Editor’s Note: This post will be regularly updated with the latest news and updates on the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on travel. Scroll down or click for previous updates and stay tuned for additional coverage.
- U.S. Virgin Islands Will Re-Open for Travel (Again…)
- Labor Day Weekend Travel Sets COVID-19 Record
- United Will Cut More than 16,000 Employees
- The Maldives Will Soon Require a Negative COVID-19 Test
- Dominican Republic Will Scrap Pre-Arrival Testing Requirements
- Talks of Travel Corridor Spark Hope for (Some) Travel to the U.K.
- American Airlines Will Cut 19,000 Employees
- Delta Will Furlough Nearly 2,000 Pilots
- Virgin Atlantic is Giving All Flyers Free COVID-19 Insurance
- Delta Bans Ex-Navy SEAL, Conservative Provocateur for Maskless Selfie
- U.S. Virgin Islands Shut Down Tourism Amid Increased COVID-19 Cases
U.S. Virgin Islands Will Re-Open for Travel (Again…)
Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 7:45 a.m.
A month after shutting down travel due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the U.S. Virgin Islands are gearing up to resume outside travel later this week – with far stricter testing requirements.
Since June, the U.S. territory had been one of the few realistic options for travelers from the mainland since resuming travel, along with a handful of other Caribbean nations. And it had less stringent testing requirements than many other nations – only visitors 15 and up from states with COVID-19 positivity rates of 10% or higher were required to present a negative test result, taken within no more than five days of arrival.
But the islands swiftly locked down for at least a month in mid-August as coronavirus cases increased. Now, the U.S. Virgin Islands tourism department says it’s ready to welcome travelers again starting Saturday, Sept. 19.
Starting this Saturday, any and all travelers entering the U.S. Virgin Islands must provide a negative COVID-19 test result received no more than five days before arrival.
The U.S. Virgin Islands aren’t the only Caribbean destination where travel restrictions are changing. And some aren’t going nearly as far as the Virgin Islands.
As of Tuesday, Sept. 15, the Dominican Republic no longer requires travelers to provide a negative COVID-19 test result – or get one on arrival. Instead, Dominican officials are performing rapid breath tests on just 3% to 10% of arriving travelers.
The Dominican government also says it will provide free travel insurance to all tourists staying at hotels, covering emergencies, telemedicine, and any additional expenses if a traveler is required to self-quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 case. That policy is expected to last through December 2020.
Read all our coverage of traveling and the coronavirus.
Labor Day Weekend Travel Sets COVID-19 Record
Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 9 a.m.
The TSA reported 968, 673 passengers Friday, September 4 leading up to the Labor Day holiday weekend. The last time passenger levels were higher was March 16, 2020, with 1,257,823 passengers passing through security checkpoints around the country before the numbers dropped drastically in just a few days to half that amount of travelers.
While it’s encouraging to see the number of travelers increase, numbers are still 50% lower than 2019 levels around 2,000,000 passengers a day on the same weekend. With travel restrictions in place in 21 states and most of the world closed to Americans travel is incredibly limited.
United Will Cut More than 16,000 Employees
Thursday, Sept. 3 at 7:45 a.m.
United will furlough more than 16,000 employees when federal funding runs dry come October, according to an internal memo, the latest massive job cut as airlines push Congress for another financial rescue package.
CNN reports that the memo calls furloughs “heart-wrenching,” but explained that the airline “cannot continue with staffing levels that significantly exceed the schedule we fly.” And United isn’t alone: American has warned of 19,000 employee furloughs, while Delta has told nearly 2,000 pilots that their jobs will disappear this fall.
Despite steady increases since the spring, air travel remains down by more than 70% due to COVID-19. United and fellow U.S. carriers have lost billions of dollars. Airlines simply need to get smaller to match the new reality: Fewer people are traveling, and that won’t return to normal anytime soon.
But airlines are hoping that the threat of massive job losses just before the Election will pressure Congress to extend the financial support included in the CARES Act in March.
“To be clear, an extension would be the one thing that would prevent involuntary furloughs on October 1 and hopefully delay any potential impact on employees until early 2021,” United’s memo said.
The Maldives Will Soon Require a Negative COVID-19 Test
Wednesday, Sept. 2 at 7:45 a.m.
After re-opening to tourists (including Americans) back in mid-July with no entry restrictions, The Maldives will soon require a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival.
God Save the Points broke the news that the island paradise would add a testing requirement to its travel free-for-all. Starting Sept. 10, all arriving travelers will need to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
The Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism confirmed the upcoming change on Wednesday.
For the safety of all, HPA Maldives has made it mandatory, with effect from 10th September, for all tourists and short term visitors to present a Negative PCR certificate on arrival in #Maldives #VisitMaldives
— Ministry of Tourism (@MoTmv) September 1, 2020
It’s one of the few countries currently allowing Americans to enter, period. And along with Turkey and Mexico, it has stood out for having no real requirements for entry.
That will change next week.
Dominican Republic Will Scrap Pre-Arrival Testing Requirements
Friday, Aug. 28 at 7:45 a.m.
While most countries implement stricter COVID-19 testing procedures for tourists, the Dominican Republic this fall plans to eliminate its requirement that travelers provide a negative test result taken within five days of arrival.
Instead, The Associated Press reports that the Dominican Republic will begin randomly testing arriving travelers with a rapid test. That change is due to take effect sometime in late September.
Dominican officials also say they will provide free travel insurance to all tourists staying at hotels, covering emergencies, telemedicine, and any additional expenses if a traveler is required to self-quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 case. That policy is expected to last through December 2020.
It’s part of a new tourism roadmap meant to boost the hobbled industry on the island while still protecting against the spread of COVID-19.
“We are confident that together we will overcome the challenges of the pandemic and ensure that the Dominican Republic remains the number one destination in the region for international travelers, who visit either for vacation, business, investment opportunities or returning to their preferred second home,” tourism minister David Collado said.
The timing is somewhat odd, as the Dominican has struggled with an outbreak in COVID-19 cases throughout much of the summer. With nearly 10,000 new cases in the last two weeks, it’s among the worst in the Caribbean.
Across the globe, countries have implemented major tourism restrictions due to COVID-19. While many countries have shut out Americans completely, the Caribbean is a rare bright spot for travel in the near future.
Talks of Travel Corridor Spark Hope for (Some) Travel to the U.K
Thursday, Aug. 27 at 10:45 a.m.
Officials from the U.S. and the U.K. are discussing a potential “air bridge” between London and New York City that would allow travelers to avoid the U.K.’s 14-day quarantine requirement, The Telegraph reports.
Nearly all international travel between the U.S. and Europe has been shut down since mid-March, when President Donald Trump implemented a travel ban on most foreign arrivals. The U.K. followed up this spring with a 14-day quarantine requirement for visitors from countries struggling with coronavirus, including the U.S.
But airlines and government leaders worldwide are looking for ways to safely resume international travel – especially between critical business hubs. And there’s no more important corridor for businesses than travel between New York City and London, two of the world’s top financial centers.
Citing anonymous sources, The Telegraph reports that top leaders from the two countries are examining a so-called air bridge between the two cities. And U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed officials were considering how to set up travel corridors that would allow travelers from low-risk areas within countries that are struggling with COVID-19 infection rates to avoid quarantine requirements.
New York City certainly fits the bill. After a terrible outbreak this spring and strict lockdowns, the city’s infection rate has dropped below even the U.K.’s. Meanwhile, the overall infection rate across the U.S. remains much higher, keeping travel from the U.S. to the U.K. – and the rest of Europe – on pause.
But some major changes would be necessary for this to become a reality. Experts say COVID-19 testing would need to be expanded, especially in the U.K. And while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently lifted a 14-day quarantine recommendation for travelers returning from areas with high transmission rates, the U.S. ban on foreign travelers entering the U.S. from the U.K., Ireland, and European Union remains in place.
American Airlines Will Cut 19,000 Employees
Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 7:30 a.m.
American Airlines has told 19,000 employees they’ll be furloughed or laid off come October, the latest massive job cut as airlines crank up pressure on Congress to provide another bailout.
American CEO Doug Parker made the motive behind the job cut announcements clear: Congress could save those jobs by extending the financial help for airlines passed this spring before it expires Sept. 30. Airlines and their unions have spent weeks pushing for another $25 billion in payroll grants to keep flight attendants, pilots, and other employees on staff.
“The one possibility of avoiding these involuntary reductions on Oct. 1 is a clean extension of the (financial aid),” Parker wrote in a letter to employees obtained by Twitter user @xJonNYC. Any prospect of extending the bailout for airlines is tied up in the ongoing debate over a broader coronavirus stimulus package, including extended unemployment benefits and other measures.
Still, the numbers behind American’s looming job cuts are staggering. More than 8,000 flight attendants will be furloughed, along with 1,600 pilots. Combined with employees who have taken early retirement or buyouts, American expects it’s employee count to shrink by 40,000.
And American isn’t the only carrier making painful cuts to downsize due to coronavirus. Delta this week informed nearly 2,000 pilots they would be furloughed. United Airlines has warned 36,000 employees that their jobs may be on the chopping block.
Delta Will Furlough Nearly 2,000 Pilots
Monday, Aug. 24 at 5 p.m.
Delta Air Lines informed pilots on Monday that the carrier may be forced to furlough 1,941 pilots as airlines across the globe are forced to shrink their way to survival.
Like many other airlines, Delta offered early retirement packages to pilots and flight attendants alike to avoid mass layoffs as executives try to rightsize the airline with lower travel demand. And although more than 1,800 pilots agreed to buyouts, Delta simply needs to get smaller. The airline currently has more than 11,000 pilots on its roster.
In a memo to pilots on Monday afternoon, Delta’s Senior Vice President of Flight Operations John Laughter said the furloughs are inevitable. Pilots will get notices in the next week, and furloughs would take effect come October when the current federal funding for airlines lapses. Pilots hired on or after July 17, 2017 are on the chopping block.
“The voluntary measures currently on the table just don’t move the needle enough,” Laughter said. “It’s vitally
important for Delta’s recovery that we reduce our size considering the prolonged and uncertain road ahead.”
That may change if Congress decides to extend its $50 billion package of payroll grants and loans to airlines another six months. Laughter said the airline is also working with the pilots union on last-ditch measures to reduce furloughs.
The job cuts are an unavoidable consequence of the downturn in travel amid the coronavirus pandemic. Airline industry experts don’t expect air travel to return to 2019 levels until at least 2024.
The situation is even worse at other U.S. carriers. United Airlines has warned nearly 4,000 pilots that furloughs may be coming. Meanwhile, Southwest has told employees it should be able to avoid job cuts until at least 2021.
Virgin Atlantic is Giving All Flyers Free COVID-19 Insurance
Monday, Aug. 24 at 8 a.m.
Worried about contracting COVID-19 on your travels? Virgin Atlantic thinks it has the solution: Free COVID-19 insurance for all its flyers.
The U.K.-based airline announced its new policy on Monday, automatically giving that coverage to all flyers with travel on Virgin Atlantic from Aug. 24 through March 31, 2021. It applies to both new and existing bookings.
The policy will cover up to £500,000 ($655,000 USD) in emergency medical and other expenses per customer for anyone on a Virgin Atlantic reservation who becomes ill with COVID-19 while traveling. It also covers up to £3,000 ($3,900 USD) of expenses for travelers who are denied boarding or required to quarantine due to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.
Tickets booked with cash as well as award flights on Virgin Atlantic booked using miles will qualify.
“Our priority is always the health and safety of our people and customers and this industry-leading Virgin Atlantic COVID-19 Cover ensures customers can continue to fly safe and fly well with us,” said Juha Jarvinen, Virgin’s chief commercial officer.
Delta Bans Ex-Navy SEAL, Conservative Provocateur for Maskless Selfie
Thursday, Aug. 20 at 5 p.m.
Delta has banned an ex-Navy SEAL turned conservative pundit who posted a selfie this week onboard a Delta flight without a mask, bragging “I’m not a p—y.”
Robert O’Neill is a former SEAL Team Six member credited with killing Osama bin Laden in 2011. More recently, he’s put himself on the map as a combative conservative personality on Twitter.
He lit up the internet once again on Wednesday with the selfie, which clearly shows O’Neill without a mask in a Delta First Class seat. A Delta Flight attendant is directly behind him, as is a fellow passenger with a mask on wearing a U.S. Marine Corps hat.
Airlines have ratcheted up their mask policies over the last few months as federal regulators have refused to step in to make masks mandatory while flying. And like all major U.S. major airlines, Delta now requires passengers to wear masks – and its CEO has said the carrier has banned more than 130 offenders.
O’Neill criticized Delta for the ban, tweeting: “Thank God it wasn’t Delta flying us in when we killed bin Laden… we weren’t wearing masks…” He also insisted he had his mask in his lap – and only took it off for a photo.
Travelers flouting airline rules for the sake of a photo op are the last thing flight attendants should have to worry about.
U.S. Virgin Islands Shut Down Tourism Amid Increased COVID-19 Cases
Monday, Aug. 17 at 8 a.m.
After months of welcoming tourists from across the globe, the U.S. Virgin Islands is shutting down its borders to travel once again following a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The U.S. territory had been one of the few realistic options for travelers from the mainland since resuming travel this summer, along with other Caribbean nations. And it had less stringent testing requirements than many other nations – only visitors 15 and up from states with COVID-19 positivity rates of 10% or higher were required to present a negative test result, taken within no more than five days of arrival.
Now, the islands are swiftly locking down again as cases have increased. Starting Wednesday, Aug. 19, hotels, rental properties, and Airbnbs are not permitted to take new reservations for at least 30 days. Non-essential businesses have been ordered to shut down as a new stay-at-home order takes effect. Restaurants can only offer takeout options.
The travel shutdown is expected to last at least a month.
“We appreciate the concerns of our tourism partners and stakeholders, however, with the recent spike in cases we are seeing, especially in the St. Thomas-St. John district, we must reset, take stock, safeguard human life, and prepare for restarting our tourism economy at a later date,” the U.S.V.I’s Commissioner of Tourism Joseph Boschulte said, according to a release from the department of tourism.
The U.S. Virgin Islands aren’t the first Caribbean destination to backtrack after opening up to tourists. Last month, The Bahamas reversed its decision to allow U.S. tourists after an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Most U.S. Airlines Now Ban One Specific Kind of Mask
Friday, Aug. 14 at 7:45 a.m.
Most of the major U.S. airlines now ban face masks with an exhaust valve on board after American Airlines became the latest carrier to impose that restriction.
Airlines have continually ratcheted up their face mask policies as travel resumes throughout the coronavirus pandemic. While federal regulators have sat on the sidelines, most U.S. airlines have required face coverings in-flight since at least May – and many say they will ban anyone who refuses to wear one.
In the last month, airlines have also cracked down on travelers claiming medical exemptions from wearing a mask, either requiring a consultation with a physician before the flight or simply turning away anyone who claims they can’t wear a mask, period.
Now, airlines have taken aim at face masks with valves. While these masks may make it easier to breathe, public health officials warn exhaust valves make face coverings less effective in the fight against spreading coronavirus.
Delta was the first major U.S. airline to crack down on face masks with valves late last month. American’s announcement this week that it will ban masks with valves starting Wednesday, Aug. 19 rounds out nearly every major U.S. carrier saying those masks won’t fly.
Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United have all explicitly banned face masks with valves.
American will also ban masks made of lace or mesh.