Coronavirus (And How It May Impact Upcoming Travel)

My two worlds collide: Healthcare and travel. With the recent travel restrictions and warnings, I think it’s time to address the elephant in the room.

COVID-19 has already impacted the travel industry on a worldwide scale. This is a rapidly evolving situation, but I’m going to post daily coronavirus developments and updates (mostly related to travel). You can find the daily updates page here. Also, I’ll keep the travel information in this post up to date.

With this particular Coronavirus being a new virus, there are a lot of unknowns. I’ll cover some of the basics, but I’ll leave most of the medical talk to the experts.

I suggest taking medical advice from sources such as the CDC and your doctor rather than facebook and other social media. The CDC has set up a website with lots of information here.

How COVID-19 Spreads

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person.

  • Close contact (within 6 feet)
  • Respiratory droplets (from an infected person coughing or sneezing)

It’s also possible that the virus can live on a surface and infect someone who touches the surface and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes.

Although it is thought that the virus is most contagious when a person is symptomatic, it is possible that the virus can spread even if the person is asymptomatic.

Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face!

How severe is this illness?

Not enough is known yet to get a full clinical picture.

Cases have ranged from mild to severe, and some severe cases have resulted in death.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of an individual infected with the Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 are thought to appear 2-14 days after exposure. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Unfortunately, these symptoms are similar to that of the flu and the common cold, which makes it more difficult to determine whether or not one may be infected with the Coronavirus causing COVID-19.

Testing is limited at this time, and until last week, the CDC was not even testing individuals without travel history or contact with an infected person.

Now that we know community spread has already happened in the US, we should expect a lot more cases.

For the love of God: masks are not for healthy individuals

CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it. A facemask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms. This is to protect others from the risk of getting infected. The use of facemasks also is crucial for health workers and other people who are taking care of someone infected with COVID-19 in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).” (Source)

Surgical masks aren’t going to protect you. The masks that will protect you (n95) must be properly fitted to be effective. If worn properly, these get extremely uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Trust me, I worked in the ICU.

What does all of this mean if I have travel plans?

Since this is a rapidly evolving situation, it’s impossible to tell.

You can find a list of travel alerts related to Coronavirus on the CDC’s website, and I’ll also try to update this information regularly.

Most US airlines now have a dedicated coronavirus page that is updated regularly where you can find information about travel alerts and change/cancellation fee waivers. I’ll try to point out any notable changes in my daily updates.

If you travel to a restricted area, you may be subject to quarantine

I can only imagine the stress and anxiety and uncertainty of those under quarantine, but I do understand why it’s necessary. The first thing we learned about public health in nursing school is that the focus during a crisis/emergency is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Fun fact: Prior to this year, the last time a federal quarantine happened was in the 1960s. That shows just how rare this is.

Travel alerts for US citizens

The CDC and the US Department of State are two different entities and each can issue travel alerts. The travel alerts issued by the CDC are going to be health specific whereas the Department of State may have alerts for other reasons (terrorism, violence, etc).

CDC Travel Alert Levels:

Watch Level 1: CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to destinations with level 1 travel notices because the risk of COVID-19 is thought to be low. If you travel, take these routine precautions:

  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol.

Alert Level 2: Because COVID-19 can be more serious in older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, people in these groups should talk to a healthcare provider and consider postponing travel to destinations with level 2 travel notices.

Warning Level 3: CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to destinations with level 3 travel notices because of the risk of getting COVID-19.

Department of State Travel Alert Levels
  1. Exercise normal precautions
  2. Exercise increased caution
  3. Reconsider travel
  4. Do not travel

Countries/areas with restrictions for US citizens (as of March 6, 2020)

Note that layovers are included in CDC recommendations to avoid nonessential travel.

Asia

Mainland China

  • CDC: Level 3 (avoid nonessential travel)
  • Department of State: Level 4 (do not travel)

Hong Kong

  • CDC: Level 1 (normal precautions)
  • Department of State: Level 2 (exercise increased caution)

Macau

  • CDC: no alert at this time
  • Department of State: Level 2 (exercise increased caution)

Taiwan

  • CDC: no alert at this time
  • Department of State: Level 1 (exercise normal precautions)

Japan

  • CDC: Level 2 (enhanced precautions)
  • Department of State: Level 2 (exercise increased caution)

South Korea

  • CDC: Level 3 (avoid nonessential travel)
  • Department of State: Level 3 and 4
    • Daegu is level 4 (do not travel)
    • The rest of South Korea is level 3 at this time (reconsider travel)

Europe

Italy

  • CDC: Level 3 (avoid nonessential travel)
  • Department of State: Level 3 and 4
    • Northern Italy (Lombardy and Veneto regions) are level 4 (do not travel)
    • The rest of Italy is level 3 at this time (reconsider travel)

Middle East

Iran

  • CDC: Level 3 (avoid nonessential travel)
  • Department of State: Level 4 (do not travel)

Airline information for travel to and from affected areas

American Airlines

Suspended flights

American Airlines has suspended flights to and from China:

  • Flights between DFW/LAX and the mainland China are suspended through April 24.
  • Flights between DFW and Hong Kong (HKG) are suspended through April 23.
  • Flights between LAX and HKG are suspended through April 24.

American Airlines has suspended flights to and from Milan, Italy until April 25, 2020.

American Airlines broadens change fee waivers for newly purchased tickets

American has extended the offer to waive change fees for customers who purchase travel through March 31 (previously it was through the 16th). They’ve also removed the 14 day stipulation. Previously, it stated you must cancel 14 days prior to departure. Under the new terms, you just have to rebook prior to departure.

  • Any ticket purchased from March 5 to March 31, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. CT will not incur change fees prior to travel.
  • This is available for any of American’s nonrefundable published fares.

(See terms and conditions here)

Change/cancellation fee waivers for travel booked prior to March 1

If you were scheduled to fly any suspended routes, American Airlines will waive change fees to rebook. If you choose not to rebook, AA will issue a refund.

Even if your itinerary does not include suspended routes, you may be eligible for change fee and/or cancellation waivers.

For more details, see AA’s website.

Delta

Suspended flights

Delta has suspended flights to and from Shanghai and Beijing until April 30. Delta service between JFK and Milan have also been suspended until April 30. Seasonal service between JFK and Venice will begin May 1 instead of the previously scheduled date of April 1.

Delta has also reduced service between the US and Seoul, South Korea.

If your flight is cancelled because Delta has suspended the route, you can rebook with no change fees. You can also cancel and receive a credit towards a future flight if you choose not to rebook, but it is unclear if Delta will issue a refund if you choose not to rebook.

Delta is waiving change fees on new international bookings made between March 1 and March 31

International travel booked between March 1 and March 31 scheduled to depart prior to February 25, 2021 may be changed without fees (and without fare differences if applicable). New travel must begin prior to February 28, 2021.

Change/cancellation fee waivers for travel booked prior to March 1

Tickets to Shanghai (PEK/PKX), Beijing (PVG), and Incheon (ICN) issued before May 31, 2020 for travel January 24-April 30 are eligible to be rebooked with no change fees or fare differences for a new travel date beginning no later than May 31, 2020. If travel begins after May 31, you are subject to paying a fare difference if applicable.

All flights to and from Italy issued before May 31, 2020 for travel dates Feb 25-April 30, 2020 are eligible for rebooking with no fees if travel begins prior to May 31, 2020. If travel is rebooked to begin after May 31, you will have to pay a fare difference if applicable.

You can also choose to cancel your trip for a credit towards a future flight. This is valid for one year.

You can find more info here.

United

Suspended flights

United has suspended fights between the US and Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong, and Shanghai through April 30. United also isn’t allowing award tickets to be booked to China on partner airlines through April 30.

United has also suspended some service to Tokyo Narita, Osaka, Singapore, and Seoul.

United is waiving change fees on new bookings made between March 3 and March 31

This applies to all itineraries and the change can be made up to 12 months after the purchase. If the new flight is priced higher, the customer must pay the fare difference.

Change/cancellation fee waivers for travel booked prior to March 3
If you have a flight booked on United between the US and these airports, check United for your change/cancel options. United is offering full refunds in some scenarios, even on nonrefundable tickets.
  • Bologna, IT (BLQ)
  • Genoa, IT (GOA)
  • Milan, IT (BGY)
  • Milan, IT (LIN)
  • Milan, IT (MXP)
  • Trieste, IT (TRS)
  • Turin, IT (TRN)
  • Venice, IT (VCE)
  • Verona, IT (VRN)
  • Seoul-Incheon, KR (ICN)
  • Hong Kong (HKG)​
  • Beijing (PEK)
  • Chengdu (CTU)
  • Shanghai (PVG)
  • Wuhan (WUH)

For more info, see United’s website.

Alaska Airlines

If you purchased a ticket directly from Alaska Airlines between February 27 and March 12, 2020 with travel dates Feb 27-June 1, 2020, Alaska will waive change fees. Difference in fare applies. New travel must be completed by December 31, 2020. You can also cancel and receive the funds to use for a future Alaska Airlines flight.

If your ticket was purchased through a third party, you must contact the third party.

View the full details of the change fee waiver.

Southwest

Southwest does not seem to have a dedicated page at this time, but Southwest has one of the best change/cancel policies. You can cancel or change a Southwest flight with no fees. Fare differences do apply to changes, though. If you cancel, you will receive a Southwest credit to use for another flight, not a refund (unless you purchased a refundable ticket).

JetBlue

There are no current restrictions anywhere JetBlue flies, but they’ve still made it easy to change plans if you feel it’s necessary.

Change and cancel fees are waived for all flight bookings made between February 27, 2020 and March 11, 2020 for travel through June 1, 2020. See JetBlue’s website for more details.

Hawaiian Airlines

Suspended flights

Hawaiian Airlines has suspended flights between Honolulu and Incheon, South Korea through April 30, 2020.

Change fee waivers

If you have a flight booked during this time period, you can rebook for new travel before October 31, 2020

If travel begins after October 31, fare difference applies.

Cancellation fees are also waived for tickets during this period (travel Feb 24-May 1, 2020) and customers are eligible for a refund if they choose not to rebook travel.

There are also waivers for travel to China operated by Hawaiian’s codeshare partners. See Hawaiian Airlines website for more details.

Final Thoughts

It’s not time to panic yet. Be prepared for travel plans to change, though.

I’ll try my best to update this information daily. You can also see notable changes and developments on the coronavirus daily updates post.

Vintage pic of Ryan and I when he was a resident

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