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Dealing with Summer Travel and COVID-19

By Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie on June 25, 2020

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At Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie, our primary objective is to help our clients and partners better navigate the ever-evolving COVID-19 landscape while still enjoying their lives. Many may need to travel for work, leisure, or to return home as restrictions are being loosened, but it is important to understand how the travel industry as a whole has changed and how to keep safe.

When considering your summer travel plans, here are a few important factors to be aware of from AARP.

The Latest Updates

Loosening restrictions has led to several businesses and public areas opening, including parks, restaurants, bars, and theme parks. As such, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidelines on how to stay safe from Coronavirus during daily activities as well as when traveling. Staying at home is still the best method of avoiding the virus, but the spread can also be restricted to the public at large through proper mask use, remote check-in at hotels, and contactless payment methods.

In addition to updated guidelines, specific government agencies and major travel destinations have also undergone several changes to accommodate travelers while adhering to safety guidelines, including:

  • For those looking to get a new passport, the U.S. State Department is once again processing applications. However, there is a backlog, so there may still be a delay in the process.
  • Disney Theme Parks have begun reopening with new restrictions, including advanced reservations, wearing masks, and temperature checkpoints to ensure guests are free of infection. These changes will affect Walt Disney World in Orlando, as well as Universal Studios Florida in Orlando which reopened on June 5th.
  • Major Las Vegas casinos and hotels are beginning to reopen with new safety measures, such as hand-sanitizing stations and encouraging masks. However, masks are not a requirement currently.
  • Popular beaches are partially or fully reopened, but guests are advised to maintain social distancing practices, and some require an extended 12-foot distance between towels and chairs.
  • S. national parks are open once again, but require masks, hand sanitization practices, and social distancing.

If you are planning to travel within the U.S., the CDC suggests all travelers contact a hotel, airline, or travel agency to confirm:

  • If you have a higher chance of spreading COVID-19 if you are in a heavily infected area or are at risk of becoming infected at your destination.
  • If individuals who are immunocompromised should avoid traveling if there is a higher risk of becoming infected.
  • If a destination has a 14-day quarantine period upon arrival.
  • If you are required to maintain a six-foot radius from other travelers at destinations or during travel.

There is no consensus on whether one type of travel is safer than the other. Limiting your contact with others and avoiding public or crowded places is one of the best practices you can employ if you have to travel. Barring that, there has been no official word from the CDC on whether or not one form of travel is safer than the other. Even traveling in a private vehicle or road-tripping has its own risks, as you may need to use public restrooms and stop to pick up food.

However, airlines do utilize a variety of filtration systems and even stricter cleaning policies than before that can limit the spread of the virus between flights. In light of that, there are several best practices that can help protect you while flying.

Best Practices in the Airport

All U.S. airports have taken steps to minimize the spread of the virus and sanitize all areas, as per guidelines by the CDC. Check-in terminals, waiting areas, and ticket counters have all routinely disinfected, and many have made hand sanitizer available to any guest. Masks are also a major requirement for anyone entering an airport, including when deplaning.

The TSA has also implemented new policies and precautions during screening procedures. All personal items must be stored in carry-on bags and plastic bins should be avoided to limit the spread of the virus, in addition to enforcing six-foot social distancing rules and the use of masks and gloves.

Some restrictions, however, have also been lifted. Age-old restrictions involving liquids have been modified to allow travelers to bring liquid hand sanitizer on board, so long as it is no more than 12 ounces. Travelers may also bring alcohol-based sanitation wipes to wipe down seats and check-in kiosks. For travelers worried about expired ID’s, checkpoints are advised to allow passengers to board even if their ID is expired after March 1st, 2020, in addition to “60 days after the COVID-19 national emergency.” The new Real ID laws have also been pushed back to October 1st, 2020.

Best Practices on the Plane

Travelers are advised to avoid touching high-risk areas, such as touch-screens, bathroom doors, and seats without properly wiping them down beforehand. If possible, try to practice social distancing guidelines on the flight, either by communicating with passengers before moving up and down the aisles or booking your flight with the six-foot rule in mind.

Airlines have also enhanced their cleaning procedures, including using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to remove any traces of the virus and, others, like Southwest, require a minimum of six hours of cleaning every day. United Airlines, in turn, has employed industrial hygienists to review all cleaning procedures, equipment, and products throughout the day, and Delta has implemented a “fogging process” that utilizes an “EPA-registered disinfectant and virucide” to sanitize the plane before boarding.

New Cancellation Policies

In light of the initial restrictions against travel around the world, travel agencies, hotels, airlines, and their insurance providers have all modified their cancellation policies to allow travelers to change reservations with fewer restrictions, such as no-fee changes, adjustments to future trips, or credit for another time period. For example, tour operators like Collette have canceled all trips until the end of June, and Road Scholar and Tauck’s have put all trips through July on hold.

These changes have also affected cruise companies, as major public health officials have outlined the high risk of infection on cruises. As a result, major U.S. cruise lines are currently not operating at all through July, while companies like Princess, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean are not providing trips to Alaska until 2021. This has also extended to cruises to Canada, as the country has barred any ship with more than 100 passengers from docking until October 31st.

For individuals who booked at major hotel chains, cancellation policies have been loosened, and many are not charging fees to change or cancel bookings. Similarly, major rail services like Amtrak have also modified deadlines for reservations and waived major fees if you change your trip before August 31st. Amtrak trains are largely still on hold, but the high-speed Acela service did start back up along the East Coast on June 1st. Travelers are also required to wear face masks when in the stations and on the train.

In line with the rest of the travel industry, major airlines have since modified their policies due to the pandemic. Customers are advised to make all changes online, as customer service teams are experiencing a large number of calls. It is also important to note that this is not a complete or definite list of changes, as airlines may modify their policies based on new public policies and safety guidelines, and all travelers should check with the individual airline to see what policies apply to each situation.

  • Alaska Airlines: All tickets purchased from Feb. 27th to April 30th of 2020 for trips departing on or before Feb. 28th, 2021, are available for rescheduling. Canceled flights may be rebooked by the airline, but any flights that takes off an hour from the original departure are available for full refunds if a customer chooses to cancel. Any credit received through refund policies can be used up to Dec. 31st, 2021.
  • American Airlines: There are no change fees for flights booked by June 30th AND are departing before Sept. 30th. Customers may still have to pay fare differences for more expensive flights. Canceled flights are available for airline credit that is valid until 31st, 2021.
  • British Airways: Flight vouchers are available for every canceled flight and are valid until April 30th, 2022. This offer is also valid for canceled flights that would have departed by July 31st.
  • Delta Airlines: There are no fees for changing flights purchased by June 30th.
  • JetBlue Airways: There are no cancellation or changing fees for flights departing for the next 24 months so long as the flight was purchased by June 30th.
  • Southwest Airlines: All travelers can rebook their flight within 24 months of the departure date. Fare differences may apply.
  • Spirit Airlines: Any customer affected by COVID-19 restrictions may cancel a flight and receive credit for its full value. This offer is only available for 12 months.
  • United: Change fees are waived for any flights purchased by June 30th and travelers may apply the cost of the flight to another flight departing within 12 months from the original purchase date. Travelers may also change a flight that was purchased between March 3rd to March 31st without paying any change fees, so long as the new flight departs within 24 months of the original purchase date.

Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie Is Still Here for You

The legal team at Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie may not be travel agents, but we do believe in providing valuable resources and information for our community, especially during these difficult times. That is why, when the California Stay at Home Order was first put in place, we quickly adapted to the new work environment and continued providing legal aid to our clients, especially those dealing with personal injury claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, both virtually and over the phone. Our team is ready and willing to review your case through a virtual consultation and there is no cost to contact us if you believe you have a personal injury claim against a negligent party or need assistance with preparing your estate plan. Call us at (949) 752-7474 to discuss your legal options in southern California.

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