COVID-19 delta variant raises new considerations for today’s travelers
Americans returned to travel in droves this summer. Recent AAA Travel bookings were up at least 11% over 2019 levels, and even more people are excitedly planning trips for 2022 and beyond.
Although AAA no longer conducts formal travel forecasts for Labor Day, the Auto Club Group expects travel volumes to remain high during the holiday weekend. However, with the resurgence of COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant, some travelers are wondering if they should take that last summer trip, or continue with their future travel plans. AAA reminds travelers it’s important to remain informed and be flexible as policies and guidelines continue to evolve.
“Whether and how to travel is a very personal decision. Most people who were planning to travel are still taking their trips, while being mindful to take precautions to protect themselves and others,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel with AAA – The Auto Club Group. “The hottest summer travel destinations have included Mexico, Hawaii and popular cities throughout the U.S., as well as cruises to Alaska, Greece and the Caribbean. My husband and I just returned from a wonderful trip to Iceland, which offers outstanding outdoor experiences and is easy to reach.”
Is it Safe to Travel in Light of the COVID-19 Delta Variant?
AAA Travel experts are helping people be informed, prepared and protected for travel. It’s important to take into consideration the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.
The CDC advises:
- 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 or for access to certain venues and experiences.
“AAA Travel Advisors help guide you through travel planning, including exploring travel insurance options to protect your health and wallet,” added Haas. “AAA’s travel partners are taking care to help keep guests safe, in some cases requiring vaccines, but also adding wellness guides on tour vacations, operating cruises at reduced capacities, and adding enhanced cleaning protocols throughout the travel experience.”
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. Travelers can speak with a knowledgeable AAA Travel Agent for details.
Mask Guidance for Travelers
The CDC recently updated its guidance on mask-wearing, advising people in areas with high COVID-19 transmission to wear masks 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. Travelers should ensure they bring the right type of face covering, as some international destinations may require medical masks. It is also a good practice to bring disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. For road trips, 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. Understand the impact COVID-19 has on cities and states you are traveling through and if there are any restrictions in place. To be informed, check out AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and TripTik.AAA.com.
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 help expedite your time through potentially crowded airports.
Recent AAA Travel hotel bookings have increased almost 50% over 2019 levels, and these travelers are being met with a different hotel experience. In fact, the pandemic has had a vast impact on consumers’ expectations for cleanliness during their stay. As a result, AAA has enhanced its 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 to help plan their trips 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 – for extra peace of mind. 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. There are many excellent options available for travel in 2021. Demand and pricing are on the rise for 2022 and inventory is likely to be limited in top destinations and itineraries, so now is a good time to plan and reserve your vacation,” said Haas.
As borders begin to reopen and countries adjust their travel restrictions, the CDC notes that international travel poses additional risks. If you are fully vaccinated, the CDC provides recommendations for traveling safely, including getting tested 3-5 days after traveling internationally. You do not need to be 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.