International Flights: Taking Off Again but Buyer Beware
International summer travel is slowly coming back but expect headwinds
After nearly three months of a sweeping global lockdown, countries are taking tentative steps to ease border restrictions. That doesn't necessarily mean you can revive that thwarted summer trip abroad. Just because a nation says it's reopening, and an airline is flying there, doesn't mean you'll be let in without strings.
The U.S. State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, still advise Americans to avoid all nonessential international travel. And many countries say that, without evidence of a negative Covid-19 test, visitors won't be admitted unless they undergo a two-week quarantine. Plus, with the number of international flights down by as much as 70%, you'll find far fewer nonstop flights.
"Getting from Point A to Point B will be much more difficult this summer," said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research. "Social distancing and new hygienic rules might get in the way too, and iconic attractions could be closed.
"Even with a reasonably strong dollar against the euro and pound, and attractive airfares and hotel rates, a lot of people are asking 'what are we going to do once we get there?'"
For travelers who aren't put off by that question and all the restrictions, some tourist-friendly destinations in Europe and North America are about to reopen their borders and some U.S. airlines are boosting their peak season schedules.
For example, American Airlines is resuming flights to some Caribbean islands later this summer, including Antigua; visitors may be required to undergo health screenings. And American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest are all planning nonstops to Mexico, where the border is closed to nonessential travel until at least June 22 and Covid-19 cases continue to climb.
In Europe, TAP Air Portugal is resuming trans-Atlantic service in June, with flights from Newark to Lisbon, while Icelandair is offering nonstops from Boston to Reykjavik (arrivals without proof of a negative Covid-19 test or antibodies will have the choice of a 14-day quarantine or an instant test). For now, Italy, France and most other European countries remain off-limits to U.S. tourists.
First, though, airlines will have to convince leery travelers it's safe to fly. Face masks will no doubt be part of the in-flight experience for some time, and most airlines are limiting occupancy and blocking off seats, but policies vary among individual carriers.
Before you board you could face new airport rituals, such as thermal scans designed to weed out sick fliers. Also under consideration: contact-tracing apps on your smartphone so airlines can alert authorities to who might have been exposed in-flight, and a health "passport" with evidence of either a negative test or the presence of antibodies.
Eager to reassure, more airlines have posted detailed descriptions of how they sanitize their planes between flights, even sharing the brand of bleach they use to wipe tray tables.
Health experts say that fears of catching a bug on a plane are overblown. "Research shows that [planes] are much safer than other enclosed spaces, mainly due to the design of the air filtration systems," said Dr. Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. His advice: Position the air nozzle, which blasts purified air, your way for the entire flight.
"Many travelers will wait for more resolution to these questions. Late-season impulse trips might become the rage,'' said Wendy Perrin, founder of wendyperrin.com, which helps travelers find trip planners: "This could be a very last-minute kind of summer."