COVID-19 delta variant creates new considerations for today’s travelers
BELLEVUE, Wash. — Americans returned to travel in droves this summer, with recent AAA Travel bookings up at least 11% over 2019 levels, and even more people excitedly planning trips for 2022 and beyond. As summer winds down, travel volumes around Labor Day are expected to remain high. Though a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, attributed to the delta variant, has some travelers wondering if they should take that last summer trip – and reconsidering future plans. AAA reminds travelers to stay informed and be flexible as policies and guidelines continue to evolve.
“Whether and how to travel is a very personal decision. By and large, people who were planning to travel are still taking their trips, while being mindful to take precautions to protect themselves and others,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “The hottest summer travel destinations by far have been Mexico, Hawaii and popular cities throughout the U.S., as well as cruises to Alaska, Greece and the Caribbean.”
Is it Safe to Travel in Light of the COVID-19 Delta Variant?
AAA Travel experts are continually providing information and tips for traveling safely, to help people make a decision that is right for them. It’s important to consider the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, which advises that fully vaccinated people can travel domestically with little risk. For unvaccinated people, they advise delaying travel. Additionally, some destinations and travel providers may require proof of vaccination before traveling.
“Travelers should consult the expertise of a knowledgeable travel agent who can help guide you through this decision-making process, including travel insurance options to protect your vacation investment,” added Twidale. “Travel suppliers are also going the extra mile to help keep guests safe, in some cases requiring vaccines, but also adding wellness guides on tour vacations, cruise lines operating at reduced capacities, adding enhanced cleaning protocols throughout the travel landscape, and more.”
Travel insurance options vary greatly, but could potentially cover expenses related to the need to cancel or postpone your trip, flight delays or cancelations, and any extra hotel or transportation expenses incurred. While travel insurance policies have historically not covered epidemics or pandemics, some providers have started to introduce plans that cover some losses due to COVID-19 or other epidemic diseases, due to shifting consumer expectations.
Mask Guidance for Travelers
The CDC recently updated its guidance on mask-wearing, advising people in areas with high COVID-19 transmission to wear them indoors, regardless of vaccination status. You will be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Additionally, some states and cities have updated their mask and other travel requirements.
“Masks should be at the top of your packing list, since guidelines and requirements will vary from place to place,” continued Twidale. “Also bring along disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. For road trips, also consider packing water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.”
Modes of Travel – What to Expect
Road trips can offer more flexibility than some other modes of travel, but it’s still important to plan ahead for travel by car. To understand the impact COVID-19 has on cities and states you are traveling through and to see current rules, check out AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map.
For those traveling by air, the CDC advises that most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, in addition to universal use of masks throughout the air travel experience. AAA recommends travelers consider enrolling in TSA PreCheck, to spend less time in potentially crowded airports.
Recent AAA Travel hotel bookings have increased almost 50% over 2019 levels.
The pandemic has had a vast impact on consumers’ expectations for cleanliness during these stays. That prompted AAA to create enhanced Diamond inspections. Hotels that meet AAA’s standards for cleanliness, condition and new surface cleanliness testing are now recognized as Inspected Clean and then assigned a Diamond designation.
Travelers will be able to find Inspected Clean hotels on AAA.com/Diamonds later this fall. In the meantime, look for AAA’s Best of Housekeeping badge – awarded to the top 25% of Diamond designated hotels for cleanliness. Also, prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests.
With the success of the vaccine rollout and more countries opening to American travelers, AAA Travel agents have noted a significant increase in inquiries and bookings for international travel, especially for 2022 – with Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and European river cruises topping the list of international travel destinations.
“For those planning to travel internationally, AAA advises booking early and working with a travel agent. Demand and pricing are on the rise for 2022 and inventory is likely to be limited in top destinations and itineraries,” said Twidale.
As borders begin to reopen and countries start to loosen their travel restrictions, the CDC notes that international travel poses additional risks. If you are fully vaccinated, you should continue to follow the CDC’s recommendations for traveling safely and get tested 3-5 days after traveling internationally. You do not need to get tested before leaving the United States unless your destination requires it, and you do not need to self-quarantine after arriving in the United States.
All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens and fully vaccinated people, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result no more than 3 days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months before they board a flight to the United States.
The U.S. State Department is also warning Americans of delays in processing passport applications. It may take up to 18 weeks to get your new passport, and 12 weeks for “expedited” service. As a result, it’s recommended that you submit your passport application at least six months before planned travel.
Traveling with Children
Families with children who are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine face additional questions about whether to travel, especially as many anticipate the start of the school year in the coming weeks. If you are traveling with children who cannot get vaccinated at this time, the CDC recommends following recommendations for unvaccinated people and choosing safer travel options, such as a road trip with few stops or a direct flight, and taking steps to avoid crowds and close contact with unvaccinated people who are not from your household. If you do fly, everyone over the age of 2 will be required to wear masks on the plane and in airports.
Ultimately, the decision to travel is a personal one that must be made by each individual and family. AAA Travel advisors are available to help members with the information they need to plan a trip, when they’re ready to do so. For more information, visit AAA.com/Travel.