By Ed Perkins, Tribune Content Agency
We’re getting conflicting information about the COVID-19 outlook for the rest of the year. On one side, some of the medical folks are saying that the pandemic won’t be over until 2021 sometime and we should keep isolating for the foreseeable future. Some medical folks are saying we might have a vaccine within a few months. And some political leaders are “reopening” starting this week. Don’t ask me which of these is the most likely — extended lockdown or quick recovery — in some ways, they all might be. In any case, however, you can expect some travel requirements that will last at least through the end of the year and maybe longer.
Masks. Get used to the idea of wearing a face mask in almost all travel situations. Already, the biggest U.S. airlines have announced that you won’t be able to travel unless you wear a mask, as have several foreign lines. Most others will adopt the policy, fairly quickly. Railroads, hotels, theme parks, malls, museums, auditoriums, even just walking around — most such venues are also likely to require masks when they reopen. Disposable or renewable, ordinary or chic, figure out which you prefer and add it to the list of “don’t leave home without it” items. My guess is that mask requirements will remain well after the country settles back to normal or at least sort of normal.
“Passports.” Suggestions are flying around that some agency should issue safe-travel “passports,” certifying that the bearer (1) is immune to coronavirus, (2) has tested negative, (3) has recovered from COVID-19, (4) has been vaccinated — after there really is a vaccine — or (5) some combination of those. To date, the World Health Organization (WHO) has come out against the passport idea, mainly because currently available tests are not adequate to show the requisite degree of assurance: They provide too many of both false positives and false negatives to be reliable indicators of safety. My guess is that the WHO view will prevail, at least for the next several months. That could change, however, if the pharmaceutical labs can come up with an effective vaccine. In that case, a vaccination certificate might well become important, just as we old timers remember those yellow certifications of various vaccinations and inoculations we carried decades ago.
Vouchers. At present, when you make even a supposedly “refundable” payment to a travel supplier, you’re likely to have a tough time getting your money back if you cancel. Instead, the supplier will try to fob you off with a voucher for credit you can apply to a future trip — often with gotchas. Some airlines are doing that today despite hard government rules in the U.S. and Europe that they have to refund your prepayment if they cancel a flight. Most travel suppliers are now in a serious cash bind and many will stay that way for several years. So, for the next several years, you can expect many airlines, hotels, and other suppliers to modify their “refundability” policies to confine refunds solely to future credit vouchers. In a related development, as I noted last week, trip-cancellation insurance policies are likely to include fine print that future-credit vouchers specifically satisfy the requirement for recovery from a supplier.
Airports. Even after they nominally reopen, airports will remain different places for a long time — in some cases, indefinitely. First, public access will be more strictly limited than it was before the shutdown. That means, at some airports, that nobody but air travelers will get past the front doors. Although moving the security process to different locations may not be feasible, airports will likely go to boarding-pass-only access screening. I’ve already experienced this at some airports overseas, and it’s likely to arrive at home. Travelers in an airport might have to wear masks. Also possible is some sort of health screening, such as fever checks, that may be added to the TSA process. It will probably be more theatric than effective, but don’t be surprised to encounter it. Maybe on arrival from international flights, too.
(c) 2020 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.– May 5, 2020