Travel

How safe is it to travel in a COVID-19 world?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Since the first Covid case was reported, travel has undoubtedly been affected in ways never thought imaginable. For the first time since commercial flying began, aircraft are grounded, airports are ghost terminals and the idea of travelling is worrying people like never before. On the 1st June, some European countries started to pen dates where they will be slowly reopening their borders. So we decided to dig a little deeper, find out what is really concerning travelers, separate the myths from the truths, and take a look at how travel will change in 2020 and beyond.

How has Covid affected your will to travel
How will you be affected by Covid when travel resumes?

We asked our amazing followers on Instagram how they felt about travelling this year and the issues they feel will make them think twice. Covid-19 discriminates against no-one, so if you’re a Muslim traveller or a Business Traveller, we all have the same challenges in a post-covid world.

Travelling With Children

One of the greatest concerns to travellers, especially families, is the thought of navigating a holiday with children. They touch everything! So you can easily see why 82% of parents in our poll are worried when taking kids on a holiday, with so many potential sources of catching Covid, from the airport to the hotel. It’s worth noting though that the levels of hygiene protocols across travel are making huge strides in improving the sanitation above and beyond what has been done before.

For example, hotels are investing in training, super virus busting products, and certification from independent bodies to reassure travellers that rooms are thoroughly clean between check-ins. Now, we’re wondering why this wasn’t done before, but it’s nice to know you’ll have a steralised room when you check-in rather than wondering who sat on the fabric sofa before you.

Accor hotels were one of the first to announce their certification scheme to help reassure customers and employees that appropriate standards and cleaning protocols have been met for their hotels in France, and expand this to other countries. Accor says the project has been carried out in partnership with doctors and epidemiologists.

When will it be safer to travel?

As the world slowly comes out of the chaos Covid has left behind, it’s pretty obvious we are going to see a gradual reopening of borders and tourism services. Portugal, have already announced they are welcoming all tourists back from the start of June, which is probably one of the more surprising ones as they’re not requesting any health certificates to enter the country. Brave.

On the other hand, tourism dependent countries like The Maldives are preparing for a return to travellers to their idyllic islands from the 1st July. There are rumours (nothing confirmed as yet) that you may have to stay for a minimum of 14 days and be tested when you arrive. Firstly, that sounds quite expensive, considering most 5 star resorts will set you back £1000 a night. However, longer and less frequent holidays may be the short term future as the world resets it’s dependency on frequent flying.

However not everyone is sharing the same confidence. Our poll suggests that 74% of travellers feel uncomfortable travelling anywhere in July or August, the height of the traditional summer holiday period. At the same time, respondents believe that confidence in the UK government’s strategy is wavering, with 82% of people thinking that lifting restrictions in the UK is too early. The safest time to travel will be when like-for-like countries in infection rates who expand their travel bubbles. These air bridges could provide a safe multi-lateral approach to enabling you to travel on holiday once again.

So we thought it would super helpful to give you an overview of where you can go and where it is off-limits for now. The below infographic shows the countries that are closed to all tourists (red), those that are open to tourists with no major restrictions (green), and then everything in between in an array of oranges.

Bookmark this page and see updates when countries reopen. We want this map to be green soon!

ClosedClosed to all arrivals
Phase 1Domestic Reopening
Phase 2Open to arrivals from selected countries + 14 day self-isolation required upon arrival
Phase 3Open to arrivals from countries who have no new cases in the past 14 days
Phase 4Open to arrivals from some countries + health certificate / test required before or upon arrival
OpenArrivals permitted from all / selected countries with few requirements

What’s worse, the airport or the aircraft?

Whilst 71% of our poll are worried about catching Covid from the aircraft, it’s the airport that has more potential virus-harbouring surfaces. Yes, we’ve all seen the grossness of aircraft tables, armrests and crumbs in the magazine flap, however an antibacterial wipe down and some personal space awareness should mitigate those risks. Airports on the other hand, are designed to process large numbers of passengers with a number of potential bottlenecks including check-in, security search area, departure gates and boarding the aircraft. Will someone be wiping down those large grey trays you put your laptop in at the end of each search? We shall see.

IATA assesses that catching an infection on an aircraft is typically lower than browsing the local shopping centre or in your office. Compared with those locations, a modern aircraft has its cabin air changed many times more frequently than offices or shops. For most modern aircraft types, the air supplied to the passenger cabin is either 100% fresh or is a mixture of fresh and re-circulated air that is filtered through HEPA filters of the same efficacy (99.97% or better) in removing viruses as those used in surgical operating rooms.  As in a shopping center or an office, the biggest risk is if someone remains in the environment while unwell with a viral infection. Hence maintaining good personal hygiene is key!

The range of simple measures advised by WHO are effective even for passengers on a flight: careful hand-washing on a regular basis, or at least hand sanitize, avoiding touching other people, covering coughs and sneezes (and then hand-washing), avoiding travelling if becoming unwell, and avoiding contact with anyone who appears to be unwell.  While you must not travel when you are ill, should you experience symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness during or after a trip, seek medical attention and share your travel history with the foreign health care provider

Onboard however, is there a better place to sit? A 2018 study suggests passengers who were least likely to get up were in window seats: only 43 percent moved around as opposed to 80 percent of people seated on the aisle. Window seat passengers had far fewer close encounters than people in other seats, averaging 12 contacts compared to the 58 and 64 respective contacts for passengers in middle and aisle seats. However the probability of transmission is low as most contact people have on airplanes is relatively short.

One question that is often asked is whether passengers should wear masks when on a flight. Some airlines are mandating the wearing of masks during the flight to minimise the spread if someone is asymptomatic. Etihad Airways are taking extra steps to make sure you feel safe and well when you travel. They have introduced new initiatives to limit touchpoints and allow for more distance between you and other guests. To bring extra peace of mind, they are introducing a new team of Wellness Ambassadors to help you throughout your journey.

etihad covid wellness
Etihad Covid Wellness

So what’s next?

Travel will be different for a while and for many, the decision to adapt will be the overriding factor. Are you willing to wear a face mask on a 9-hour flight or accept the additional risk of catching a bug? Remember, there have always been health threats when travelling, from Malaria to a common cold from the person next to you. A vaccine may be months or years away, so finding ways to mitigate the risk of Covid (as well as any other disease) in your future travel plans may be a sound way to rationalise the concerns for your next trip.

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