The COVID-19 pandemic has largely put an end to travel, but there are still people needing to fly to provide care for others or travel for essential work service. Traveling feels scary right now, especially for those who can’t drive to their destination, but there are ways to make the journey as safe as possible for yourself and others. So if you have to board a plane right now, here are the coronavirus tips you need to know for domestic travel.
Avoid Public Transportation
The goal when traveling during the coronavirus crisis it to avoid as many people as possible, so steer clear of any public transportation if you can. Either take your own car to the airport, have someone you’ve been quarantining with drive you, or take a car service/taxi. If you’re taking public transportation of any kind, wear a mask and be mindful to touch as few surfaces as possible.
Wear a Face Mask or Cloth Covering
Even if you aren’t showing symptoms, there’s a chance you may have contracted the virus. To protect others, the CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth when out in public. While stores are largely out of masks, you can create your own using a towel, bandanna, scarf, or t-shirt. The CDC offers a guide on how to make your own. Note that coverings should not be placed on children under two years of age or anyone who has trouble breathing. Once it’s on, don’t touch it without washing your hands first.
Check-In Online, Download a Mobile Boarding Pass, and Use a Carry-On Suitcase
Again, you want to avoid as many physical touchpoints with other people during your travels as possible. Fortunately, you can check into your flight online and download the boarding pass to your phone, allowing for fewer interactions and forgoing the need to hand over a ticket. You will still have to hand over your form of identification at TSA security, however. On the plus side, the TSA has implemented new social distancing measures such as placing markers where travelers should stand, staggering the security lanes when possible, and allowing people to keep their mask on—though they may ask for it to be removed or adjusted when verifying identity.
To skip interacting with a desk agent and prevent your bag from touching multiple people, opt for a carry-on bag instead of checked luggage. While at the airport and when boarding, keep at least six feet of distance from other travelers. Some airlines have implemented rules to help with this, like Delta boarding all of its flights row by row, starting from the rear of the plane.
Wash Your Hands Frequently and Bring Sanitizer
At each stage of your journey—arriving at the airport, getting through security, and after getting off the plane—find the nearest bathroom and wash your hands with soap and water for the CDC-suggested time of at least 20 seconds. If soap isn’t readily available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Major airports have hand-sanitizing stations set up for travelers, and the TSA has eased its liquid restrictions and is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces in carry-on bags. Additionally, bring sanitizing wipes for any surfaces you must touch, like armrests on the plane, and pay attention to the label—most recommend keeping the wiped surface wet for a certain length of time.
Pack Food and a Reusable Water Bottle
Most airlines have stopped or limited food and beverage service on flights to avoid unnecessary interactions. And although there are still some grab-and-go retailers and restaurants providing take-out, it’s better to skip them and instead pack your purse or backpack with food and snacks from home. Similarly, bring an empty reusable water bottle that you can refill at one of the refill stations. The added perk? You’ll be saving money on notoriously pricey airport food. Read SmarterTravel’s guide on How to Pack Food and Drink for a Flight here.
Sit by the Window and Stay Seated
Due to the thorough cleaning airlines have employed for planes and the HEPA air filters found on most planes, viruses do not spread easily on planes. However, you could still come into contact with the virus, particularly if you’re seated within six feet of someone who is infected. Many airlines have said they will allow travelers to sit in a socially distant manner on the plane if that’s doable, and Delta is even blocking middle seats for now. To increase your safety, opt for a window seat and stay seated throughout the flight, thus limiting your exposure to people and surfaces.
The CDC states that the virus is thought to mainly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, typically between people who are within about six feet of each other. So, your best bet at staying safe while taking essential travel is by staying as far from others as possible and avoiding touching your face. When touching something or eating is necessary, be sure to wash or disinfect your hands both before and after. And remember that regardless of whether or not it’s a law in your final destination, the CDC recommends self-quarantining for 14 days.
Plane seat manufacturers have released some crazy iterations of new cabin designs in the past, typically aiming at increasing the number of already-cramped seats on board. You might remember the standing Skyrider 2.0 “seats” conceptualized for short flights, or these stacked lie-flat beds from hell for longer flights—both of which saw hypothetical designs that never materialized.
But now, with a global pandemic in full swing, it seems the same seat makers are focusing more on protecting passengers than packing them into plane cabins. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s an interesting focus on banishing the middle seat.
Aviointeriors, the same manufacturer that designed those standing plane seats in 2018, is revealing its latest plan for post-coronavirus cabins: Shields for personal space and a reversed middle seat.
It’s a far cry from riding an airplane like the subway a la the Skyrider 2.0’s standing design, and looks almost (dare I say it) comfortable, considering there’s no sharing arm rests, accidentally invading what few inches of personal space your neighbor has, or dealing with a coughing or sneezing neighbor. It does, however, beg the question of how larger people who require more than one plane seat would be accommodated, and whether or not seats would be able to recline.
Aviointeriors says “this arrangement allows all three passengers to be separated with a shield made of transparent material that isolates them from each other, creating a protective barrier for everyone. Each passenger has its own space isolated from others, even from people who walk through the aisle.”
Studies have proven that aisle seats are more likely to be subject to passing germs that can get you sick—window seats are exposed to fewer germs. It’s also worth noting that this new Avio design somewhat echoes Spirit airlines’ pre-pandemic switch to staggering middle seats on some aircraft, which gives middle-seat passengers more elbow room.
Aviointeriors has also designed a more simplified solution for plane seats: Seat-attachable glass shields called Glassafe. This simply adds dividers between the aisle, all three existing seats, and the window:
How much of a hit has air travel taken during the COVID-19 pandemic? The short answer: Like nothing anyone has seen before. Even airline experts with long memories can’t remember a comparable impact of some critical event. Yes, 9/11 stopped air travel cold, but the immediate effect lasted weeks, not months. And the nation had a visible system in place—TSA screening—squarely aimed at preventing similar events in the future.
And while statistics vary depending on source and assumptions, public data makes clear that U.S. airline passengers are down about 90 percent for this time of year. International passengers are down at least as much, and domestic air travel in many parts of the world is also down, or shut off completely. Rewards site Upgraded Points recently put those staggering numbers into visuals, which offer a holistic view of the situation thus far.
Here’s what stands out in terms of the about-face COVID-19 has forced upon travel, and data visuals by Upgraded Points that illustrate them.
While very few people are flying (which we’ll refer to as foot traffic), air traffic is higher. As of late-April, about half of all U.S. domestic flights are regularly being canceled despite a 90 percent drop in foot traffic.
The discrepancy between foot traffic and flights is explained by one simple fact: The recent U.S. stimulus bill that offered rescue funds for airports and airlines requires that U.S. airlines continue serving the points they usually serve—which they are doing, by flying virtually empty planes.
Similar effects are seen in Asia and Europe, where foot traffic is down at least 75 percent and many airlines are not required to continue service.
For example, Porter Airlines has suspended all flights, as has RyanAir and Royal Air Maroc. More carriers have suspended all international service, including South African Airways, Turkish, Avianca, and Qantas. The number of daily commercial flights flown globally has decreased by 76.5 percent.
Airlines are having a tough time finding places to park their idle aircraft. As an odd consequence, Southwest is, for now, the world’s largest airline in terms of seats flown per day.
Airports are taking a similar hit, and with a drastic reduction in passengers comes a drastic reduction in workers. Several big multi-terminal fields have concentrated flights into one or two terminals and closed the others.
All this means big-time economic losses: 4.6 million job losses are projected in the U.S alone in 2020. Sources estimate a loss of 4.6 million jobs in the U.S. travel industry—and counting. It’s no surprise that most airline stocks are tanking. According to International Air Transportation Association (IATA), only Asia looks to lose more passenger revenue this year than North America.
Currently, airlines are offering some very attractive fares, both for the near and long term. Transcon economy round-trips, for example, starting at less than $300 for travel in May; you can (but probably shouldn’t) fly to London for less than $400. But premium-cabin fares are still high.
At present, most airline schedules show minimum service operations through September 30, which is about when U.S. stimulus money is expected to run out. At this time, nobody knows whether conditions will allow airlines to start rebuilding schedules by that time or face widespread closures. For now, most states remain closed or in some state of closures.
The ancient curse “may you live in interesting times” certainly applies to today’s airlines and travelers alike.
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.
Many avid travelers may be wondering when we can start traveling again. While we don’t have a definitive answer just yet, some places are inching closer to reopening the skies and roads. The decision ultimately comes down to when medical experts say we have sufficiently succeeded in flattening the curve, and when businesses and local governments think it’s safe to start opening back up for business. Even though hotels and airlines are stepping up to help during the pandemic, travel is likely to resume gradually once travel advisories expire and airlines slowly reintroduce flight routes.
Some places may open sooner than others, depending on the country, state, or even the community. While there are some things frequent travelers can do now, such as staying on top of expiring airline miles, knowing when we can safely travel again is a bit of a waiting game.
Here are some of the things you can expect will need to happen before travel can be a possibility.
Fewer Reported Cases
The world has changed considerably since the last global pandemic, which was from 1918 to 1920. Back then, you took a boat or train to travel. Thanks to air travel, we can go almost anywhere in a matter of hours. As convenient as it may be, faster travel also makes it easier for illnesses to spread quickly. As a result, governments are being extra cautious about reopening travel too soon.
The baseline to ease current travel restrictions may be the number of cases tallied by the World Health Organization (WHO), which releases daily situation reports. These reports include countries’ newly reported cases, deaths, and each country’s number of days since the last reported case.
Each daily situation report puts case numbers into an epidemic curve chart. This chart is also color-coded so you can track case numbers by region. The WHO reported 81,572 newly confirmed cases on their April 19, 2020, report. In comparison, only 16,556 confirmed cases were reported a month earlier on the March 19, 2020 report.
Aggressive Testing Can More Accurately Flatten The Curve
Testing as many people as possible makes it possible to more accurately calculate the actual infection rate and predict future spread rates. The number of confirmed cases may increase as more people take tests. However, the more testing there is, the more likely it is we can contain cases, and that the infection curve overall will eventually decline.
Johns Hopkins University tracks the number of daily cases by country. The number of new cases is currently decreasing in some nations, including Germany and China. However, most places have yet to experience a consistent downward trend. Carnegie Mellon recently launched a symptom tracker map in partnership with Facebook: The tool displays the estimated percentage of people with COVID-19 symptoms in a geographic area.
Consistent testing and prolific symptom reporting, even after the curve flattens, can help leaders begin to forge travel policies and avoid a second peak in cases as nations reopen.
Travel Guidance for the Foreseeable Future
It’s still technically possible (although not recommended) to travel in the United States, and, in some emergency cases, internationally. However, adjusting back to our prior travel habits will be a very gradual process. These preventative measures are likely to stay for the foreseeable future:
Social distancing of at least six feet
Wearing a mask in public
Extensive cleaning of airplane cabins and public areas
Other prevention measures will also likely go into effect to reduce the spread. Policies and habits may change as we learn more about how coronavirus spreads and mutates, and some already have. For instance, TSA changed its policies earlier this year, allowing passengers to bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in their carry-on luggage (instead of the 3.4-ounce limit).
We’ll also learn how to be receptive to the most effective prevention and treatment measures. Travel authorities may implement these measures to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus.
Airlines could begin to regularly check the temperatures of customers before allowing them to board the aircraft. Stores and other public places may instill a similar practice, and you may not be able to board if your temperature is above a certain level. If you’re flying internationally, customs agents may begin to check temperatures too. (But, this of course won’t help much if individuals are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.)
CDC guidelines for airline crews already require staff to report potentially ill flyers before an aircraft lands in its destination. Possible reasons may include having a measured fever above 100 degrees or simply exhibiting feverish symptoms, and/or a dry cough or difficulty breathing.
Monitoring body temperatures could prevent some ill travelers from flying. However, the World Health Organization states this preventative measure alone isn’t enough; again, passengers may not yet be exhibiting symptoms, or they may be asymptomatic.
Countries may continue to require a minimum 14-day self-quarantine for all arrivals. If traveling abroad you may need to disclose your travel plans and where you’re staying/quarantining upon arrival. Quarantine rules vary by nation, and typically apply whether you’re a resident or visitor. Governments across the globe may enact broad travel restrictions and not allow travelers from highly-affected areas to enter their country.
Another preventative measure nations are rolling out is contact tracing. Smartphone apps can alert you if you come into contact with an infected or at-risk person. If you test positive, your phone app can automatically notify others you came into close contact with for the last 14 days. Contract tracing apps make it easy for travel providers to know their passengers’ recent social patterns, and if you’ve been in contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Authorities have suggested the idea of an immunity passport to travel between countries, but it remains unclear whether or not those who have had the virus become immune—and for how long. Much focus is on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, an effective and safe vaccine takes at least 12 to 18 months to develop and test in clinical trials. Although still in the early stages, antibody testing has also been suggested as a method of “reopening” the country, though it’s still too early in immunity research to tell.
Travel post-COVID-19 may not be the same as pre-COVID-19, at least for a while. Achieving worldwide immunity can take years, and could be the ultimate measure before many believe it’s safe to travel again.
Much uncertainty remains, and we’ll need to continue to modify our daily habits until the infection risk dissipates and some types of travel are again permitted. Only aggressive testing and other preventative measures can restore a confidence to travel again.
For decades, airlines just about everywhere have been resisting government-mandated passenger rights regulations. Despite the fact that the airlines brought on themselves many of the regulations they hate; they’ve had a remarkably deaf ear for customer pain points. That struggle has been ongoing for years both in the U.S. and abroad.
But now some airlines are using the financial squeeze of the global COVID-19 shutdown to ask for “relief” from those legal requirements like providing refunds for canceled flights, or compensation for lengthy delays. Those terms are mandated by the European Union, but impact flights operating elsewhere, too.
What the E.U. Has Long Required of Airlines
The primary current target is European Union’s Regulation EU 261/2004 for passenger compensation in case of delays. A rule called E.U. 261 has long required covered airlines to compensate travelers by cash payments of:
about $275 for a delay of two hours or more; on a flight of less than 930 miles
about $435 for a delay of three hours or more; on a flight of 930 to 5,600 miles
about $650 for a delay of four hours or more; on a flight of 2,175 miles or more
In addition, airlines are required to provide accommodations for overnight delays. And if a flight is delayed five hours or more, travelers have the option of a refund of all unused tickets and of tickets already used if the flight no longer serve’s any purpose. That’s on top of a no-cost return to the passenger’s origin point.
Airlines sometimes avoid some of the payments if they can provide proof that the delay or cancellation was due to extraordinary circumstances, but those exceptions are rare. E.U. 261 applies not just to flights within the E.U., but also flights from E.U. to and from points outside the E.U., regardless of where the given airline is based.
What E.U. Airlines Are Trying to Change Now
The current proposal is to lengthen the delay times that trigger compensation from two, three, and four hours to five, nine, and 12 hours, respectively, and to exclude some routes entirely. It’s also been reported that some airlines want more wiggle room to avoid payments. The latter proposal, submitted by Croatia, is viewed locally as a compromise.
Most travelers in the U.S. probably aren’t aware of the E.U. 261’s compensation requirements, or that it can apply to them. U.S. domestic air travelers have no comparable protections at at home: The only cash compensation rules in the U.S. cover the singular case of bumping due to overbooking. What U.S. travelers get in other delays and cancellations is determined by each line’s contract of carriage, and no airline offers cash compensation for delays. (The DOT does require refunds for canceled flights, however, for any flights operating to, from, or within the U.S.—as does the E.U.)
It’s anyone’s guess what will happen to the current proposal. But Brexit regulations still being laid out also raise the issue of whether the U.K. will continue to honor E.U. 261 in general.
Cash refunds for canceled flights during the pandemic and beyond is another skirmish in itself. Regulations in both the E.U. and U.S. require cash or credit-card refunds (credit vouchers do not suffice). But airlines in much of the world are fighting to overturn those requirements, too. The government of Canada recently said it will allow its airlines to forgo refunds for canceled flights.
So far, neither the U.S. nor the E.U. has granted airlines’ wishes. The U.S. issued an enforcement notice warning to airlines, and the E.U. stated that airlines currently still need to follow E.U. 261, and that: “In order to change any provision of this law, you would need wide support for an agreement from the other institutions.”
But never underestimate the power of high-priced lobbyists, and stay tuned for updates.
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.
COVID-19 has essentially shelved all travel for the near term, leaving many people daydreaming of being anywhere other than the confines of their couch. With nowhere to go and no definitive timeline on when things will start to return to some semblance of “normal,” trip planning has been put on the backburner. But maybe it shouldn’t be.
These unprecedented times have flipped the aviation market on its head, making airlines backpedal unfriendly consumer policies. In order to keep bookings flowing, airlines and travel companies have introduced relaxed rules and minimized financial risks. Not everyone may feel comfortable booking for July, but, for holiday travel and flights into 2021 onward, a little planning now can go a long way in terms of savings and flexibility. While it’s understandable to want to take the cautious approach, those willing to book future travel today will have lesser risk at higher rewards. Here’s why.
Unreal Deals are Available
While large scale lockdowns and border closings remain in place, travel should be limited to only what is absolutely necessary. But there’s nothing wrong with booking flights right now with your sights set further down the road.
Of course, you’ll have to keep in mind that situations may change and be somewhat flexible. But planning a trip today will allow you to take advantage of some of the cheapest airfare in nearly 20 years. It won’t last for long once demand rebounds and carriers rush to pay back government loans.
Advertised sales are momentarily on hold by most airlines, but that doesn’t mean cheap airfare isn’t out there. As always, it’s the non-promoted fares that bring in the most value. Just this week, I noticed flights from Chicago-ORD to Los Angeles in mid-November for $95 roundtrip on American. And earlier, Boston to San Juan, PR was listed for $23 roundtrip (not a typo 23 dollars) over peak New Year’s dates via JetBlue.
International travel might be riskier to book without a long-term outlook, but travelers willing to start flying in late 2020 and early 2021 will find an abundance of deals too. As an example, flights to Latin American favorites like Costa Rica start at $117 roundtrip from Miami, and only $253 RT between JFK and Lima, both through February 2021 on Avianca. Flyers who have had to postpone summer Euro trips can score flights from New York to Barcelona for only $219 roundtrip on American from late October through February, or only $189 on TAP Portugal with the ability for an extended stopover in Lisbon.
Deals will vary by destination, but booking sooner rather than later for a future flight is your best bet because airlines are asking the government for a compromise on initial CARES guidelines so that they can suspend service to entire markets. Thus, cutting competition and ultimately leading to higher fares.
For the first time since airlines started ramping up customer-unfriendly fees for changes and cancellations in the mid-aughts, the outbreak of COVID-19 has made almost every airline worldwide rethink these punitive policies. Faced with a roughly 90% drop in booking revenue, carriers have instituted new “peace of mind” free change and cancel waiver programs to give flexibility to travelers who want to alter their trip, but also to entice future bookings. The first iterations of these free waiver policies were limited spring dates and still fairly strict, but newer revisions have expanded to include travel through the end of 2020 and into next year.
For tickets to qualify, they have to be purchased before a set date limit, currently April 30 or the end of May on most airlines, but there’s no telling when airlines will pull the plug (and they will) on these pro-consumer policies. So, booking a qualifying ticket now for a trip later this year will grandfather you into these risk-free waivers while they’re still on the table.
Extended Expiration on Airline Credits
Alongside free change waivers, customers who ultimately cancel their trips outright will benefit from extended expiration dates on credits issued by many mainline carriers. Most airlines have changed the standard one-year “use by date” twofold, permitting credits to be generously used 24 months from the date of issuance. No longer under pressure to use it or lose it, passengers that still feel uncomfortable traveling even in autumn and winter this year can cancel tickets and have more than a year left to apply credits to future travel.
But do keep in mind, credits are only applicable on airlines that are still operating. For travelers booked on an airline that looks like it might stop flying in the near future, the best practice is to wait to see if they cancel, which then entitles you to a full refund (usually via credit card chargeback), instead of preemptively getting stuck with a voucher for an extinct airline.
Have you been racking up miles ordering essentials online through airline shopping portals or ordering delivery while sheltering in place? You’re in luck because now is the golden age of airline award availability. Those needle-in-a-haystack premium cabin award tickets to Europe have become more available as demand for business travel dries up, leaving a surplus of seats available in the front of the plane and a whole empty stack in back to redeem with miles.
Another perk of using points to book flights for future travel is that several of the current airline waivers include free mileage redeposit fees (for the time being) if you decide to change your mind as the date nears. A benefit usually only reserved for elite frequent flyer status holders.
Trip Insurance Made Easy
Skip the limited insurance offered by the airlines at checkout for something more comprehensive. Tripadvisor’s brand-new annual Trip Protection policies by Allianz Global Assistance offer far better overall coverage, including enhanced trip cancellation, interruption, and accident plans alongside industry-recommended amounts for emergency evacuation and rental car theft and damages. Better yet, with only one payment, customers receive 365 days of protection so they can start planning a trip well in advance, knowing all bases are covered. (Tripadvisor is Airfarewatchdog’s parent company.)
Everyone is yearning to get out of the house and explore the world we might’ve previously taken for granted. Maybe it’s a domestic flight to see family or the bucket list trip you’ve been putting off. Booking future flights now is surprisingly less risky than it’s ever been, monetarily at least. Studies have even shown that planning a trip can bring happiness.
The cheap airfares aren’t guaranteed to last, nor are the free fee waivers, so locking in a trip for later might be a bet worth making in order to save big and inject some much-needed excitement in your life.
Flights around the world have been halted due to the COVID-19 crisis. Airlines will inevitably return to service, but it is still unknown as to when and to what extent. While I believe most established airlines will continue to fly, there are sure to be some that are forced to go out of business.
Considering past performance, financial stability, route networks, and government assistance, here’s a look at what airlines I believe are the most (and least) likely to survive the COVID-19 crisis.
Airlines That Should Still Be Flying After COVID-19 Crisis
The 4 largest U.S. airlines should be able to survive this crisis and keep flying, albeit at a much different scale. The recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act makes it apparent that the U.S. government will not let our air transportation network fail. The government assistance seems more geared to keep the larger airlines afloat, but some provisions are in to keep a competitive environment viable.
The largest airline in the world in terms of passengers carried in 2019 is likely to come out of the crisis just fine thanks to $5.8 billion in government aid, brand recognition, and a network that can keep cities around the world connected with its partnerships and alliances. The hub and spoke model of route networks is likely to become more prominent when the industry emerges and American’s hubs in Dallas and Charlotte will remain a vital part of its network. It may even decide to focus more on Chicago service to better connect cities in the northwestern half of the country with the East Coast. International flying will likely take more time to recover, so its Miami hub may be downsized more than others and American will likely rely on airline partners to fly passengers beyond major international hubs around the world.
Delta held the title of the most profitable airline in the world in 2019 so it has the means to keep flying in a post-pandemic world. Its hubs are already geographically spread out to provide efficient connections — even with a large decline in service offered. Delta will be a much smaller airline in the future. It is retiring all of its older McDonnell Douglass MD-88 and MD-90 aircraft and will likely retire more of its fleet to coincide with demand. Focus cities may be diminished to serve only hub cities while hubs on the coasts may only fly to a few international destinations that allow passengers to connect with partner airlines. Delta will be getting $5.4 billion in federal relief from the CARES Act, which has some strings attached that could result in the U.S. government owning a small stake in the airline, as is the case with other large U.S. airlines.
CEO Gary Kelly has stated that Southwest is not downsizing. The Dallas based carrier plans to keep flying to all of its destinations and does not want to furlough employees. This will obviously depend on how quickly the airline industry recovers and demand for travel increases. Since it expects to receive more than $3.2 billion dollars in aid from the CARES Act, Southwest will be required to keep the majority of its staff and cities at least through the end of September. Its network, which provides nonstop flights in several markets that the “Big 3” legacy carriers don’t offer, could come to resemble a hub and spoke model in the future. The schedule has already been adjusted to reflect this trend and I expect even more nonstop routes to only be offered with a connection in the future. As for international service, Southwest is a relatively new face and we’ll likely see some international destinations fall off of the route map.
Contrary to its reviews, Spirit Airlines has actually been a fairly profitable airline. The no-frills carrier has more of a hub and spoke network than other ultra-low-cost carriers in the U.S., which could allow it to continue service to many of its cities even though nonstop flight options are likely to disappear in many markets. Spirit has yet to accept any government aid from the CARES Act and it will only get a fraction of what the larger airlines are receiving. It will clearly have to cut back much of its rapid expansion in recent years, but if Spirit takes any government aid, it will have to maintain a bare minimum service to nearly all of its cities. After seeking a waiver from the DOT to suspend service from 26 cities, it was only granted one in Aguadilla. I still believe there will always be a place for a budget airline like Spirit when leisure travel demand does finally make a comeback.
United CEO Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby have painted a pretty grim picture, stating in a letter to employees that they “have some tough decisions ahead as we plan for our airline, and our overall workforce, to be smaller than it is today, starting as early as October 1.” Since United is expected to receive approximately $5 billion in government aid from the CARES Act, it won’t be able to involuntarily furlough or stop flying completely from its U.S. cities through September, but this statement makes it clear that the airline plans to downsize as much as possible as soon as it can. The large government assistance may not be enough to keep the airline running as much as is hoped, but it indicates that United may be an airline that is too big to fail. Its hubs are dispersed around the country to provide seamless connections that will be more prominent due to severely reduced frequencies. And as part of the largest airline alliance in the world, Star Alliance, United can rely on partner airlines to keep it connected without many international flights of its own.
As is the case in the U.S., I also expect the majority of the major flag carriers around the world to stay in business. Some airlines, such as Emirates and Qatar, are state-owned and governments will be doing everything they can to keep their airlines afloat. Brand recognition will also play a role in an airline’s survival after this pandemic has passed. I believe we’ll still be able to fly on well-known airlines like Air Canada, Aeromexico, ANA, Avianca, LATAM, Singapore Airlines, and Qantas. In Europe, we may see some national airlines combine into their respective alliances, but I believe we’ll still see brands like British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, Ryanair, and Turkish Airlines. The major airlines in China, Air China, China Eastern, and China Southern, will also likely survive.
I believe this group of airlines will still be flying through the end of 2020 and into 2021. It’s likely that some of these will indeed survive the coronavirus crisis, but I think we may see some of these airlines completely cease operations, start flying a very small regional network, or become acquired by larger carriers.
Alaska Airlines will get nearly $1 billion in aid from the CARES Act, which will keep the airline operational in the short term. Since Alaska Airlines is primarily a West Coast airline, I think we’ll see many of its Midwest and East Coast cities disappear from the route map after September. For now, in order to fulfill the minimum service requirements, it is consolidating flights to certain cities by collecting passengers in multiple stops before flying to/from its main hub in Seattle. It’s hard to see Alaska Airlines flying much more than a few West Coast routes or even just a regional operation to, from, and within Alaska since the demand for flying in other markets will likely be filled by the larger airlines. I could even see the possibility of American Airlines eventually taking over Alaska Airlines in a merger down the road.
JetBlue is probably the most likely to survive in this list of airlines I think are on the fence after the crisis. It is one of the most beloved airlines in the U.S. and has a strong presence in the Northeast, which is the most populated area of our country. That being said, I think it will become a much smaller airline going forward — if it does continue to keep flying. JetBlue will receive around $1 billion in aid from the CARES Act to keep the majority of its employees paid a minimum salary through September, but when that runs out I expect to see plenty of cuts to its workforce and route map. It will probably have to rely on high-demand flying to/from New York and Boston, with West Coast flights to become extremely limited if not abolished altogether. A few years down the road, I could also see one of the legacy carriers swallow up JetBlue if the travel industry doesn’t demand the competition.
Frontier has expanded rapidly over the past few years and has been flying a unique schedule for leisure travelers in smaller cities across the U.S. Even though it will only be required to fly to many of these cities a few times per week in order to be eligible for government assistance, the demand for flights out of cities like Fargo and Knoxville just won’t be there to support a niche airline like Frontier. If it can obtain waivers to the minimum service requirements for the 36 cities it has applied for, Frontier will have a better chance of surviving. But if it takes an extended time for leisure travelers to start flying the friendly skies, I don’t see much room for Frontier Airlines to keep flying. Its only true hub is Denver, so Frontier could possibly get acquired by a larger airline like United or Southwest, which both have a lot of overlapping flights, or another airline wishing to add a hub in the west.
Since this is a global pandemic, many international airlines around the world will be in limbo following the crisis. I could see several carriers either go out of business or become more intertwined with a larger airline group and lose their branding altogether. Some international carriers I see as “on the fence” after the COVID-19 crisis include Air Transat, Interjet, Alitalia, Aer Lingus, EasyJet, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Azul, Caribbean Airlines, and Kenya Airways. The survival of these airlines largely depends on how far government assistance will go and, of course, how much demand for flying there will be in the future.
Airlines That Might Dissolve After COVID-19 Crisis
The most vulnerable airlines are those which have just recently started operations or have expanded route networks that just aren’t viable when leisure travel is in low demand. Here’s a list of some airlines I think will have the most trouble surviving this crisis and why that might be.
Like Frontier, Allegiant also flies a very unique route network that is aimed at providing nonstop flights from small town U.S.A. to leisure destinations like Florida and Las Vegas. Allegiant takes this strategy a step further in that it even uses smaller secondary airports like Punta Gorda, Sanford, and St. Petersburg in Florida and Mesa Airport in Arizona. It also flies the vast majority of its routes just twice per week. I think Allegiant Airlines is the least likely to survive among the ultra-low-cost carriers, because it flies from such small cities that will probably not demand even the limited flights Allegiant offers for quite some time.
Hawaiian Airlines could be hit hard by the minimum service requirements included in the CARES Act. In order to receive any aid, Hawaiian may be required to keep flying more empty long-haul routes than any of the major U.S. airlines. It has applied for exemptions, which could keep the airline afloat, but low demand for flying overall could mean the end for Hawaiian Airlines. Since Southwest has entered the market and also started flying between islands, it may be too hard for Hawaiian Airlines to compete and I could see Southwest or one of the legacy carriers taking over Hawaiian Airlines in the future.
As the hometown airline for my home state of Minnesota, I’d hate to see this friendly airline go out of business, but I don’t think its main hub of Minneapolis/St. Paul is a big enough metro area to support two airlines in the post-pandemic travel scene. Delta will likely maintain a large enough operation out of MSP to satisfy the lower number of passengers and Sun Country has not really become well-known in other areas of the country.
Transatlantic travel has been incredibly cheap for the past few years, but I think the days of $200 or $300 roundtrip flights across the ocean may come to a halt after this crisis. The most popular low-cost carrier flying across the Atlantic, Norwegian Air, has already been having financial issues and I think it will be one of the first airlines to hang it up when all is said and done. Other low-cost airlines around the world, such as Swoop, VivaAerobus, and French Bee will probably meet the same fate. European airlines like Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, and Swiss could see route networks diminished to the point where branding just becomes part of the larger airline group (Lufthansa). Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia are in a tough spot since both airlines primarily serve a leisure travel market that might not demand more service than what is offered by larger airlines. South African Airways just got cut off from government aid so it’s on thin ice and some lesser-known Chinese airlines will also likely fall victim to the crisis, such as Xiamen Airlines, which is owned by China Southern.
Consolidation and Mergers Among Airlines Seems Likely
For the sake of cheap airfares, I hope most airlines survive this crisis. More competition means lower fares as we have seen time and again when new airlines emerge or when any airline enters a new market. However, we’ve never seen anything quite like the drop in passenger demand that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought to the industry. In recent years, we’ve seen many airlines come and go, along with several airline mergers following the recession in 2008. If history tells us anything, it’s highly likely that we will see more consolidation and mergers following this economic downturn.
While it may make sense for the large airline alliances to simply start branding as Oneworld Airlines, SkyTeam Airlines, and Star Alliance Airlines, national pride and government restrictions probably won’t allow that to happen any time soon. I do think we’ll see airline mergers within nations or within an economic union such as the E.U. For now, it’s all speculation, but it will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the future.
Unless you’re really lucky, sometime during your travels you will find yourself in a situation where an airline owes you something. Maybe it’s because of a delay, lost baggage, a rescheduled flight, whatever. When that day comes, the airline will almost surely try to settle by issuing you airline vouchers for future travel rather than cutting you a check. At worst, the airline loses the cost of the seat rather than the posted fare; at best, you’ll somehow not get around to using the airline voucher, and the carrier will face no cost at all.
What to Know Before Giving up Your Seat for an Airline Voucher
To decrease their risk, airlines incorporate gotchas into vouchers to increase the chances that you won’t be able to use them. So before you accept any airline vouchers, you need to ask seven questions.
How Long Are Airline Vouchers Valid?
A tight validity limit is one of the oldest voucher gotchas in the book. An airline offers a generous voucher, but you have to use it within six months. Clearly, many travelers are uninterested in or unable to schedule another flight within that short a time. This ploy is more prevalent with cruise lines than with airlines, but you still have to be careful.
Who Can Use an Airline Voucher?
Is the value of the travel voucher limited to you, or can you use it to buy a ticket for someone else? Many airline vouchers may be used only by the person who initially received it for his or her own travel. Depending on your flexibility, that might or might not be a deal-breaker.
Will an Airline Voucher Cover the Whole Cost of a Ticket?
Airline vouchers seldom include the full cost of a future trip; often, you must pay the government taxes and fees separately. But I’ve heard reports of a much worse limitation: an airline voucher covering only the “base” fare and not the very stiff “carrier-imposed fee,” essentially a renamed fuel surcharge, which on some airlines can be more than the base fare.
Can You Use an Airline Voucher for Multiple Flights?
Some vouchers are valid for only a single transaction, even when the value of that transaction is less than the face value of the voucher. For example, if you use a $500 airline voucher to buy a $400 ticket, you might not be able to use the remaining $100 for second ticket. Instead, you lose that value outright.
Are There Any Fare Limitations for Airline Vouchers?
I haven’t seen much of this one, but an airline could place some fare buckets off-limits to voucher-based tickets—not applicable to “flash sale” prices, for example, or for business class.
Given the limitations on how you can use it, a voucher is effectively worth a lot less to you than its face cash value. Many experts estimate that a voucher is worth somewhere between a third and a half of its face value. If you ask for cash but an airline offers a voucher, take the voucher only if the face value is at least double the cash offer. When cash isn’t an option, if the voucher value seems to be inadequate, bargain for more or consider your alternatives.
Can You Get Cash Instead on an Airline Voucher?
When a flight is oversold, an airline almost always resorts to offering travel vouchers to passengers who agree to get off and take a later flight. Usually, that works, and someone takes the offer. But if nobody bites, and the airline has to select someone to get off, government regulations specify cash payments, not vouchers, for “involuntary” bumping. You can get up to $1,350 in the U.S., depending on the circumstance, but only in the case of overbooking. European rules call for higher payments as well as payments for delays. Take the voucher only if it’s worth to you is a lot more than the cash.
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While we’re nowhere near where we should be in helping the planet, awareness of the negative impact that traveling has on the environment is increasing. So much that many travelers are increasingly investing in ways to neutralize the carbon emissions from their flights. A whole host of companies exist to help travelers go “carbon neutral.”
A Mile Is a Mile: Quick and Dirty Look at the Science
Air travel has a particularly negative impact on the atmosphere due to two factors, expressed herein as close to lay terms as I can muster: 1) planes emit a stew of other harmful gases in addition to carbon dioxide, and 2) gases released in the upper atmosphere where planes cruise have a much greater impact than gases released on the ground due to something called the “radiative forcing” effect. The sum total of the damage is about 1.9 times that of driving a relatively fuel-efficient car.
Radiative forcing notwithstanding, it’s much easier simply to call a mile a mile. Since most of us are doing so little about the problem already, to quibble over the exact radiative forcing effect is a bit like working inside the Beltway, where people would rather argue over how to do something than actually do it. As convenient as it would be out here in the real world to live that way, we can’t, so let’s use the mile = mile metric.
Thus, if the average American drives 10,000 to 15,000 miles each year, it takes only a trip to Europe for a West Coaster, a trip to Hawaii for an East Coaster or a couple of cross-country flights to do as much damage (or more) as you do during an entire year of commuting and cruising in your car.
Politics Cedes to Science (Finally)
While climate change has considerable staying power as a hot-button topic among politicians, virtually no reputable scientists and increasingly few citizens see it merely as a political issue any longer. After years in the political wilderness, climate change has come to be accepted as scientific fact by most Americans, or close enough to fact to act.
As “flight-shaming” becomes a thing in travel, many travelers are willing to do something about it, but are we willing to stop traveling? In this global economy, and in a country where extended families might live all over the country, forgoing air travel entirely isn’t going to happen. And the greater benefits of global travel are multifold and diverse, whether you focus on cultural, political or economic factors. So what can we do about it?
Carbon Offsetting: Solution or Panacea?
For better or worse, the concept of “carbon offsetting” has gained considerable currency in the media as one way to mitigate the environmental impact of many facets of modern living. The concept is fairly simple: for every mile you travel, or rather every ton of carbon dioxide your mode of travel causes to be released into the atmosphere, you pay a small fee to enable other folks to work on solutions to mitigate the damaging ecological effect of your travel.
There are some great things about carbon offsetting:
Unlike a lot of environmental science, the concept is extremely easy to grasp. Spew a bunch of gases into the atmosphere + plant a tree that can chew up those gases = zero-sum total.
To let the market help solve some of its own problems is a promising long-term approach; several companies mentioned below are making it very easy to participate, which is a critical component of any popular movement.
For insanely busy working Americans who simply do not have the resources to plant 40 trees every time they fly to Chicago, paying a very reasonable amount to have someone else do this work is both effective and realistic.
But there are also some problems:
For one, the majority of online carbon calculators are standard, and as airlines do more in minimizing their carbon footprint, “No account is taken of the airline and whether it is an airline that has taken more measures to reduce emissions, or not. Aircraft type is also not being taken into account, yet we know that one aircraft can be massively more efficient than another,” reports the OAG (Official Aviation Guide). We need new, industry-wide metrics to help travelers understand what their actual impact is and how to make appropriate decisions whether it’s to fly at all or to choose a different airline or route.
Considerable debate remains on how best to spend the funds: wind farms or tree farms? Solar solutions or “manure into methane”? Indigenous reforestation or “tree cultures”? While tree planting is one of the most popular options for carbon offsets—not to mention one of the easiest for average people to understand—many experts point out that trees only sequester carbon until they die, at which point the carbon will be re-released into the atmosphere. Other debates center around questions of whether the companies and agencies doing the work are actually delivering on their promises.
As of late, many airlines, and other travel-industry providers, are taking their impact on the environment more seriously and participating in programs that help make their business models more sustainable. One of these ways is by offering carbon-neutral flights (read more on that, here) that use biofuel, other airlines are forming industry “eco-partnerships”, like Etihad and Boeing for example, as well as investing in newer, more efficient aircraft fleets. The good news here is that these major corporations are taking responsibility, but the reality is, both travelers and providers need to do their part to have an impact.
(The issue of whether a nonprofit is better than a commercial company for this type of work is also a divisive issue in the world of general do-gooding; many believe that adding a profit motive to what has typically been “charity work” is the best way to improve and sustain these efforts. On the other hand, one obvious upside of using the nonprofit is that you can deduct the expense at tax time.)
We’ll walk you through an example of how carbon offsets work with Expedia: When booking a flight on Expedia, the last screen you see before confirming the purchase of your trip to Knoxville is the option to “Customize your trip to Knoxville,” which includes such “Featured Activities and Services” as the Expedia Flight Protection Plan, an airport lounge pass, a subscription to a glossy travel magazine and, sure enough, the option to “Fly Green with TerraPass,” one of the leading travel carbon-offsetting companies.
Based on calculations of the carbon footprint of your trip (typically measured in cubic tons, which you can calculate on the TerraPass site), Expedia and TerraPass offer multiple contribution levels to account for the length of your flight.
International and Domestic Airlines’ Carbon Offset Programs
There are numerous sites that offer carbon offsets, and a few airlines that offer the option to offset air travel.
Some of the stand out programs from international airlines include the following: EasyJet now offsets the carbon from the fuel used on every single flight by investing in selected projects, like forest regeneration and solar energy. Qantas allows its Frequent Flyer and Business Rewards customers to earn 10 Qantas Points for every dollar spent on offsetting, plus, the airline matches every customer’s contribution to carbon offsetting, dollar for dollar. Cathay Pacific’s FLY Greener program helps customers calculate their carbon offset and purchase plans on their site when booking. Other international airlines that offer customer-facing carbon offset purchasing options include: Air New Zealand, Austrian, China Airlines, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, and more.
Point is, no matter where you’re flying, you can probably find an airline offering offsets. You can also access these sites without going through the airlines. Your other options include The Conservation Fund and TerraPass. Or, to simply calculate your carbon impact and learn more about ways you can reduce it rather than purchasing offsets, visitCOTAP.org. It’s also worth noting that just because an airline isn’t listed here, doesn’t mean that it’s not participating in other environmental-friendly initiatives.
If you prefer not to mingle your travel booking with your charitable and environmental efforts, or if you want to extend your carbon offsetting donations to other parts of your life, you can visit the Web sites of any number of competing carbon offsetting outfits to calculate your carbon consumption and make your contribution directly. See our comprehensive list of carbon offset companies.
FAQs on Carbon Offsetts for Flights
How much does carbon offsetting cost?
Most websites allow you to offset in two ways. The first is to donate a preselected amount ($5, $10, $20). The second is to calculate your carbon emissions based on your travel and/or activities to determine a specific donation amount. When you purchase carbon offsets through an airline, you often only get the option of offsetting travel, but sites such as Carbonfund.org offer the option of offsetting air travel, car travel, your home, or any combination.
When offsetting air travel, some sites give you the option of offsetting the effects of radiative forcing as well. Radiative forcing occurs at higher altitudes when an aircraft’s contrails form cirrus clouds, which more than double the emissions’ effect on global warming. Naturally, opting to offset radiative forcing costs more.
How is carbon offsetting calculated?
The way emissions are calculated varies by site, and most give an explanation as to how they generate the cost of an offset. Carbonfund.org uses statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, while Cathay Pacific uses historic fuel consumption data to determine carbon dioxide emissions, then divides this number by the total passengers on the plane (based on historical averages) and the distance flown to determine the amount of carbon dioxide per passenger kilometer. Qantas takes it a step further and factors in emissions from ground operations such as catering centers, terminals, ground vehicles, and engineering facilities. There is no industry standard as to how emissions are calculated, so there is potential for variation.
Where does my money go and can I choose where it goes?
Once you purchase a carbon offset, your donation supports renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and/or reforestation projects. Some sites allow you to choose what types of projects your money goes toward, while others choose for you. For example, both Carbonfund.org and Sustainable Travel International allow you to choose whether your donation goes toward reforestation/preventing deforestation, renewable energy, or energy efficiency projects.
How do I know my money is going to a reputable project?
Do your research. Before you purchase offsets, review the organization and its projects.
Look for nonprofit organizations and Gold Standard certified projects.
Make sure the organization and its projects meet third-party certification standards and are verified and audited by third parties.
Check that the organization retires carbon offsets instead of reselling them.
Other Ways to Offset Your Environmental Impact While Traveling
Reducing your environmental impact while traveling can be almost absurdly easy (and I’m not talking about driving without air-conditioning during summer, wearing down coats in your hotel room or other such unpleasantries):
When you leave your hotel room, turn down the heat or air-conditioning until you return, and turn off the lights.
Use the “no room service needed” option offered at many hotels. At home, you don’t change your bedsheets, use a different towel, vacuum perfectly tidy rugs or scrub your sink every single day, as is the case at even the most modest hotels. If everyone in every hotel in the U.S. were to use this option, the amount of water and energy saved on washing machines alone would have an impact.
Use public transportation when traveling. In many cities riding the subway, the Underground, the El trains and the like can be a wholly satisfying way to get to know your surroundings. Folks who zip from one tourist attraction to another in a taxi learn about exactly those things: taxis and tourist attractions. It’s all the actual living in between that makes a great city great.
You Tell Us: Have you ever purchased a carbon offset? Do you think they are a good idea? Share your thoughts and advice with us on social media and tag (@SmarterTravel) so we can see it!
You may think you need a passport to travel to the tropical islands of Hawaii, but think again. Since Hawaii is one of the 50 states within the United States, passports are not required for citizens to travel there. Be aware, however, that a REAL ID will be required to travel to Hawaii starting October 1, 2021 (read this story for updates on this issue due to delays related to COVID-19).
Hawaii Passport Requirements
Since Hawaii is a state within the United States, citizens do not need a valid passport to travel to Hawaii from the mainland. However, starting on October 1, 2021, everyone will need a REAL ID for air travel, and not all states currently issue driver’s licenses that comply with these requirements. If yours doesn’t, you may need to carry a passport instead. For more information, see Everything Travelers Need to Know About the REAL ID Act.
How to Get a Passport for Travel to Hawaii
If you’re continuing on to a foreign country from Hawaii and need a passport or do not have a REAL ID for air travel, apply for a passport as soon as your travel is confirmed. The cost will be greater if applying for a passport within two weeks of travel time (in which case you will need an expedited application). You can learn more about passport requirements and documents needed to obtain a U.S. passport here.
Other Hawaii Travel Requirements
So, Do I Need a Passport to Visit Hawaii?
In summary: No, Hawaii passport requirements state that U.S. citizens don’t need a passport when traveling from the mainland to Hawaii since it is considered domestic travel, but starting on October 1, 2020, everyone will need a REAL ID for air travel. In this case, you may opt to use a passport just to be safe.
More Information When Visiting Hawaii
For information on how to apply or renew a passport, visit here.
Hawaii Tourism Authority is a great resource for things to do and places to stay, as well as everything you need to know before you go when planning a trip to Hawaii.