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.
- Will International Travel Require Proof of Vaccination?
- CDC Urges Americans Not to Travel for Thanksgiving
- Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) Airport Opens its COVID-19 Testing Site
- Pfizer Sparks Hope for an Effective COVID-19 Vaccine
- Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) Wants to Set Up Airport COVID-19 Tests
- Delta Has Lost More Than $11 Billion So Far in 2020
- Japan Aims to Restart Tourism By Spring 2021
- More than 30K Airline Employees Lost Their Jobs Today
- U.S. Virgin Islands Will Re-Open for Travel (Again…)
Will International Travel Require Proof of Vaccination?
Wednesday, Nov. 25 at 7:45 p.m.
As several promising COVID-19 vaccines emerge, airlines and industry groups across the globe are planning for how they can keep passengers and their home countries safe. And many are preparing to require proof of vaccination to fly.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the world’s largest airline trade group, said this week it’s working on a digital health pass app with British Airways that will store travelers’ test results – and eventually, vaccine records. Called the IATA Travel Pass, The Week reports the app is slated to launch sometime early next year.
“Our main priority is to get people traveling again safely. In the immediate term that means giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements. And that will eventually develop into a vaccine program,” Nick Careen, IATA’s vice president of airport, passenger, cargo, and security said in a statement. “The IATA Travel Pass is a solution for both.”
Meanwhile, Australia’s flag carrier says it plans to make vaccination a must to get onboard. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce backed the idea of a vaccination passport when Qantas resumes international flights sometime in 2021 – something airline executives in Korea and New Zealand have also echoed.
“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travelers, that we will ask people to have the vaccination before they get on the aircraft,” Joyce said.
Several countries around the globe have reopened international travel, and many have implemented COVID-19 testing requirements for entry. But international travel remains at a small fraction of its pre-coronavirus levels as travel bans, restrictions, and few flights have made flying abroad a challenge.
Airline industry leaders have long said that a vaccine was the key to resuming international travel. Yet requiring proof of vaccination for international travel could open up a slew of health privacy concerns for consumers and airlines.
Read all our coverage of traveling and the coronavirus.
CDC Urges Americans Not to Travel for Thanksgiving
Thursday, Nov. 19 at 12:15 p.m.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued official guidance Thursday encouraging Americans to avoid traveling for Thanksgiving as the country grapples with a massive surge in COVID-19.
“Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the CDC said in a statement. “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
It’s the starkest warning yet after elected officials and public health leaders across the country have repeatedly warned against traveling or gathering with people outside their households for Thanksgiving next week as the pandemic enters its darkest phase.
COVID-19 cases are at their worst levels across much of the nation since the pandemic began. Hospitals and intensive care units are being stretched to capacity, and many states are setting daily death records.
Still, airports and airlines across the country are preparing for a busy travel week. Air travel remains down by nearly 60% compared to this time last year.
If you still plan to travel for the holiday, the CDC recommends checking travel restrictions beforehand as many states have levied quarantine or COVID-19 testing requirements. The CDC also recommends getting a flu shot, wearing a mask at all times, staying at least 6 feet away from strangers, and other safety measures.
It also urges Americans with travel plans to reconsider if they’re traveling to or from a destination with rising COVID-19 cases or strained health care systems; if they live with or will be visiting someone who may be at risk; or if their travel plans involve flying, getting on a train, or public transport where maintaining 6-plus feet of distance is difficult.
Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) Airport Opens its COVID-19 Testing Site
Thursday, Nov. 12 at 9:30 a.m.
Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) airport opened a COVID-19 testing site Thursday, becoming the lastest major airport in the country with an onsite COVID testing option.
Airport officials first raised the prospect of setting up a testing site just weeks ago but couldn’t provide a timeline to set up shop as they searched for a testing partner. On Thursday, the airport announced it had opened a testing site offering free saliva PCR tests to Minnesota residents – including travelers and anyone else in the community.
The new airport testing site is located at Terminal 1 on Level 2 of the Blue Parking ramp, the former location of the car rental service counter. That’s located before airport security, which means you don’t need to be traveling in order to get tested at the airport. It’s one of several free community testing sites in Minnesota, providing results within 24-48 hours.
That timing may be tricky for travelers seeking a COVID-19 test before departing for a trip. Many destinations from the Caribbean to Croatia require a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival. With test results that take up to 48 hours, travelers taking a test before boarding a plane could risk being forced into a mandatory quarantine at their destination until their results arrive.
“It’s really going to be up to the traveler to make sure that the tests are going to satisfy whatever the requirements are where they’re traveling to,” airport spokesman Jeff Lea said.
Tests are free for Minnesota residents – though you’ll still be asked to provide health insurance information. Visitors and travelers connecting through Minneapolis who wish to take a test will be charged $94.
Like all community testing sites across Minnesota, you can walk-up for a test or schedule your test in advance. The Minneapolis airport testing schedule shows wide-open availability to schedule an appointment next week.
The airport testing site is run by Vault Health on behalf of the state, which is great news for Minnesotans looking to make their way to Hawaii. Vault Health is one of Hawaii’s few trusted partners for its testing requirements since restarting travel to the islands last month.
A Vault Health spokeswoman confirmed that one of these tests will satisfy Hawaii’s travel requirements so long as it’s taken no more than 72 hours before your final flight to Hawaii. If you don’t get your results in time, Hawaii requires you to quarantine until you can upload a negative result, at which point you can leave quarantine.
Pfizer Sparks Hope for an Effective COVID-19 Vaccine
Monday, Nov. 9 at 7:45 a.m.
U.S. drug maker Pfizer sparked hope for an effective COVID-19 on the horizon, saying early Monday that data from its ongoing clinical trials shows the vaccine is 90% effective.
The news of Pfizer’s vaccine made in tandem with Germany’s BioNTech provided a much-needed dose of hope for a vaccine for the virus that has killed more than 1.2 million across the globe, upended economies, and brought travel to a standstill. Nearly a dozen pharmaceutical companies have been working on a vaccine, but whether any shot would be effective enough to halt the outbreak has been an open question.
The New York Times reports that the 90% efficacy rate would put it on par with highly effective vaccines like for measles.
But the scientific community isn’t celebrating just yet. The data comes straight from a Pfizer press release, not the larger peer-reviewed medical studies that will have the final say on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. Pfizer’s vaccine involves two doses that have to be shipped at extremely cold temperatures, which will complicate shipping and widespread distribution.
The timeline for that distribution – and what that means for life returning to normal – remains unclear. Pfizer says it will seek emergency authorization for the shot later this month, and aims to manufacture 15 million to 20 million doses by the end of 2020.
Still, Pfizer’s news was welcomed after nearly a year of struggling to get the COVID-19 pandemic under wraps. Scientists welcomed the news of the potential for an extremely effective vaccine.
“This is really a spectacular number,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a Yale University immunologist, told the New York Times. “I wasn’t expecting it to be this high. I was preparing myself for something like 55 percent.”
Along with the rest of the stock market, U.S. airline stocks soared on the news. Most major U.S. carriers were up by at least 15% in early morning trading. JetBlue’s stock price had increased by nearly 25% by early Monday morning.
Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) Wants to Set Up Airport COVID-19 Tests
Monday, Oct. 19 at 3:45 p.m.
Officials at Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) say they’re working to set up a COVID-19 testing option inside the airport.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended travel, and airline executives and industry leaders say they don’t expect air travel to return to pre-COVID levels until 2023 or 2024. But in the meantime, COVID-19 testing has proven to be one of the few ways to resume any travel, period.
Most of the world still bans American travelers, a handful of destinations across the globe will allow U.S. tourists if they can provide a recent negative COVID-19 test, including Croatia and several Caribbean islands. Hawaii joined that list just last week, allowing travelers to bypass a 14-day quarantine with a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before their departing flight.
Several major U.S. airports and airlines have set up testing procedures already. Brian Ryks, the CEO of the Minneapolis airport’s governing board, said Monday that the airport is looking into how to host a testing center at MSP.
“We realize that we need to continue to be proactive in that area,” Ryks said.
Those discussions are very in their very early stages, and Ryks provided no details on a potential timeline for getting testing up-and-running at the airport. An airport spokesman said MSP would need to find a testing partner to make it happen.
Minneapolis is set to set to resume its first major international route since the pandemic struck when Delta restarts service to Amsterdam (AMS) next Sunday, Oct. 25. The Netherlands and much of the rest of the European Union still ban American travelers from entering, but the flights are expected to carry essential workers and flyers transiting elsewhere.
Delta Has Lost More Than $11 Billion So Far in 2020
Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 10 a.m.
Delta Air Lines reported its latest eye-popping financial loss on Tuesday, posting a $5.4 billion net loss during the typically busy summer travel months as the coronavirus pandemic continues hammering airlines.
Combined with Delta’s more than $6 billion in net losses in the first six months of the year, the latest losses add up to $11.6 billion in 2020 alone. It’s a bruising reversal for a carrier that entered the pandemic as among the most profitable airlines in the world. This time last year, Delta reported a $1.5 billion quarterly profit.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the airline industry to a screeching halt, forcing carriers to shrink into hibernation mode with job reductions, cost-cutting, and other money-saving measures. Other major U.S. carriers like American Airlines, United, Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska will report their latest quarterly earnings later this month.
“While our September quarter results demonstrate the magnitude of the pandemic on our business, we have been encouraged as more customers travel and we are seeing a path of progressive improvement in our revenues, financial results and daily cash burn,” CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement.
Delta is feeling the same effects of every other airline as travel demand disappeared this spring – and hasn’t come close to back to normal. The airline’s ticket sales and other passenger revenue has dropped by more than 83% in the last year.
And Delta’s losses were exacerbated by some measures that should help it in the long run: Restructuring its fleet to get rid of less fuel-efficient planes and offering more generous buyout and early retirement packages. Delta will retire 200 planes in 2020 alone. And more than 18,000 Delta employees took buyouts over the summer.
During a call with investors on Tuesday, Bastian said there’s no way for airlines to operate as normal until travel demand returns. And he and other airline officials don’t expect that for at least another two years.
“Until then, we will be smaller in the short-term, but also more agile and efficient,” Bastian said.
After a grueling spring and disappointing summer beset by outbreaks, Delta is seeing some signs of hope. Travel demand is up across the board. Some business travel – a lifeblood for airlines – has started to return. Travelers who grew accustomed to making last-minute travel decisions have begun booking flights farther in advance, airline President Glen Hauenstein said.
Still, more than 1,700 Delta pilots face furloughs next month unless if Congress passes an extension of the payroll grants that helped airlines stay afloat through the spring and summer. That funding lapsed Oct. 1.
Japan Aims to Restart Tourism By Spring 2021
Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 7:30 a.m.
With the Summer Olympics approaching in 2021, Japan is gearing up to welcome tourists as early as next April.
Like much of the rest of the world, Japan has shut out travelers since March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic spread. Japan currently bans visitors from more than 159 countries, including the U.S. And while countries across the globe have slowly reopened their borders, Japan has given little guidance on when travel may be allowed to resume.
But The Japan Times reports those plans are in the works. Citing confidential government sources, Japan is preparing to lift the travel ban and reopen to tourists in the spring of 2021.
Their tentative reopening plans would require all arriving travelers to provide certification of a recent negative COVID-19 test as well as proof of medical travel insurance in case of an infection. The government is also considering a smartphone app to track tourists’ health conditions for up to 14 days after their arrival. And the government may also set up dedicated public health centers to deal with tourists who experience COVID-19 symptoms after arrival.
Japan is aiming to have its plans ironed out by January 2021 in hopes of beginning to accept some tourists by April 2021 as a “trial run” ahead of the Olympics. The 2021 Summer Olympics are scheduled to run from July 23 through Aug. 8.
More than 30K Airline Employees Lost Their Jobs Today
Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7:45 a.m.
The start of October brought on massive layoffs in the airline industry, as United Airlines and American Airlines combined to furlough more than 32,000 workers as federal funding for the airlines expired.
A $25 billion package of payroll grants passed as a part of the CARES Act in March helped keep airlines afloat while travel demand dropped. Months later, travel demand is still nowhere near normal. So airlines began warning employees of job cuts and furloughs this summer unless Congress followed up with more help for airlines before it lapsed.
That funding expired Wednesday night as September ended. And despite support for granting airlines more financial support, Congress remains deadlocked over how to craft another stimulus package.
United cut 13,000 of its workers while American has officially furloughed 19,000 employees as of Thursday. The Associated Press reports that both airlines say they could reverse those job cuts if Congress passes another round of financial help in the coming days.
“Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that any of these efforts will come to fruition,” American Airlines CEO wrote in a letter to employees late Wednesday.
The toll of job losses could have been much worse. Delta was able to avoid cutting any flight attendants by offering early buyout packages, extended leaves, and transitioning some to temporary catering jobs. Southwest has vowed not to cut any jobs until at least 2021. And United reached a last-minute deal with its pilots’ union that prevents furloughs until at least next June.
Yet the final count still may climb. Delta put off its plans to furlough nearly 2,000 until at least November, citing the ongoing talks to pass another financial rescue package.
And already, tens of thousands of pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, and more have left airlines through buyouts and early retirement offers.
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.