Perhaps the biggest question that many of us are asking ourselves is when we’ll be flying again — and when we’ll be comfortable doing so. Aviation journalist John Walton shares his own thinking on what he’ll be taking into consideration.
As someone who grew up on three continents and has friends on six, the isolation and reduced worldview of quarantine has really hit me hard. While airlines are starting to relaunch their services, with schedules restarting on an initially limited basis, is it safe to fly? Would I get on a plane right now? What about in July, or October?
Everyone’s answer is going to be different, and every situation has its own unique elements. Let me be clear: I have no current plans to travel, and I think in the vast majority of situations it makes most sense for most people to stay as close to home and isolating from others as possible for the moment.
But here’s what I’ll be thinking about when I start figuring out whether it’s safe and sensible to fly again.
Let’s start with why we’re flying: is it essential travel? It seems reasonable to think that, once restrictions permit it, travelling to something like (god forbid) a family funeral would be reasonable. Popping off to a resort for a summer holiday? Perhaps less so. But visiting a friend (or having someone visit) for a couple of weeks this summer? That seems like a lower risk to me. I’ll be keeping an eye on it and taking advice from the experts.
Being informed about my own state of health and my health risk
Over the next month or two, I don’t think I’d travel without being able to access antibody testing to see if that cold I had in March was in fact COVID-19. At the time, I wasn’t showing what were then the typical symptoms of the disease, but as time has gone on that symptom list has expanded to the headache, congestion and body aches I experienced.
If I’d had the disease, I’d also want to be comfortable that the science shows that antibodies from a previous infection provide protection against reinfection. If it had just been a standard cold after all, I’d be significantly less likely to travel before a vaccine.
I’d also check in on my general state of health, both physical and mental — and my decision would very much change in the event that I were in an especially high risk group.
The holy grail for many of us will be an eventual vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. Its production, cost and distribution seems set to be one of the great ethical questions of our time, and I expect to ask some deep personal questions about whether it’s right for me to use a vaccine in order to safely travel — including the reason for travelling — rather than leaving that vaccine available for someone else.
Travel — and travel medical — insurance
Among my top questions for myself will be whether I can get travel insurance — and travel medical insurance — for the trip, together with how much cover both will give, and what the exclusions would be.
I probably wouldn’t travel for anything other than an absolute family emergency unless I had it in writing from my insurer that travel disruption or falling ill due to COVID-19 were indeed covered under the policy.
I might also consider travelling to say, a neighbouring country where it would be relatively straightforward to get myself back at a less than bank-breaking cost via renting a car or something similar if my transportation were cancelled.
The medical situation also depends on destination: as an EU resident I have an EHIC, the European Health Insurance Card, which gives me the right to state-provided healthcare across the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland. I’d feel more comfortable travelling in those areas, or in other countries where reciprocal healthcare agreements are in place.
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Country-specific, government-specific and airline-specific questions
I’d also want to be sure that I was comfortable with the general standard of healthcare wherever I was going, as well as in any countries I was transiting or connecting through on the way. Similarly, I’d want the level of COVID-19 risk in all those places to be at least similar to that at home.
I’d also be thinking about the recommendations from my own government about whether travelling is advisable. Fundamentally, if there’s a do-not-travel or essential-travel-only order in place, that affects a great number of things.
Firstly, it affects the general wisdom of travelling there. Secondly, it affects the extent to which insurance will pay out if anything goes wrong. And thirdly, it affects the amount of assistance that your consular officials can provide in the event that you need it.
Of course, relevant restrictions on arrivals in my destination country will be a dealbreaker: if their government says “no visitors”, or “no visitors from my country”, for example. But so will the situation coming home: if there’s a “no arrivals, not even citizens and residents” rule for that country, or I weren’t confident that one was very unlikely to be put in place, I don’t think I’d travel.
Quarantine periods are also a big question. There’s both the question of cost and a question of “well why did I travel then?” if I have to self-quarantine in a hotel or rented apartment for two weeks after arrival, as well as the complexity of figuring out how to sort out shopping and food deliveries in a different place, across languages and where overseas cards often don’t work for online purchases.
For that matter, I’d also be considering whether or not I’d need to quarantine at home on my return, and how that might affect my work and life situation.
I’d also be thinking about my confidence in the airline I was considering flying with. Does it have a mandatory mask policy for all travellers or is it just on a request basis? What has the reaction of the airline’s leadership been to the crisis: have they been dismissive of concerns, or have they dealt with matters in a considerate and thoughtful way? How stable is the airline financially? What is the position on social distancing between seats (a question to which I myself have not reached a personal conclusion) and how would it apply to the particular aircraft configuration I would be flying?
And lastly, perhaps most importantly, I’d check whether I had enough money readily accessible. Money that I would need in the event that the trip went pear-shaped, or if a second wave emerged while I was on the road, or if I simply needed to get home quickly.
At the end of the day, this is a very personal choice for every individual and every situation. I’m certainly interested to hear what your thoughts are and how you’ll be making the choice — please share your thoughts on Twitter: I’m @thatjohn.
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