Travel News Is it safe to travel?

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Is it safe to travel?

Sprinting across the busy airport terminal to make your connecting flight used to be among the most stressful aspects of travel. Now, that’s the least of our worries. The public spaces that define travel—the airplane cabin, a hotel breakfast buffet, group tours—concern us in ways they never used to. We wonder how often they’re cleaned, whether the airflow is sufficient, and how many other people will be around.

It begs the question: Is it safe to travel right now? The answer is: it’s complicated. Many variables come into play, making some itineraries safer than others. Let’s take a look at what the experts have to say about each aspect of travel.

There’s a lot that can change as the experts continue to learn more about how the virus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted. Follow the latest advice and guidelines given by the CDC and WHO to help keep yourself and close contacts safe. We’ll be updating this article weekly with the most up-to-date information available. 

boy standing on lake dock

Jump to a travel safety section

The latest science on COVID-19 transmission

First, let’s start with the latest science. The experts are saying that there are three main ways the virus that causes COVID-19 has been known to spread:

  1. Indirect contact
  2. Close contact
  3. Direct contact

Transmission through indirect contact happens via contaminated objects and surfaces. This had been thought to be the main mechanism for the spread of COVID-19. Someone would touch a contaminated surface and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. Although this is now thought to be a less significant means of spreading the virus, it’s still important to practice good hand hygiene to reduce your risk of contracting the virus from an infected surface.

The CDC warns that close and direct contact with an infected person is the main way the virus is spreading. The respiratory droplets that are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks have the potential to infect those nearby. This is why it’s advised to separate yourself by at least six feet from others and wear a face covering to protect against inhalation of the respiratory droplets.

woman getting her temperature checked

Is it safe to travel?

During a pandemic, simply leaving home carries risk. Just as it’s possible to contract the virus while shopping at the grocery store or riding public transportation, it’s possible while traveling.

Being in public spaces increases your chances of exposure, as does the amount of time you spend in those spaces. There are ways to reduce your risk and make traveling safer for yourself and others. It’s smart to take the same precautions you would take at home as while you’re traveling:

  • Wear a mask in public spaces.
  • Keep a distance of at least 6 feet from others.
  • Wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Before you hit the road for a day trip from your hometown or a cross-country adventure, there are a few things that the experts at the CDC recommend doing when you’re in trip-planning mode:

  • Travel to a destination that is not experiencing a significant outbreak. You can check each state’s coronavirus cases over the last week to inform your decision. Fewer local cases lower your risk.
  • Research the requirements of your destination to find out the precautions you need to take and whether there is a mandatory or recommended quarantine upon arrival.
  • Avoid traveling if you live with someone who has COVID-19. Even if you feel well, you may be asymptotic and capable of spreading the virus to others.

Watch Skyscanner’s first webinar, Travel Confident, for insider tips and experiences from travel experts.

two hands on the steering wheel of a car with a road seen through the windshield

When will it be safe to travel again?

While there is no evidence to say when the COVID-19 pandemic or social distancing will end, knowing the science and recommended precautions mentioned above can help us make smart decisions regarding travel plans. By understanding what we need to do in order to reduce risk, we can take the necessary measures for safer travel. U.S. citizens are allowed to travel between states, and select international borders are open for tourism purposes as well.

Another factor that affects when it will be safe to travel again is having a COVID-19 vaccine. If an effective and safe vaccine is created, and a large portion of the population receives it, the spread of coronavirus cases can shrink significantly.

Although there are currently no vaccines approved in the United States, there are several companies like Pfizer and Moderna that have had promising adult trials. Once the vaccine is distributed in the USA (projected to be around Spring 2021), traveling domestically should be safer. As more countries get their own vaccines, the goal is that traveling and flying internationally will be close to pre-pandemic safety levels.

Read More: Frequent flyers share their first-hand experiences of traveling in 2020

Where is it safe to travel right now?

Due to the general travel risks mentioned earlier in this article, there are a few considerations about where it’s safe to travel in the US and internationally right now.

In terms of safety, it matters less if you’re an American traveling domestically or taking a multi-country holiday versus certain factors that may affect your travels. This includes the space between passengers during flight, coronavirus cases at your destination, and business or local government regulations at the point of arrival. With domestic travel and staycations, instead of flying, you have the option to use your own car or rent a car from a business with strict cleaning processes.

For international travel, you can follow which countries are open for tourism through our interactive map. The US-Mexico border is open and without the need for quarantine for air travelers, while the closure of the US-Canada border has been extended until December 21. Travel for tourism purposes from the US into Canada is still restricted unless you’re a Canadian resident or citizen.

It’s also important to note that Europe is in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus cases. We’re monitoring when Americans can travel to Europe weekly, including quarantine and COVID-19 test requirements. Some countries like Croatia, Ireland, UK, and Italy are open for tourism, although many have introduced travel and curfew restrictions.

In the United States, individual states have their own regulations about entry and crossing borders. Those considering traveling domestically right now can stay up to date with the coronavirus safety measures in each state.

For example, Hawaii is requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine on arrival, however, you can bypass this requirement by uploading a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding the last leg of your trip. Other states are also providing the option of negative COVID-19 tests in lieu of a quarantine such as Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Others, like Alaska, are requiring visitors to fill out a travel declaration form and present a negative COVID-19 test either before or upon arrival in the state.

With precautions like these, you may feel more safe traveling domestically within your own state or the next state over vs. traveling internationally.

Download our extensive New World of Travel report to see what domestic travel after COVID will look like. Travel trends in 2021 may look a little different, including one-way flights, “workations”, and more last-minute bookings.

Is it safe to fly now?

You might be wondering if it’s safe to travel by plane. The good news is that airlines and airports have implemented new measures to disinfect surfaces, minimize contact between people, and promote social distancing. The bad news is that all types of public transportation carry some degree of risk.

Cabin air, luckily, does not linger long due to high-grade air filters on airplanes. The CDC notes that “most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes.” However, long flights and crowded flights that do not allow passengers to be spaced out by at least six feet still carry an increased risk of exposure. Several airlines are leaving middle seats open like Southwest (ends Dec. 1), Delta, Alaska (ends Jan. 6), and Hawaiian Airlines (ends Dec. 16).

If you’re considering flight travel, there are ways to keep flexible travel plans if restrictions change. Skyscanner has introduced a new ‘Flexible Ticket’ filter option that only displays flights that offer flexible tickets, or hotels and rental cars with free cancellation policies.

Learn more: How Skyscanner’s tools can help you plan and book your next trip with confidence during COVID-19.

“I chose tickets with a flexible refund policy just in case I needed to change my flight due to an unexpected situation.”

Natalie, PR Manager, Skyscanner

What are the risks in the airport?

The risks in the airport are similar to most indoor spaces. The biggest concern is airflow, distance to other passengers, and touching contaminated surfaces. However, airports are implementing social distancing measures, frequent sanitizing, contactless check-in processes, and temperature checks.

When going through security lines and walking inside the airport terminal, you should follow the same practices that you would in other public spaces. Wear a mask, maintain a distance of at least six feet from others, and practice good hand hygiene.

Some airports and airlines are beginning to roll out COVID-19 testing, which will make traveling safer. United Airlines has been the first to offer COVID-19 tests at San Francisco airport pre-departure to Hawaii, a state which has one of the strictest quarantine rules. American Airlines has followed suit with testing from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) for flights to Hawaii and Costa Rica. They are also rolling out day-of testing for select international flights during a four week period as of November 16.

If you want to be prepared for any situation at the airport, read our step-by-step flying in 2020 guide from check-in to departure.

a man holding an airplane ticket at the airport

“I checked the best route on Skyscanner and then to see whether that route was operating frequently and without disruption. Once I was confident there weren’t any issues, I went ahead and booked. I also made sure to order face masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues in advance.”

Emma, Global SEO Manager, Skyscanner

What are the risks of car travel?

Driving in your own car carries little risk. But that changes when you consider the public spaces you’ll stop at en route to your destination. These may include rest areas, gas stations, and restaurants. As with any other public space, follow CDC guidelines to protect yourself and others.

If you’re renting a vehicle for your trip, call the rental company ahead of time to ask what their cleaning measures are. You may also take an extra precaution before you drive off the lot and wipe down the car’s frequently touched surfaces with a cleaning solution.

It’s also important to note that if you’re taking a road trip to a different state, some states such as Connecticut, Washington D.C., and New Jersey among others, are implementing interstate travel restrictions and self-isolation measures. These usually apply to visitors from high COVID-19 case states. Local travel restrictions are constantly changing, so make sure to check if your state is on the list before you go.

Read More: What it’s like living in the San Francisco Bay Area right now

Safety measures being implemented by the top rental companies:

Enterprise

In order to protect their employees and travelers, Enterprise has taken a Complete Clean Pledge. The pledge includes training employees on cleaning practices and comprehensive disinfection of high touch areas, plus washing, vacuuming, wiping down, and isolation if needed. They also have 500+ locations participating in Advanced Check-In and curbside pickup to help with social distancing.

National

Similar to Enterprise, National is implementing a similar cleaning process of 20 high-touch points within their rental cars under the Complete Clean Pledge. Emerald Club Members’ status has also been extended by one year and will conclude on February 28, 2022. The rental process hasn’t changed, but face masks are required when inside National facilities. You can also call the specific rental car branch with any questions.

Avis

Avis has similarly taken a Safety Pledge to clean each rental car after its use. They are utilizing social distance measures during pick-up, limiting people on shuttle buses, wearing protective gear, and providing sanitizer for travelers (they are partnering with Lysol for disinfection!).

a couple traveling in a car

Is it safer to fly or drive?

When you travel, you are opening yourself up to a new environment, many times one that you cannot control. With enough planning, you can create a safe environment during a road trip in certain ways. For example, you decide who sits in your car, where you stop to use the restroom, what restaurants or food you eat along the way based on their cleanliness practices, and more.

While in-flight air filters reduce the spread of germs on an airplane, this mode of transportation involves many more people than would fit in a standard car. You may also have less control over who sits around you and what their personal safety precautions look like. Whether flying or driving, stay safe by always wearing a mask, bringing hand sanitizer, washing your hands frequently, and refraining from touching your face.

How clean are hotels?

As with rental car companies, hotels have also implemented new measures. These range from enhanced room cleanings to antibacterial stations throughout the property to closing public spaces, like fitness centers. Call ahead of booking to ask the hotel what their new cleaning policy includes. If they don’t have one, look elsewhere.

When you arrive, treat hotel common spaces like any other public area. Wear a mask in the lobby, when riding the elevator, and as you walk down the hall. Any time you touch a shared surface, clean your hands with an antibacterial solution or soap and water.

Safety measures being implemented by the top hotel companies:

Marriott Hotels

To make their hotels safe for travel, Marriott has committed to certain cleanliness practices such as adhering to recommendations from experts, cleaning public spaces regularly, disinfecting hotel rooms with hospital-grade products, contactless check-in, and more. Face coverings are required for guests and employees when indoors. They have also extended their cancellation policy through December 30 for guests who booked on or after July 6.

Hilton Hotels

With cleanliness top of mind, Hilton has created a whole safety program called CleanStay with Lysol Protection. Their partnership with RB (maker of Lysol and Dettol) means hotel rooms and public places are thoroughly cleaned with quality products. Check-in, check-out, and guest room access are all contactless.

Hilton also updated their reservations policy: “All our hotels offer fully flexible booking options with free changes and cancellations. Most hotels even give you the flexibility to change or cancel up to 24 hours before your arrival day.​​” Some hotels do have exclusions so make sure to check with the specific hotel before booking. Additionally, since using points isn’t possible for many people, Hilton is also extending customers’ status through to the end of 2021.

Wyndham Hotels

The safety of employees and travelers are highly considered in Wyndham’s enhanced cleaning regiments. The chain has partnered with Ecolab for EPA-approved disinfectants. As of August 10th, Wyndham requires face coverings at all indoor public areas at their US hotels. They do mention that local travel restrictions can impact your reservation so confirm with your specific hotel before your trip.

Wyndham Hotels is also extending membership statuses and pausing points expiration through to the end of 2021. They also lowered the number of nights you need to stay to earn the next membership level.

pristine hotel pool with reflections

If you don’t want to leave anything up to chance, you can also pack cleaning supplies in your luggage and wipe down surfaces in your hotel room.

Read more: Unique Hotels You Can Visit Right Now

What is the best way to reduce risk while traveling?

The more you can control during your trip, the better. This means that driving solo carries less risk than being a passenger on a bus. Camping in a secluded area is better than renting a vacation home. Cooking for yourself is safer than eating in a restaurant. 

In effect, separate yourself from others during your trip as much as possible. Don’t think of it as a constraint. Think of it as a great opportunity to connect with nature like visiting all the U.S. National Parks or take that RV road trip you’ve always dreamed of.

Here are a few first-hand experiences from our team members at Skyscanner who have traveled during the pandemic. These are their tips on how to keep yourself safe:

“I took a spare face mask and travel size sanitiser in my backpack so that I could use them while travelling.”

Natalie, PR Manager, Skyscanner

“I wore a mask at the airport and on the plane and frequently washed my hands throughout the journey. I was extra conscious not to touch my face and didn’t eat or drink as that would have meant removing the face mask.”

Emma, Global SEO Manager, Skyscanner

“I made sure to bring portable sanitizer and wear a face mask the whole time. I noticed that some people also wore medical gloves and had plastic coats over their clothes.”

Marco, Data Scientist, Skyscanner
man with a white jeep on the side of the road

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can Americans travel now?

Many travel restrictions are still in place for residents of the United States. As of November 23, 2020, Skyscanner’s team has found 15 destinations that are open with low restrictions to Americans for tourism purposes. A few dozen others have partially reopened, and more than 70 remain closed.

Should I avoid traveling internationally during the pandemic?

As of August 6, 2020, the State Department lifted its Global Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory. The State Department has returned to its previous method of issuing country-specific travel advice. The CDC advises against nonessential travel to these countries.

Why is traveling discouraged?

Travel will increase your exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. Therefore, staying at home is considered the safest course of action. Also, although you may feel healthy, there is a chance of being an asymptotic carrier. Those who are asymptomatic can still infect others as they travel.

Which type of travel is safest during the pandemic?

There is no real way of knowing which type of travel is safest. There are many factors that go into categorizing activities as high risk versus low risk. A couple of the biggest unknowns are whether you have had close contact with an infected person or touched a contaminated surface before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Have more questions? We’ve answered travelers’ most commonly asked COVID-19 queries.

This page was last updated on November 23, 2020. To our knowledge, the information on this page was correct at the time of publication. However, given the nature of the COVID-19 crisis, information will vary by location and change at short notice and over time. We will do our best to keep this page up-to-date, however this cannot be guaranteed.