Over the past few months, airlines, hotels and other tourism businesses have been working hard to create a safe environment during the COVID-19 pandemic. But since 5 November, there’s a new barrier to coronavirus travel: the UK has entered a new lockdown, ruling out non-essential travel within the UK and abroad, until 2 December.
While the lockdown is underway it’s only possible to travel for work, educational or other legally permitted reasons. Whether you’re heading overseas for these reasons or are planning ahead for a post-lockdown trip, read this complete guide to safe travel in the age of COVID-19.
This article was last updated on 24 November 2020. You can find the latest travel information on which countries are open to visitors on our dedicated travel restrictions global map.
Is it safe to fly during coronavirus?
Taking part in any activity that minimises social distancing carries risk, but flying is probably safer than you think.
A 2018 study into the way infectious diseases are spread in planes found that it’s unlikely that a droplet-mediated respiratory infectious disease – like COVID-19 – would be able to spread more than one metre on an aircraft. This is backed up by some practical examples. Earlier this year, Canadian public health officials found that there were no new infections on a 15-hour flight from Guangzhou to Toronto, with two passengers on board suffering from COVID-19.
This is because airplane air is a lot cleaner than you might imagine. Speaking to the BBC in June, Jean-Brice Dumont – the chief engineer of Airbus – said that all of the air on a flight is completely renewed every few minutes. Air is collected from outside of the airplane and mixed with recycled air. This passes through high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters just like the kind that are used in hospitals. The filters are the right size to capture coronavirus particles, so the air should be perfectly safe to breathe.
Air on planes also flows from top to bottom – so doesn’t spread backwards or forwards through the cabin.
In addition, airlines are taking extra measures to make it safer to fly. These precautions include handing out personal protective equipment like face masks (mandatory to wear throughout the flight on most airlines) and hand sanitiser, and asking passengers to socially distance during boarding.
Many airlines have stopped their in-flight meals and duty-free services. Some airlines are keeping the middle seat empty for social distancing and asking passengers not to leave their seats unless using the toilets. Look up your airline’s policies before travelling to the airport, so you have everything you may need.
Are airports COVID safe?
It’s worth pointing out that you’re more likely to pick up the virus while you’re at – or on your way to – the airport. While surfaces are disinfected regularly, you are in a space that hundreds of other people have passed through. Now’s a good time to practice the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s sanitation advice. Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds and don’t touch your face. Keep some hand sanitiser handy, for when you can’t make it to a sink.
That said, airports have introduced a slew of new measures to minimise the risks of flying during coronavirus, such as encouraging online check-in before arriving at the airport or using self-service kiosks, and airport staff taking passengers’ temperatures using touchless thermometers before boarding. There are also more hand sanitising stations positioned throughout airports.
More on flying during coronavirus:
- Tips for flying during coronavirus
- Everything you need to know about food and drink on flights right now
- What to expect while flying during coronavirus: a first-hand experience
Is it safe to drive during coronavirus?
Taking your car from the UK to mainland Europe can feel like a safe way to travel during coronavirus, because you’re in your own ‘bubble’ from start to finish. Note that every stop you make increases your chance of coming into contact with someone carrying the virus, but that the chances overall aren’t dissimilar from everyday activities like grocery shopping.
But be informed about infection rates in the areas that you’re driving through, wear your mask each time you stop and wash your hands at every opportunity. And if you’re driving from the UK to Germany, you’ll only be able to avoid self-isolating when you return home if you don’t exit the car in France or the Netherlands, which might not be possible.
France, Italy and the Netherlands have been removed from the UK government’s travel corridors list. This means that if you travel to mainland Europe on the train, entering either of these countries, you will have to self-isolate for 14 days on returning back to the UK. It also means that if you drive through these countries and exit the car, you will have to self-isolate when you get home. This applies to overland travel to Spain and Portugal, too, which have also been removed from the travel exemption list.
Is it safe to travel by train during covonavirus?
It’s important to note that any kind of shared travel brings with it transmission risks. But, outdoor train platforms and spaced-apart seats can reduce the risk of close contact with others, and mandatory face coverings on public transport in most European countries helps reduce the transmission of droplets.
Increased hygiene procedures and open windows can make train travel relatively safe, but it all depends on whether cleaning protocol has been followed, so protect yourself by keeping your mask on, washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitiser.
Again, travel by train to mainland Europe through France or the Netherlands requires 14 days self isolation on return to the UK. This quarantine period will reduce to five days from 15 December.
Is it safe to travel by bus?
It can be difficult to socially distance on buses, and not all coaches have windows that can be opened – limiting fresh air flow, a key factor in reducing airborne virus transmission.
Which countries are safe to visit right now?
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is in charge of reviewing the UK government’s ‘travel corridors’ list. UK residents can travel to these countries (entry requirements may apply) without having to quarantine for 14 days on their return.
Coronavirus is really unpredictable. A destination can go from being considered safe to risky in the blink of an eye. Belgium, Croatia, France, parts of Greece, Portugal and Spain have all been taken off the exemptions list, among many more. And then there are the UK lockdowns to consider. Since 5 November, non-essential travel in the UK is banned for at least a month, so holidays abroad and staycations are ruled out for the time being.
Even when planning ahead, bear in mind that even if a country has low cases of COVID-19 when you book your trip, it could change in the days before you go. It pays to be prepared and understand that you might need to go into 14 days of quarantine once you get back home. The best way to protect yourself is to make sure you’re insured – we’ve got some guidance on choosing a coronavirus-era insurance policy.
To sum up, no country is going to be 100% safe right now, or virus-free, and non-essential travel might not be possible. Planning is more important than ever. Always check what’s happening before you travel and invest in insurance coverage. And if you’re travelling from an area with rising infections, consider whether travelling is creating a risk of you spreading the virus, too.
Read more about choosing a safe destination:
Quick travel safety tip checklist
You can’t do anything about the R number in the place you’re visiting, but you can protect yourself with these simple travel safety tips.
Start by asking, ‘is it safe to travel right now?’ Check the government website for advice on the country or region you’re visiting to make sure there’s no quarantine or local lockdown. Bear in mind that during UK lockdowns, non-essential travel both within the UK and abroad is not allowed.
Avoid busy routes and times. Avoid public transport during local rush hours. When you’re choosing a destination, try to go for somewhere a little offbeat – it’s likely the flight will be quieter, and the destination less crowded. Our list of 11 lesser-known alternatives to popular places may be a good place to start.
Check entry requirements. Some countries are ‘open for business’ but with the caveat that you need to have tested negative for COVID-19. Check if there are any extra tests, screenings or quarantine measures in place.
Remember the basics. You might be on holiday, but coronavirus isn’t. When you’re passing through busy places like airports, hotels and shops try to keep two metres (six feet) from other people. Wear a face covering, wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds at a time, and try not to touch your face.
Bring your own disinfectant. Most hotels and restaurants have amped up their cleaning procedures, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Wipe down frequently touched surfaces in your hotel room with antibacterial wipes, just to be on the safe side.
Book in advance. Restaurants and attractions need to limit numbers to maintain social distancing guidelines. Unfortunately this means it’s harder to be spontaneous – check online first to see if you need to book tickets or tables in advance.
Prepare for the worst. If you start to experience symptoms, you’ll need to self isolate and potentially get tested. Pack paracetamol and some non-perishable food so you can limit your contact with others. Depending on how severe your case is, you might need to get treatment in your destination.
Be ready for a longer stay. If a localised outbreak progresses, you’ll need to be prepared to stay in your destination for longer. Bring your laptop if you have one, so you can work, and make sure you have enough money to pay for extra accommodation. You’ll also need to stay for longer if you start experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, as it’s unlikely you’ll be allowed to fly.
Most importantly, don’t travel if you or anyone in your household/support bubble is experiencing coronvirus symptoms, or has experienced them in the past seven days. You could potentially spread the virus if you do travel.
Do you think it’s safe to travel?
Ultimately, the only person who can answer the question ‘is it safe to travel?’ is you. Equipping yourself with information makes it easier to do a quick risk assessment. Decide whether you’d be putting yourself at any additional risk compared to staying at home, and act within the guidelines of local restrictions. Make sure you have a good insurance policy in place, just in case things change unexpectedly.
Travel safety FAQs
Since 5 November, non-essential travel within the UK and abroad from the UK is not allowed. If you need to travel for work, educational or other legally permitted purposes, you can fly to any of the countries which show up green on our travel restrictions map without having quarantine on return. Once you arrive, you’ll have to observe local laws. We recommend spending a bit of time researching lockdown restrictions in the country, region and city that you’re heading to.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) currently recommends against all but essential international travel, apart from to the list of exempt countries, which you can find on the government website. This list is constantly under review and can change any time. It includes major tourist destinations across Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Pacific. As they’re exempt from the travel restrictions you won’t need to go into quarantine, but keep an eye on the FCDO advice in case there’s a last-minute change and abide by local lockdown restrictions.
If you need to travel for essential reasons, you can travel in a vehicle with other members of your household or support bubble. You only need to wear a face covering if you’re in an enclosed space with people who aren’t part of your household or bubble: for example if you hop in a taxi, travel by bus or get on an aeroplane. If you’re travelling in a private vehicle with people who aren’t part of your household, try to keep to small groups so that you’re not all squeezed together. Open the windows for added ventilation, and try to face away from each other if possible.
It depends where you’re coming from. If you’re flying from a country that isn’t on the FCDO-approved list, you will need to quarantine for 14 days (due to be reduced to five days from 15 December). Remember that the list of exempt countries is subject to change – look at the list before you travel (you can find it on the UK government website). If you transit through a country that isn’t on the list, you’ll need to isolate for a total of 14 days – this can be split between the UK and the safe country you pass through.
Want to know more?
- Check out the latest coronavirus travel advice
- See which countries are ‘open for business’ with our travel restrictions map
- Update your packing list with the 12 things you should bring if you’re travelling right now