Americans returned to travel in droves this summer, with even more travelers planning trips for 2022 and beyond. As summer comes to a close, travel volumes around Labor Day are expected to remain high. With a resurgence of COVID-19 cases attributed to the delta variant, some travelers are wondering if they should 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. By and large, people who were planning to travel still are,” said Jennifer Kinnaman, Senior Manager of Travel Services. “They’re also being mindful to take precautions to protect themselves and others. The hottest summer travel destinations by far have been Mexico, Hawaii and popular cities throughout the U.S. We are also seeing cruises to Alaska, and trips to 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 the decision that is right for them. It’s important to take into consideration 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. They’ll help explore travel insurance options to protect your vacation investment,” added Kinnaman. “Travel suppliers are also going the extra mile to help keep guests safe. In some cases they require vaccines, and others are adding wellness guides on tour vacations. Cruise lines are operating at reduced capacities. And travel vendors are adding enhanced cleaning protocols throughout the travel landscape.”
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. Travel insurance policies have historically not covered epidemics or pandemics. However, 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 should refer to a knowledgeable AAA travel agent or their travel insurance provider 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 are required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States. This also applies to U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Additionally, some states and cities have updated their mask and other travel requirements.
“Masks should top your packing list, since guidelines and requirements will vary from place to place,” continued Kinnaman. “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. 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. Air circulates and passes through filtration on airplanes, mask requirements are in place throughout the air travel experience. AAA recommends travelers consider enrolling in TSA PreCheck, to help expedite your time through potentially crowded airports this summer.
Recent AAA Travel hotel bookings have increased almost 20% 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 receive the Inspected Clean designation and then a Diamond rating.
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 for extra peace of mind. It’s awarded to the top 25% of Diamond designated hotels for cleanliness. Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking.
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 will likely remain limited on top destinations and itineraries,” said Kinnaman.
As borders begin to reopen and countries start to loosen their travel restrictions, the CDC notes that international travel poses additional risks. Even if fully vaccinated, you should continue to follow the CDC’s recommendations for traveling safely. This means you should get a test 3-5 days after traveling internationally. You do not need to get tested before leaving the U.S. unless your destination requires it. Also, 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, we 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. Many also 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 must 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.