If you’re weighing the pros and cons of travel right now, you’re not alone.
Here’s some helpful information we’ve collected from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the two authorities on COVID-19 risk and transmission. **UPDATE 3/16/20: Please limit your air travel at this time to only essential trips. We will be updating this link as the situation unfolds, and will give you information you need to plan later in the year. Again, we ask that people do not travel unless required.**
Should I cancel my trip?
Probably not. If you are in good health and not traveling to regions with the highest numbers of cases, there’s little risk to you. For the moment, the CDC has only issued advisories against travel to China (the epicenter of the disease), and a Level 3 advisory (avoid nonessential travel) to Iran, Italy and South Korea (the three countries where the highest numbers of cases have been found).
Japan has a Level 2 advisory – which means travelers should “reconsider their plans.” The CDC indicates that people with respiratory problems like asthma or chronic conditions and older travelers (people 65 and above) might want to reschedule travel to Japan at this time. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have to cancel your plans.
If I have to cancel, can I get my money back on the flight I’ve already booked?
The answer to that question is that while you probably can’t get a refund, most airlines are allowing changes for free right now if your flight is leaving in the next few weeks. Keep in mind, this change fee waiver is for the cost the airlines would charge you for the change itself. You’ll still have to pay any difference in cost from your old ticket to the new.
Qtrip is actively following the virus and its impact on both global and domestic travel. If you have any concerns or are uncomfortable about a trip you’ve booked, let us know. Qtrip customers can reach out to us at hello@Qtrip.com or call us at 1-800-935-3359. We’re happy to review all available options with you.
What if I’m nervous about booking new airfare now for a trip later this year?
Some of the airlines are offering a “peace of mind” waiver for new tickets booked right now. Again, if you have questions about things, your best bet is to reach out to us. The situation is fluid, but our professional travel advisors can help you make the right decision for your situation.
What about the other countries where cases have been detected? What is my risk factor for going to any of those?
This is a big question. The virus has now spread outside China, and authorities have cautioned that we will likely see more widespread affected areas in the weeks and months ahead. Still, the overall risk to travelers is low unless you’re planning travel to a country where many cases have been reported.
Does a layover “count” as a visit to a country with a Level 2 or 3 advisory?
Yes, it does. For that reason, if you have a layover in a city in China, for instance, the CDC recommends not leaving the airport. You may still be subjected to additional screening when returning to the U.S. when your flight had a layover in one of these countries.
How can I minimize risk of infection in general while traveling?
Though some folks have invested in masks, medical professionals say this step is much more helpful to infected people who don’t want to spread the virus. The coronavirus is not airborne, but spread in droplets. If you’re healthy, a mask is only recommended if you’re actively caring for an infected person.
Instead, focus on basic hygiene. Wash your hands frequently to keep them clean using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Carry hand sanitizer that contains 60-95% alcohol if you’re unable to access soap and water. Avoid physical proximity to people that are sneezing or coughing, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
If you have to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, and then immediately dispose of the tissue and wash your hands.
What can I do to minimize risk of infection on my flight specifically?
There’s a lot of misinformation out there, particularly about the perception of “stale” airplane cabin air being able to spread the virus. Cabin air is actually quite clean. Virtually all international airplanes are outfitted with HEPA air filters (HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters. These are the same filters used in hospital operating rooms and quite adept at keeping the air safe. Cabin air is refreshed every two to three minutes.
What you can do to further minimize risk is wipe the tray table and armrests down at your seat. The airlines are also taking extra precautions right now, but cleaning the tray table and other exposed plastic surfaces at your seat are always a good idea.
Will I be able to enter the United States if I have been to China?
Yes. At the moment you will be routed to one of 11 U.S. airports equipped to deal with the outbreak (if you’re not already at one of these points of entry), and you will be given a set of screening questions and tested for fever and other symptoms. Based on your history and health, you might have additional restrictions placed on your movement.
What happens if someone gets sick on my flight?
If a confirmed case of Coronavirus is found on your flight when you return to the United States, you will be subjected to detainment and additional screening to make sure you are well and not going to be a risk to others.
Are cruise ships a bigger risk?
The CDC currently recommends elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions avoid cruise ships for the time being.
Should I avoid crowds?
Unless you’re traveling to one of the countries under the travel advisory, the CDC does not presently discourage going to crowded places as a rule.
What should I be prepared for if I decide to keep my business or vacation plans in place?
It is possible that normally busy attractions could be temporarily closed. Contingency plans are a must right now. If you have to travel to a Level 2 or 3 area for work, consider the possibility you might get “stuck” somewhere. Bring work with you in case you are marooned for a bit.
What if I have a fever or cough already and am planning to travel?
Please don’t travel internationally at this time. When you’re already ill, you raise the chance of getting detained and subjected to quarantine measures. Don’t travel unless you are well.
What’s going to happen with the Olympics in Japan? Will they be canceled?
It’s too early to tell. There have been rumblings that Japan may have to make some hard decisions about public attendance, but the Olympics are still months away, and at the moment there does not seem to be plans to restrict travel or cancel the Games altogether. There are many international travelers waiting for direction on the Olympics – we’ll keep people updated as we get new information.
For more up-to-date information, reference the Centers for Disease Control’s travel page and sign up for their email updates. The World Health Organization also has a useful page with advice for the public.