The New Travel of 2022
Several governments and entities will continue to keep or reintroduce travel restrictions amid the rise of new variants. The global health crisis is far from over. Total cases in the US have now reached 65,449,875. So, rather than outright border closures, vaccinations and testing requirements will likely be the standard in many areas. Since Christmas 2021, there were over 21,000 flight cancellations in the US. Staffing shortages continue to impede airline operations as the Omicron strain of COVID-19 infects some employees and leaves others afraid to go to work. How the airline industry handles this sharp uptick in new cases, just when confidence among travelers was starting to peak will take massive innovation. One thing for sure is that face masks requirements will remain prevalent in most areas throughout the year.
U.S. airline crews, pilots and support staff are understandably reluctant to work extended hours during the holiday travel season despite offers of rather hefty financial incentives. Omicron's speed of spread leading to staff shortages and shortened COVID-19 test timeframes makes it a major concern, said Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at travel trends firm ForwardKeys. ForwardKeys data shows international flight bookings are running at 38% of 2019 levels, well below an October peak of 58%, though up from an early December low.
Over 3,090 flights were canceled globally on New Year's Eve including nearly 1,550 flights within the United States or entering or departing it, according to a running tally on flight-tracking website FlightAware.com. There were over 8,650 global flight delays in total. Coupled with the fact that the nation's top weather experts are predicting severe cold weather and snow this winter, this may lead to further cancellations due to inclement weather. The future of air travel is for sure going to be quite challenging.
How safe is air travel, despite the cancellations? Although passenger confidence is far above what it was during the initial 2020 pandemic and reopening of borders in 2021, a serious threat still remains that could drastically worsen. How will this fare in terms of health concerns and profits?
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. Individuals who travel may be at risk for exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, before, during, or after travel. This could result in travelers’ spreading the virus to others at their destinations or upon returning home. Most people will have mild symptoms and get better on their own. But about 1 in 6 will have severe problems, such as trouble breathing. The odds of more serious symptoms are higher if you're older or have another health condition like diabetes or heart disease.
When traveling, there are several very important things that you must take into consideration. Have you been vaccinated against COVID-19? When possible, get vaccinated. If the vaccine requires two doses, wait 2 weeks after getting your second vaccine dose to travel. If the vaccine requires one dose, wait 2 weeks after getting the vaccine to travel. It takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination. Once you're fully vaccinated, you're less likely to spread COVID-19, and you can travel more safely within the U.S. and internationally. However, you may have a higher risk of getting COVID-19 if you travel internationally as vaccination rates vary depending on destination.
Are you at increased risk for severe illness? Personnel such as medical professionals and first responders are at risk for a higher exposure to COVID and its variants. Anyone can get COVID-19, but older adults and people of any age with certain medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Do you live with someone who's at increased risk for severe illness? If you get infected while traveling, you can spread the virus to the people you live with when you return, even if you don't have symptoms.
For those who have been fully vaccinated, the CDC states that you do not need to get tested before or after your trip within the U.S. or quarantine after you return.
If you are planning to travel internationally outside the U.S., the CDC states you don't need to get tested before your trip unless it's required at your destination. Before arriving to the U.S., you need a negative test within the last day before your arrival or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the last three months. After you arrive in the U.S., the CDC recommends getting tested with a viral test three to five days after your trip. If you’re traveling to the U.S. and you aren’t a citizen, you need to be fully vaccinated.
You don't need to quarantine when you arrive in the U.S. but check for any symptoms and stay at home if you develop symptoms. Plan to get tested three to five days after your trip. You don't need to quarantine when you return home. But check for any symptoms and stay at home if you develop symptoms.
For unvaccinated people, testing before and after travel can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. If you haven't been vaccinated, the CDC recommends getting tested with a viral test one to three days before your trip. Delay travel if you're waiting for test results. Keep a copy of your results with you when you travel. Repeat the test three to five days after your trip. Even if you test negative, reduce nonessential activities for seven days. If you don't get tested, reduce nonessential activities for 10 days. If at any point you test positive, stay home. Immediately isolate yourself if you develop symptoms and follow public health recommendations.
In the U.S., you must wear a face mask on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation, even if you are fully vaccinated. The mask must fit snugly and cover both your mouth and nose. If you’re fully vaccinated and you’re in an area with a high number of new COVID-19 cases in the last week, wear a mask indoors and outdoors in crowded areas or when you’re in close contact with unvaccinated people.
If you haven’t had the COVID-19 vaccine or if you have a condition that weakens your immune system, follow these steps to protect yourself and others when you travel:
Maintain a distance of 6 feet (2 meters) between you and others as much as possible.
Avoid contact with anyone who is sick. Limit contact with frequently touched surfaces, such as handrails, elevator buttons and kiosks. If you must touch these surfaces, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands afterward.
Wear a face mask in indoor public spaces. If you are in an area with a high number of new COVID-19 cases, wear a mask outdoors in crowded areas or when you are in close contact with others who aren’t fully vaccinated, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Cover coughs and sneezes, Clean your hands often. It's especially important after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub your hands together until they feel dry. Refrain from eating or drinking on public transportation. That way you can keep your mask on the whole time.
Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses don't spread easily on flights. However, crowded flights make social distancing difficult. Plus, air travel involves spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has increased cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and equipment, including bins, at screening checkpoints.
TSA has also made changes to the screening process: Travelers must wear masks during screening. However, TSA employees may ask travelers to adjust masks for identification purposes. Instead of handing boarding passes to TSA officers, travelers should place passes (paper or electronic) directly on the scanner and then hold them up for inspection. Each traveler may have one container of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces (about 350 milliliters) in a carry-on bag. These containers will need to be taken out for screening. Personal items such as keys, wallets and phones should be placed in carry-on bags instead of bins. This reduces the handling of these items during screening. Food items should be transported in a plastic bag and placed in a box for screening. Separating food from carry-on bags lessens the likelihood that screeners will need to open bags for inspection. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds directly before and after going through screening.