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Coronavirus Travel: 10 Steps to Follow Before Rethinking Your Plans

Reposted from
by MEGAN SPURRELL February 26, 2020  

Photo copyright Getty Images

As the world watches the Covid-19 coronavirus evolve into what may soon become a pandemic, many travelers have been left wondering what this means for trips they have booked. Whether you're heading to China, Italy, or nowhere near current outbreaks, here's everything you should think through before altering or cancelling your travels plans.

1. Check U.S. government websites and set alerts

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is tracking current outbreaks and updating their travel advisories when they believe travelers should cancel trips, reconsider travel, or exercise increased caution in certain destinations due to the virus. Look up the travel advisory for any country you have plans to visit. Currently, only a handful of countries' travel advisories reference the coronavirus, and the DOS is only suggesting that travelers reconsider travel to two places: China, which is a level four ("do not travel"), and Mongolia, which is level three ("reconsider travel"). Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Italy, and other countries with outbreaks remain at a level two ("exercise increased caution"). These DOS travel advisories may change quickly, so check back as your trip nears. You can also enroll in the government's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which will send you updates if the situation in your destination changes.

On the Center for Disease Control Control and Prevention's (CDC) website, there is an entire resource center dedicated to travelers. The CDC issues their own destination warnings, which currently have China and South Korea at warning level three ("avoid all nonessential travel"), and Italy, Iran, and Japan at alert level two ("older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing travel"). Hong Kong sits at watch level 1 ("CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel"). It's important to note that the DOS travel advisories weigh a multitude of factors in assigning warning levels, whereas the CDC designations solely refer to disease-related concerns.

2. Visit the government websites of countries you plan to visit

If you are visiting any country that has had an outbreak (or in some cases, neighboring countries), the biggest risk is not always that you will be exposed to the virus, but that you could face travel delays, inspections, and potential quarantine when returning home or entering a second destination. In one example, the U.K. announced yesterday that travelers who have visited anywhere north of the city of Pisa in Italy will need to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Make sure you are aware of these policies for anywhere you plan to visit, while also keeping in mind that outbreaks—and thus, related policies—are evolving rapidly.

3. Reach out to your airline

To get a grasp on interruptions to service and the hard costs involved with changing or canceling a flight, you'll need to reach out to your airline. Currently, U.S.-based airlines have canceled flights to China, and Delta and Hawaiian Airlines have reduced service to Korea, while service continues as usual to all other countries with outbreaks. Multiple U.S. airlines have waived change fees for travelers with upcoming travel to cities in China and South Korea. On Wednesday, Delta announced it would waive change fees for flights to Italy as well. This means you can cancel or postpone your trip without any additional fees, based on the destination and airline.

For travel elsewhere, you'll likely be on the hook for any costs relating to changing your flight—unless you're covered by your travel insurance (more on that below). Visit your airline's website to see their current policy regarding rebooking or canceling your trip due to the coronavirus, or reach out to their customer service directly. If you have stopovers or layovers on the way to your destination, you should also visit the website of any airports you'll be passing through to understand mandatory screenings or checkpoints that may cause delays.

4. E-mail your hotel

If you have a reservation in a destination with an outbreak, especially in areas that are currently on lockdown, you may be offered a full refund or offer to rebook if you cancel or postpone your trip. If you are traveling elsewhere, policies vary and will most likely follow the property's standard cancellation policy. If you are traveling to multiple destinations on a trip, let each hotel know which other destinations you will be visiting to ensure you won't be subject to quarantine policies upon arrival (which would be in line with the local government's policy). In addition to understanding the financial obligations of changing your trip, your hotel or Airbnb can also provide useful insight into what the situation is like on the ground.

5. Talk to your travel agent

If you booked with a travel agent, or booked any day tours or experiences, reach out to those providers as well. They may have their own insurance policies for canceling. In some cases, even if your hotel or airline isn't offering the option to reschedule your trip at no cost, the agent who booked your trip may have their own offers enabling you to do so. Even if you're not considering canceling, make sure to ask about potential disruptions to your trip or tour that will impact your experience (and make sure you have an answer, in advance, regarding how you will be refunded or compensated if that happens).

6. Contact your cruise line

After a coronavirus outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and reports of a second ship being rejected from international ports, some cruise lines are allowing guests to rebook or postpone upcoming cruises due to concerns over infection or interruption to their trip. If you have a cruise booked, reach out to the cruise line directly for details on their policy. Because many cruise lines are prepared for a range of scenarios, they'll likely have a plan in place.

7. Check your travel insurance policy

Ultimately, much of the above may fall under your travel insurance—depending on the type of insurance you purchased, if any. While most policies don't cover the reasons you might cancel because of the coronavirus (like new travel advisories for your destination, city lockdowns, or simply not wanting to go), policies with a "cancel for any reason" provision will have your back. Read the fine print of the policy you bought, and contact your provider for clarification. If you didn't purchase travel insurance, know that your trip may be protected through your credit card. Some cards include travel insurance as a perk, though the coverage wildly varies. Visit your credit card provider's website or contact them directly for more information.

8. Consider when your trip is planned

If you're departing on a trip within the next couple of weeks, follow the above steps to understand what your options are as soon as possible. If your next trip is three months from now? Do your research and track the situation, but consider taking a beat before overhauling your plans. The situation has been changing overnight, making it impossible to know which parts of the world will be impacted several months from now.

9. Make a decision that makes sense for you

There's no one-size-fits-all answer as to whether or not you should cancel your trip. Consider all of the above, and weigh those hard costs and potential inconveniences against your personal risk, based on your health history and destination. The CDC warns that the risk of contracting the virus may be higher for older and at-risk travelers, though other doctors have noted that ultimately the virus can impact individuals of all ages and health statuses. Contact your primary care doctor to talk through concerns.

If you are experiencing symptoms of the virus, like a fever or cough, even if it's the result of a regular flu or other illness, consider that you may be flagged at checkpoints or asked to quarantine depending on where you are headed, which could have a notable impact on your trip.

That being said, it's important to note that many health professionals have warned that the Covid-19 coronavirus will likely spread within the U.S. “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a news briefing. It can be hard to know where the next outbreak will crop up, and ultimately unpredictability is a fact at home and abroad. Panicking, of course, is the only thing that won't do you any good.

10. Follow general health precautions at home and abroad

Whether you decide to stay home or hit the road, make sure to wash your hands frequently, disinfect regularly touched objects, and take the steps you normally might to prevent the flu. And while you should avoid being in close quarters with sick individuals, it's also important to identify and reject stigmas surrounding the virus. The CDC has a wealth of information like this on their site.

You can find more information on how specific destinations have been impacted by the coronavirus in our comprehensive coronavirus travel explainer.

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