pacific flight booked to Beijing, Shanghai, Incheon, South Korea, or Italy between now and April 30th, you can make a one-time change without incurring any change fees, though you may have to pay fare differences if they apply. Rebooked travel must begin by May 31st.
Travelers seeking to cancel their flights will be given credit to use toward the purchase of a new ticket that must be purchased within a year of the original issue date.
EasyJet currently has no policy for refunds or cancellations in relation to the coronavirus outbreak. Their flights are all operating under standard terms and conditions. If EasyJet canceled your flight — they’ve canceled some flights to Northern Italy until Easter — then you’re entitled to a full refund or rebooking.
Flights booked between early March until the end of the month to or in transit in the United States or French Polynesia may be changed free of charge, though fare adjustments will be applied if your new flight is more expensive, or you can receive credit for a new flight up to a year from the original ticket’s issue date. Cancellation of your flight entitles you to a full refund.
If you have a flight to Paris or Reunion Island or are already in the middle of a trip, you can change your return date free of charge (fare differences apply) until the end of the month so long as you return by May 31st at the latest.
If you have a reservation between now and March 16th, you’ll be able to make a one-time change to your reservation fee-free, though differences in fares do apply. Your future travel date must be completed by June 1st, though you have the option to change your origin and destination city.
Cancellations can be done without a cancellation fee, but you’ll be refunded in credit that’s valid for 90 days.
All service between Honolulu and Incheon has been suspended until April 30th. Luckily, if you rebook your flight before October 31st, you won’t be charged change fees or fare differences so long as there’s no change to the origin and departure city. In the event you want to rebook your flight after October 31st, you won’t be charged a change fee, but you will have to pay fare differences.
If you plan on traveling to Japan, you’ll have until April 23, 2020, to rebook your flight, and if you had a flight to China you have until May 31st, 2020. Cancellation fees have also been waived and Hawaiian is offering full refunds so long as your flight is affected directly.
All change and cancellations fees have been suspended for new flights booked between February 27th and March 11th, 2020, and scheduled through June 1st, 2020. Fare differences have not been waved.
If you need to cancel your flight, you will receive a credit, valid for a full year worth the amount of the flight fare, including taxes and fees.
KLM is allowing all changes at no extra cost, though if you change your fare type you’ll need to pay a fare difference. KLM also has specific rebooking policies for flights to China, Italy, Singapore, and South Korea which allow you to rebook your travel within a specific window this year (either Spring or Summer).
If you want a straight-up cancellation, KLM offers full refunds, so long as you meet each country’s respective criteria. If you are traveling to or from mainland China anytime between now and May 31st, 2020, you’re entitled to a full refund. If your flight to Italy or Singapore was canceled by KLM, Air France, or Delta airlines, or delayed more than three hours, you’re entitled to a refund. If you are traveling to or from South Korea anytime between now and April 30th, 2020, you’re entitled to a full refund. Check KLM’s policy page for a full breakdown of transfer policies for the four affected countries.
Norwegian is waiving all change fees for new bookings if you booked your travel between March 6th and March 22nd of this year, with a travel window of March 7th to August 31st. Change fee suspensions are valid for all routes except within Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and between the four countries. The change fee suspension is not valid if you’re flying within Spain, but it is if you were scheduled to fly to Spain.
Any new travel booked must occur before August 31st, 2020 and only one change per itinerary will be permitted, meaning every person on the ticket must change at the same time. The departure and arrival airports cannot be changed, and fare differences may apply.
A refund will not be given if the new fare is cheaper than your original flight. Make sure you make all changes prior to the scheduled departure or you’ll be totally out of luck.
Flights to mainland China have been completely canceled until at least April 24th, with a reduction in flights to Hong Kong (likely to continue to shrink). Luckily, if your flight is affected you can request a refund with no cancellation fees. Lufthansa is also rebooking customers automatically at no additional charge which is a nice gesture we wish more airlines adopted.
Ryanair has dropped its service to one a day from Fridays to Mondays. All domestic flights in Italy have been suspended to and from Bergamo, Malpensa, Parma, and Treviso airports. If Ryanair cancels your travel you’ll be notified via text and email and given the option for a full refund, rebooking, or reroute.
All other flights are operating as normal.
Spirit finally has a policy! If your travel plans have been disrupted by the coronavirus, you are eligible for a one-time free modification — still have to pay fare differences — through Spirit Guest Care. If you don’t know when you intend to travel, you’ll be given a fare credit valid for up to 6-months that can be used on a future flight. If you cancel your reservation and need a refund of your travel insurance premium, you may collect one through Travel Guard if eligible.
Southwest doesn’t charge customers change or cancellation fees, so luckily if you have a Southwest ticket you’re covered in this regard with or without the coronavirus. Unfortunately, by covered we mean in the form of credit for a future Southwest flight, and only if you cancel your flight at least 10 minutes prior to your scheduled departure time.
Your Southwest credit will only be valid for up to a year from the original purchase date, but at least you don’t have to deal with fees.
United is offering refunds for all flights booked to China — even if you purchased a nonrefundable ticket — and will be waiving change fees and fare difference for anyone who books a flight to airports in Northern Italy, China, Hong Kong, and South Korea between now and June 30th, so long as your new ticket is in the same ticket class as your original booking.
If you booked your trip awhile ago, you’ll need to pay any fare differences and fees.
It seems @united's policy of letting all future bookings be refundable for the next year is quite self-serving. They're just trying not to lose new bookings. But, for people who already have bookings and need to change their travel plans, they offer no assistance. Shameful.
— lola anna méndez 🇺🇾 (@lolaannamendez) March 7, 2020
Should I Get Travel Insurance?
According to Vox, most travel insurance companies are designed to cover unforeseen events, and since technically the coronavirus is now something we all know about, it’s now a “foreseen” event. If you already had travel insurance before coronavirus ruined your plans, you may be covered, in which case you should contact your travel insurance provider immediately. If you opt for the more expensive “cancel for any reason” coverage, you’ll be covered and able to recoup about 75 percent of your trip cost no matter the circumstance. Of course, you’ll be paying more to get more. It’s up to you whether that’s worth it.
Each travel insurance provider will have different options and benefits, but one thing you can be absolutely sure of is that travel insurance isn’t really going to do you any good for the coronavirus, so if you’re seeking insurance out for that specific reason, your money might be better spent elsewhere.
What About Taking A Cruise?
Currently, the CDC recommends that travelers, especially those with underlying health issues, avoid all cruise ship travel. This is a marked change from last week when it was recommended that only the latter avoid travel. Don’t go on a cruise, it’s just not a good idea right now. In fact, it’s good practice if you have an underlying health issue to avoid all large gatherings and non-essential travel.
If somehow you do find yourself on a cruise that hasn’t already been canceled, keep up to date with the latest outbreaks to make sure you aren’t cruising straight to a new coronavirus hotspot.
I’m Going To Be Traveling, How Can I Keep Myself Safe?
If you’re heavy on the paranoia and the thought of sitting in an airplane with a bunch of potentially sick people sounds like a literal hell, feel free to disinfect your space on an airplane. Coronavirus or not, airplanes are no doubt filled with all types of different bacteria (albeit mostly harmless) so if it gives you some peace of mind and helps make your flight a more comfortable experience, you do you.
The viral particles of the coronavirus travel within mucus and saliva and enter through the eyes, nose, or mouth. So wash your hands with soap and water first, grab a disinfectant wipe, and give that tray table, touch screen, seat, and anything else you touch a good rub down. It’ll kill any traces of the coronavirus that are on that surface, but remember, the likelihood of the coronavirus being on that surface is incredibly low.
Speaking to The New York Times, Aaron Milstone, an associate hospital epidemiologist at the John Hopkins Hospital stressed that far more important than disinfecting your space is keeping your hands off your face. “It’s not bad to wipe down the area around you,” Milstone notes. “But it’s worth remembering that the coronavirus is not going to jump off the seat and get into your mouth … people should be more careful of touching something dirty then putting their hands on their faces.”
If you’re curious about which seat will keep you the safest, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that because respiratory diseases are spread through close contact, the window seat is the safest place to sit during a flight. Considering 60 percent of window seat passengers don’t leave their seats whereas 80 percent of passengers on the aisle do leave their seats, that makes the aisle seat the most dangerous. The study also found that droplets from respiratory infections are unlikely to transmit or spread infections to passengers seated farther than two seats beside them, or one row in front or behind. So if the person two rows back is coughing, don’t panic.
Remember, and we really can’t stress this enough, the safest thing you can do is keep your hands away from your mouth, eyes, and face and make a habit of washing your hands frequently. Do whatever you need to do to make that your new habit.