More than leisure or business, travel is important because it connects us with people we love, and the places where we’ve created lifelong memories. Now that the world is slowly reopening and travel is becoming an option again, we should take the necessary steps to stay informed and be prepared when it comes to traveling safely.
As lockdown slowly eases, more travelers are starting to think about booking a holiday. There’s a lot of cautious optimism: in our latest weekly survey, 57% of people* said they believe the global travel situation is getting better. But although flight routes and countries are starting to reopen, many of us are understandably anxious. After all, there’s so much more to consider now, from new must-pack items (hello, hand sanitizer) to weird industry jargon (travel bubbles and air corridors, anyone?)
Whether you have itchy feet right now or are planning for the future, our travel checklist includes everything you need to know. From navigating complicated cancellation policies, to which countries are open for business, read on before you book your 2020 flights.
- When will travel become possible?
- Where can we go?
- Who should travel?
- New airport rules during the pandemic
- Flight cancellation policies
- Hotel cancellation policies
- How can I protect my trip?
- What else do I need to pack?
- 2020 travel FAQs
Where can I travel? Should I travel?
When will travel become possible?
Restrictions on international travel are still in place. As of March 19, 2020, the State Department has issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory that advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel. If you’re a U.S. citizen living in the United States but are currently abroad, the Department of State advises you to arrange an immediate return, unless you’re prepared to stay abroad for an indefinite time.
If you’re considering domestic travel, be aware that many states are reopening in stages, and have varying guidelines that may restrict the types of businesses that will be open. For a comprehensive list of each state’s guidelines, please click here.
Where can we go?
Many countries in the world have started to reopen their borders and are easing restrictions on international travel. This is not yet the case in the U.S. where the advice still is to avoid all international travel.
Within the U.S., some states have reopened their borders, whereas others have paused plans or are reimposing restrictions they had lifted earlier. At the time of writing on the 6th of July, the open states included Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Alaska. Not all reopened states have the same types of businesses and facilities open, so make sure to check each state’s guidelines.
Who should travel?
Airlines and airports are doing their best to keep all of their passengers safe, but everyone needs to do their bit. This means staying home if there’s a chance you might have coronavirus. It’s your responsibility to avoid travel if:
- you’re experiencing any of the symptoms (or have in the past week).
- are self-isolating as a result of symptoms.
- share a household or have been in close contact with someone who’s experienced coronavirus symptoms during the past 14 days.
- you’ve been advised to isolate by your doctor.
In case you need a refresher, the main symptoms to look out for are a continuous cough, high temperature and loss (or change) in your sense of taste and smell. Although this could just be down to a summer cold, it really is better to be safe than sorry.
At the end of the day, it’s your decision whether you feel safe enough to travel. That said, members of high-risk and moderate-risk groups should think about putting their holiday plans on hold. This includes people older than 60, those with underlying health problems, such as heart or lung disease, diabetes, or a compromised immune system.
If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk, you can find a full list of conditions on the CDC website.
New airport rules during the pandemic
Every airport is different, so check the official website of your departure and arrival airports before you start your journey. That said, they all have new measures in place to keep travellers safe from the risk of coronavirus. These might include:
Face coverings: most airlines require or at least recommend you to wear a mask on the airplane, and most airports also require adults and children to wear face masks whenever they’re inside a terminal building. Learn more about face masks for travel.
Temperature screening: LAX Airport is the first airport in the U.S. piloting a temperature screening procedure for travelers, using thermal camera technology to screen arriving and departing passengers.
Social distancing: seating arrangements and queuing systems have been rearranged to facilitate social distancing. Some airports also have one-way flow systems in place to limit contact between people.
Reduced retail options: don’t expect to stock up on duty-free. Many airport shops and restaurants are closed or open with reduced hours and food service only to go. Make sure you check your airport’s retail and restaurant information before you go, to know if you need to stock up on snacks.
Flight cancellation policies
With so much uncertainty about which routes are going ahead, it’s important to know that you’re protected should your flight get cancelled. Luckily most airlines have put flexible policies in place to set passenger’s minds at rest.
For example, American Airlines and Delta are making it easy for customers to re-book by letting them change new and existing flights for free to dates up until September 30, 2022. Norwegian is giving guests an incentive of 20% towards a future trip if they opt for a flight credit instead of a refund. Similarly, TUI is giving customers a full refund credit plus a 20% booking incentive. Richard Sofer, their Commercial and Business Development Director, says:
“We’re being as flexible as possible for our customers who already have a booking but don’t feel comfortable travelling at the moment. Anyone who booked before 17 March 2020 who is due to travel up to 31 August 2020 can amend to any other holiday currently on sale, if they do this before 10th July.”Richard Sofer, Commercial & Business Development Director at TUI
These policies subject to change, but you can find an up-to-date list of the main airline flight cancellation policies here.
Hotel cancellation policies
If coronavirus rates continue fluctuating all summer, hotels may have to close at short notice. Nobody wants to be out of pocket, so during your planning phase, it’s best to look for accommodation that already has a flexible cancellation policy in place. This makes it easy to get a refund if you need to cancel within 24 or 48 hours of your stay. It’s especially handy if your flight gets canceled, or if you have COVID-19 symptoms and decide not to fly.
Many large hotel groups have introduced new cancellation policies because of the pandemic. For example, Marriott International (until September 30rd) and Hilton and Radisson (until August 31st) are allowing full changes and cancellations, free-of-charge, up to 24 hours before arrival.
These policies are always subject to change, and it’s best to check the hotel website before you make a commitment. This is what to do if your hotel booking gets cancelled.
We’ve also introduced a new feature on Skyscanner which shows the cleanliness score for all accommodation:
“Travel providers are reacting to new consumer concerns by implementing and improving hygiene standards to instil confidence and differentiate themselves as people go through the holiday booking experience. Customers can now view a newly integrated cleanliness score on all accommodation properties offered on our platform to ensure customers are making an informed decision.”Jon Thorne, Director of User Satisfaction at Skyscanner
How can I protect my trip?
With so much uncertainty, splashing lots of cash on a holiday that could end up being canceled is a big risk. Here are a few ways to reduce your chance of losing money.
Get travel insurance
We always recommend adding insurance to your travel checklist anyway, but during the pandemic, it’s more important than ever. Travel insurers are quite risk-averse, and since coronavirus became a known entity in mid-March many of them stopped covering this type of cancellation. Before committing to a policy, always read the small print. Although they’re unlikely to cover coronavirus cancellations, some will cover you if you can’t travel because you or a family member contracts the virus. For more information, check out our guide to buying travel insurance during coronavirus.
“If you bought a travel insurance policy before coronavirus became a known event, then, generally speaking, you’ll be covered. The relevant date varies according to each insurer, but 12th March is a good rule of thumb. That’s the date the WHO declared coronavirus as a pandemic, and it became a ‘known event’. If you are looking for new cover, study the fine print, and again, consider speaking to a representative on the phone or by email to be sure of what you’re covered for.”Martin Nolan, Senior Director, Legal & Public and Regulatory Affairs at Skyscanner
Look for flexible cancellation policies
Since your travel insurance is unlikely to help you if your trip gets canceled, it’s best to make sure you’re protected by the companies themselves. Many companies have made their cancellation policies far more flexible, but it’s best not to assume. Whether you’re booking flights, hotels, or car hire, always spend some time looking through the small print of their cancellation policies. Some will allow you to cancel for free up until noon on the same day. It’s worth spending a little bit extra for the most flexible option.
Use your credit card to book
Even if you have enough money in the bank, using your credit card is a good idea because it gives you extra legal protection. The Federal Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) protects consumers against charges for goods and services they didn’t accept or that weren’t delivered. It basically means your credit card company shares responsibility with the seller in case something goes wrong. If the airline goes bust, your credit card company will be responsible for reimbursing you.
Wearing face masks
Who’d have thought the hottest holiday fashion this year would be the humble face mask? Countries and states have different rules about where and when you should wear them, so it’s always a good idea to read up on it before you travel.
Most U.S. states have guidelines around face masks in place, whereas some of them have implemented orders to make it mandatory to wear them in public. The advice from the CDC is that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings and around people who don’t live in your household.
Lyft, Ola and Uber have also made masks compulsory in order to protect their drivers. Unsurprisingly, you’ll also have to wear a mask in-flight. Again, regulations vary from airline to airline but the majority are enforcing it. Most big carriers like American Airlines, Lufthansa, KLM, Air France ask passengers to wear a mask. British Airways asks passengers to replace their face masks with a fresh one every 3-4 hours. Qantas recommends masks but doesn’t enforce it.
If you’ve not had to wear a mask yet, you’re probably wondering how to wear one and how often to change the internal filter. The World Health Organisation has some comprehensive guidelines around this, and we’ve also written about everything you need to know about wearing face masks during travel.
What else do I need to pack?
If you’re a frequent traveler you’ve probably got your checklist down to a fine art. We recommend updating it with the following items:
A few face masks and enough replacement filters for your whole trip: it’s easy to order them online when you’re at home, but it may be harder to find them once you’re away.
A digital thermometer: fever is one of the main symptoms of COVID-19, and catching the symptom early means you can impose self-isolation and reduce the chance of spreading the illness.
Gloves: remember to discard them after touching anything, and don’t touch your face while wearing them.
Hand sanitiser: great for keeping hands clean on the go.
Antibacterial wipes: use them to wipe down surfaces such as your seat on the plane and your baggage.
Medicine: bringing some pain medicine, allergy pills and indigestion tablets from home will save you from having to go to the pharmacy once you arrive – reducing your chance of exposing yourself to sick people.
Instant noodles: if you need to self-isolate once you arrive, having some non-perishable foods like instant noodles means you can eat without leaving your room.
“Consider downloading apps to ensure that you don’t have to carry paper documents (primarily check-in, security, boarding and hotel confirmation). Also, consider taking most of your foreign currency in electronic form. Multi-currency cards with e-wallets mean you can avoid international bank fees and use contactless payment over notes and coins.”Dave Thomson, Chief of Staff at Skyscanner
2020 travel checklist FAQ’s
Bring hygiene items like hand sanitizer, latex gloves, spare masks and filters, and some antibacterial wipes. It’s also worth bringing your own medicine like pain medicine and a digital thermometer to keep an eye on symptoms. Consider packing some convenience food in case you need to go into quarantine upon arrival.
In light of COVID-19, most airlines have made their cancellation policies more flexible. Many are offering full refunds, the chance to re-book for free or a travel voucher for future flights. Some even have incentives, such as 20% towards a future trip. Always check with the airline to find out what they’re offering.
Although travel insurance companies aren’t covering cancellations due to coronavirus, it’s still a good idea to buy travel insurance for your flight. Depending on the policy, this may cover you if you develop coronavirus symptoms and need to cancel or if you have a family bereavement. It will also cover you against any non-coronavirus related issues. Always read the small print.
Airplanes are usually cleaned after every flight, with rubbish removed and seats quickly wiped down with disinfectant. Many airlines have stepped this up since coronavirus became a major issue. Every airline is different, so it’s best to check their individual website to find out their policy. We recommend bringing your own wipes to disinfect your seat area, just to be on the safe side.
Yes, you should wear a face mask while traveling. Wearing face coverings in public is mandatory in quite a few states and generally recommended by the CDC. Policies differ between airports and airlines, but as a general rule of thumb, most require their guests to wear face masks. Check the official website of your airline, as well as departure and arrival airport, for up-to-date guidance.
Of course, not everyone will be ready to hop on a plane just yet. Whether you decide to travel or not is totally up to you. We hope this article has given you the information you need to make your decision a little easier.
*11,684 people surveyed globally between June 15-21, 2020
Discover where you can go
Making plans to get back out there? Find out which borders are open with our interactive global map. You can also sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.
Want to read more?
We’ve been busy finding ways to help travelers feel informed and inspire them when the time comes to travel again.
- Our Coronavirus Travel Advice Hub is updated every day with the latest news and information
- If you need some inspiration, we recently sat down with Jess Parr of The Layover Life to chat about dream destinations to visit after lockdown
- Still not sure what to expect? Here’s a first-hand account of flying during coronavirus.