Coronavirus and Impact on Travel

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“We are not at the mercy of this virus,” said the WHO Director-General at the 9 March media briefing.

If you’re a traveler right now you may have two thoughts criss-crossing your mind: 

  1. Is it safe to take the current trip I have planned?
  2. When should I book the next trip I was planning on taking?

We at AirTreks are here to help you on the journey. As a global company, AirTreks has been serving international travelers since 1987 and has seen many viruses and health scares affect travel and travelers’ mentalities. With colleagues and customers all over the world, the coronavirus, its media coverage, and its effect on the world are fresh on our minds as we consider how to manage risk.

We are in regular contact with our current customers as well as with folks who are planning around the world trips and complex travel for 2020. Many of our customers have reached out to us for our opinion on planning travel, making changes, and whether or not to stay the course on a purchased trip depending on their route and date(s).

As the Head Travel Servant at AirTreks, my recommendation is to make a decision that feels right for YOU and your own risk profile, based on reliable facts and quality resources. As Harvard medical school recently wrote, be careful where you get your news about coronavirus..

Some Considerations For Traveling and the Coronavirus

1) It’s up to you on whether to travel or not: we see folks actively planning trips to parts of the world affected by this coronavirus. Some people have changed plans, others have not. There is no one right way and we are here to consult with you and your family to help make the best decision.

2) This is not the first health scare we’ve seen. AirTreks successfully served travelers with situations like this before: 9/11, SARS, Bird Flu, MERS, Financial Crisis and more.

3) AirTreks is here to talk, plan, and evaluate your concerns no matter what. Reach out with any concerns or conversations you might like to have regarding travel: AirTreks Contact Information

In the meantime, here’s what US officials say as well as travel notices from US officials (avoid traveling to China for now).

Additional information:

  • According to the WHO, the coronavirus was first reported on the 31st of December, 2019, and has since reached near-pandemic proportions, with over 82K reported cases in 47 countries across the globe.
  • Coronaviruses (yes, there are more than one) are transmitted between animals and humans.
  • The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”).
  • COVID-19 is spread primarily through touch and coughing. 
  • The main symptoms of COVID-19 are coughing, fever, and shortness of breath.
  • WHO continues to advise *against* the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COIVD-19 outbreaks.
  • COVID-19 is of most concern to elderly travelers or travelers with additional health concerns, particularly those with a weak immune system or chronic illness. It has not been seen to mortally affect people outside of those categories to this point.
  • The countries most affected as of today are Iran, Italy, South Korea, and of course China. Hong Kong and Japan are under alert levels one and two, respectively, meaning that travelers should take slight additional precautions in Japan and normal precautions in Hong Kong.
  • Coronavirus patients over age 80 have a 15% chance of dying. Here’s the mortality rate for every age bracket (note: it hovers from 0.2-0.4% in most age brackets, lower than that of the average flu virus). 
  • COVID-19 is projected to spread around the world.
  • Unless you fall within a high-risk health category, COVID-19 is not considered to be more dangerous than the average cold or flu. Around 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild, with either cold or flu-like symptoms.
  • There are no existing vaccines for COVID-19. 
  • It’s likely that at some point, widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur.
  • The risk of getting COVID-19 on an airplane is extremely low. The CDC writes, “Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes. Although the risk of infection on an airplane is low, travelers should try to avoid contact with sick passengers and wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contain 60%–95% alcohol.”
  • The COVID-19 situation is still unfolding. It may not make sense to change plans for trips scheduled more than 1 month down the road. 
  • As of Feb. 25, the U.S. has 62 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, meaning that exposure to the virus is rapidly becoming inevitable, regardless of whether we choose to travel or not. 

Other worthy articles addressing the coronavirus and travel:

NY Times on Coronavirus – balanced approach
Is there some over reaction on CV?
Chris Mayer shares how CV could affect investment portfolios and looks back at past scares from the past 20 years
Is this a Pandemic
Facts vs Fears from Kaiser
The CDC – Share Facts Stop Fear
Coronavirus Symptoms – What Are They?
How Cancel for Any Reason Travel Insurance Can (and Can’t) Help You

More engagement and clicks equal more revenue for media companies.  Scary news events can often be good for their bottom line.

Our Friendly Advice

We are coaching our travelers to have patience. As new information filters through quality sources over time, we are able to help our passengers make better informed decisions.

Note: this is not legal or medical advice.

What about Cancellations and Refunds?

The airlines are trying to make it easy for you to keep your flights. Airlines don’t want to give refunds or waivers (yet). Their policies are changing daily, airlines are becoming more flexible in order to keep passengers. Waiting is likely to be the smartest move.

They are not going to refund anything based on your fear or nervousness alone… they don’t really care. If flights to your destination are cancelled due to the situation, the airlines will usually offer a refund or partial refund. They may offer rerouting or easy changes to postpone. If you’re traveling to a country that has not been affected in a major way, you’re probably better off holding your seat. Check the maps above for reference.

What about Change Fees?

Airlines are only waiving some change fees – fare difference still often applies. There are rebooking restrictions that have been challenging for our clients, for example: They must rebook their airfare within 1 year from ticket purchase, and often travel must be completed by the 1 year anniversary date. 

What about Rerouting? 

The airlines are trying to minimize their losses as much as possible, so they are really encouraging rerouting away from advisory zones. 

What About Insurance?

Most travel insurance providers are not covering cancellation due to the coronavirus (unless a Cancel for Any Reason plan was purchased).

Should We Cancel Our Tour?

If you cancel your tour before the airlines cancel flights, it may be difficult or impossible to get refunds from anyone. Yes, we realize you are playing chicken with the airlines on these. If your tour is to an affected country, you can certainly consider waiting, postponing, and/or cancelling (we’d love to help you make that kind of decision). 

Consider postponing or rerouting. This may be the simplest way to ride out the waves of this pandemic. Bring your AirTreks team in to help you with strategic decision-making. We are here to be your strategic advisors for the good times and the challenging. 

Keep in mind, as the internet and media companies continue to grow and get you to “click,” it’s in their best interests to “sell this fear” to you so you come back to your screen and click, read, get scared, click, read, get scared. 

More engagement and clicks equal more revenue for media companies.  Scary news events can often be good for their bottom line.

For Those Interested in Traveling Forward Now

Is it Safe to Fly? YES, for the most part.

You are probably still safe to fly. The CDC says travelers should avoid countries in black and blue on this map, which includes China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy (as of March 9, 2020). 

The CDC says older adults or those who have chronic medical conditions should consider postponing travel to the following destinations (green on this map) – just Japan (as of March 9, 2020).

Truly, airplanes and airports are probably the cleanest and most sanitized they’ve ever been (Airlines Are Using Disinfectant That Kills Herpes and MRSA to Clean Planes in Wake of Coronavirus Outbreak).

Pay attention to local and global news if you choose to travel. The greatest risk to travelers at this time is that of being quarantined. Create an emergency plan for your travel funds and location in the event that you do become quarantined, and expect cancellations or itinerary changes. With a little flexibility and attention to detail, travel is still feasible and many are choosing to stay on the road.

Healthy Habits While Flying

If you do choose to fly, take extra precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe and healthy.

  • Wash your hands and avoid touching your face. It should go without saying at this point, but washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. Hand sanitizer with a high alcohol content is a great secondary barrier.
  • Disinfect your tray table and armrests in the plane. Airlines are using the world’s strongest disinfectants and performing hospital grade sterilizations right now, but – just in case.
  • Avoid touching other passengers
  • Wear masks only if you’re showing respiratory symptoms such as coughing or sneezing.

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