More than leisure or business, travel is important because it connects us with people we love, and the places where we’ve created lifelong memories. Now that the world is slowly reopening and travel is becoming an option again, we should take the necessary steps to stay informed and be prepared when it comes to travelling safely.
As lockdown slowly eases, more travellers are starting to think about booking a holiday. There’s a lot of cautious optimism: in our latest weekly survey, 57% of people* said they believe the global travel situation is getting better. But although flight routes and countries are starting to reopen, many of us are understandably anxious. After all, there’s so much more to consider now, from new must-pack items (hello, hand sanitiser) to weird industry jargon (travel bubbles and air corridors, anyone?)
Whether you have itchy feet right now or are planning for the future, our travel checklist includes everything you need to know. From navigating complicated cancellation policies, to which countries are open for business, read on before you book your 2020 flights.
- When will travel become possible?
- Where can we go?
- Who should travel?
- New airport rules during the pandemic
- Flight cancellation policies
- Hotel cancellation policies
- How can I protect my trip?
- What else do I need to pack?
- 2020 travel FAQs
Where can I travel? Should I travel?
When will travel become possible?
Restrictions on overseas travel are set to be lifted on 6th July, nearly four months after the lockdown began. Not all routes will be back, however. To begin with, it will only be European countries that have agreed to create ‘air bridges’ with the UK. These agreements allow people to travel between two countries that both have COVID-19 under control, without spending two weeks in quarantine on either side.
As infection figures constantly fluctuate, the corridors will work on a traffic light system based on coronavirus levels. Countries with green status will be the safest, orange less so and red will be the highest risk. If infection rates start to rise, the UK can choose to close the bridge – or impose a stricter quarantine on arrival.
Bad news for readers north of the border. The Scottish Government hasn’t yet made a decision on whether or not they’ll ease restrictions on holiday travel. Luckily there are some incredible staycations to be had in Scotland.
Where can we go?
The full list hasn’t been confirmed yet but is believed to include at least 15 countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Unfortunately, Portugal, Sweden and Greece are unlikely to be on it. That said, it’s open to change, and it’s likely more countries will be added over the course of summer.
“As restrictions start to ease, consider rethinking destinations with distancing in mind. If you are looking to read a book by the sea with the sand between your toes, consider the Portuguese Sintra coast north of Lisbon with its vast, quiet coastline instead of the crowded Algarve. For romantic French meals and stunning Gothic architecture why not skip the crowds of Paris and head to Reims? Looking for those Machu Picchu humble brags on Instagram? Instead, you could take in the breathtaking scenes of Lousios Gorge in Greece, with crumbling monasteries carved into the cliff faces.”Jen Rankine, Global Community Manager, Skyscanner
Who should travel?
Airlines and airports are doing their best to keep all of their passengers safe, but everyone needs to do their bit. This means staying home if there’s a chance you might have coronavirus. It’s your responsibility to avoid travel if:
- you’re experiencing any of the symptoms (or have in the past week).
- are self-isolating as a result of symptoms.
- share a household or support bubble with someone who’s experienced coronavirus symptoms during the past 14 days.
- you’ve been advised to self-isolate by the NHS test and trace service.
In case you need a refresher, the main symptoms to look out for are a continuous cough, high temperature and loss (or change) in your sense of taste and smell. Although this could just be down to a summer cold, it really is better to be safe than sorry.
At the end of the day, it’s your decision whether you feel safe enough to travel. That said, members of high-risk and moderate-risk groups should put their holiday plans on hold. This includes people older than 70, those with non-severe lung conditions like asthma, take medicine that affects the immune system or have conditions affecting the brain and nerves.
If you’re not sure whether you’re at risk, you can find a full list of conditions on the NHS website.
New airport rules during the pandemic
Every airport is different, so check the official website of your departure and arrival airports before you start your journey. That said, they all have new measures in place to keep travellers safe from the risk of coronavirus. These might include:
Face coverings: you’ll definitely need to wear a mask on the aeroplane, but some airports also require adults and children to wear face masks whenever they’re inside a terminal building. Learn more about face masks for travel.
Temperature screening: Heathrow Airport is trialling temperature screening at check-in as well as arrivals.
Fewer terminals: larger airports have closed some terminals, for example, Heathrow currently only has departures from terminals 2 and 5.
Social distancing: seating arrangements and queuing systems have been rearranged to facilitate social distancing. Some airports also have one-way flow systems in place to limit contact between people.
Reduced retail options: don’t expect to stock up on duty-free. Most airport shops and restaurants are closed at the moment, with the exception of pharmacies such as Boots. Retailers will slowly start to open up again as more flights are scheduled, although it’s wise to pack some snacks in the meantime.
Flight cancellation policies
With so much uncertainty about which routes are going ahead, it’s important to know that you’re protected should your flight get cancelled. Luckily most airlines have put flexible policies in place to set passenger’s minds at rest.
For example, as of June 20th 2020, Virgin Atlantic is making it easy for customers to re-book by letting them change flights for free to dates up until September 2022. Norwegian is giving guests an incentive of 20% towards a future trip if they opt for a flight credit instead of a refund. Similarly, TUI is giving customers a full refund credit plus a 20% booking incentive. Richard Sofer, their Commercial and Business Development Director, says:
“We’re being as flexible as possible for our customers who already have a booking but don’t feel comfortable travelling at the moment. Anyone who booked before 17 March 2020 who is due to travel up to 31 August 2020 can amend to any other holiday currently on sale, if they do this before 10th July.”Richard Sofer, Commercial & Business Development Director at TUI
These policies subject to change, but you can find an up-to-date list of the main airline flight cancellation policies here.
Hotel cancellation policies
If coronavirus rates continue fluctuating all summer, hotels may have to close at short notice. Nobody wants to be out of pocket, so during your planning phase, it’s best to look for accommodation that already has a flexible cancellation policy in place. This makes it easy to get a refund if you need to cancel within 24 or 48 hours of your stay. It’s especially handy if your flight gets cancelled, or if you have COVID-19 symptoms and decide not to fly.
Many large hotel groups have introduced new cancellation policies because of the pandemic. For example, Marriott International is allowing full changes and cancellations, free-of-charge, up to 24 hours before arrival until July 5th – even on their more restrictive booking rates. Radisson is similarly offering free modifications and cancellations up to 24 hours before arrival on new bookings, up until August 31st 2020.
As for Travelodge, they’re allowing people who have booked on the usually restrictive Saver rate to change their booking free of charge until 14th August – and if they need to cancel, they’ll be provided with a voucher for a future booking. These policies are always subject to change, and it’s best to check the hotel website before you make a commitment. This is what to do if your hotel booking gets cancelled.
We’ve also introduced a new feature on Skyscanner which shows the cleanliness score for all accommodation:
“Travel providers are reacting to new consumer concerns by implementing and improving hygiene standards to instil confidence and differentiate themselves as people go through the holiday booking experience. Customers can now view a newly integrated cleanliness score on all accommodation properties offered on our platform to ensure customers are making an informed decision.”Jon Thorne, Director of User Satisfaction at Skyscanner
How can I protect my trip?
With so much uncertainty, splashing lots of cash on a holiday that could end up being cancelled is a big risk. Here are a few ways to reduce your chance of losing money.
Get travel insurance
We always recommend adding insurance to your travel checklist anyway, but during the pandemic, it’s more important than ever. Travel insurers are quite risk-averse, and since Coronavirus became a known entity in mid-March many of them stopped covering this type of cancellation. Before committing to a policy, always read the small print. Although they’re unlikely to cover coronavirus cancellations, some will cover you if you can’t travel because you or a family member contracts the virus. For more information, check out our guide to buying travel insurance during coronavirus.
“If you bought a travel insurance policy before coronavirus became a known event, then, generally speaking, you’ll be covered. The relevant date varies according to each insurer, but 12th March is a good rule of thumb. That’s the date the WHO declared coronavirus as a pandemic, and it became a ‘known event’. If you are looking for new cover, study the fine print, and again, consider speaking to a representative on the phone or by email to be sure of what you’re covered for.”Martin Nolan, Senior Director, Legal & Public and Regulatory Affairs at Skyscanner
Look for flexible cancellation policies
Since your travel insurance is unlikely to help you if your trip gets cancelled, it’s best to make sure you’re protected by the companies themselves. Many companies have made their cancellation policies far more flexible, but it’s best not to assume. Whether you’re booking flights, hotels or car hire, always spend some time looking through the small print of their cancellation policies. Some will allow you to cancel for free up until noon on the same day. It’s worth spending a little bit extra for the most flexible option.
Use your credit card to book
Even if you have plenty of money in your debit account, using your credit card gives you extra legal protection. This is because purchases between £100 and £30,000 are covered by ‘section 75’ of the Consumer Credit Act. It basically means your credit card company shares responsibility with the seller in case something goes wrong. If the airline goes bust, your credit card company will be responsible for reimbursing you.
Wearing face masks
Who’d have thought the hottest holiday fashion this year would be the humble face mask? Countries have different rules and regulations about where and when you should wear them, so it’s always a good idea to read up on it before you travel.
It’s mandatory in most European countries to wear a face-covering whenever you ride on public transport. Lyft, Ola and Uber have also made masks compulsory in order to protect their drivers. Unsurprisingly, you’ll also have to wear a mask in-flight. Again, regulations vary from airline to airline but the majority are enforcing it. Ryanair and easyJet require face masks but, in true no-frills style, don’t provide them. Lufthansa, KLM, Air France and British Airways also ask passengers to wear a mask.
If you’ve not had to wear a mask yet, you’re probably wondering how to wear one and how often to change the internal filter. The World Health Organisation has some comprehensive guidelines around this, and we’ve also written about everything you need to know about wearing face masks during travel.
What else do I need to pack?
If you’re a frequent traveller you’ve probably got your checklist down to a fine art. We recommend updating it with the following items:
A few face masks and enough replacement filters for your whole trip: it’s easy to order them online when you’re at home, but it may be harder to find them once you’re overseas.
A digital thermometer: fever is one of the main symptoms of COVID-19, and catching the symptom early means you can impose self-isolation and reduce the chance of spreading the illness.
Gloves: remember to discard them after touching anything, and don’t touch your face while wearing them.
Hand sanitiser: great for keeping hands clean on the go.
Antibacterial wipes: use them to wipe down surfaces such as your seat on the plane and your baggage.
Medicine: bringing some headache tablets, allergy pills and indigestion tablets from home will save you from having to go to the pharmacy once you arrive – reducing your chance of exposing yourself to sick people.
Instant noodles: if you need to self-isolate once you arrive, having some non-perishable foods like instant noodles mean you can eat without leaving your room.
“Consider downloading apps to ensure that you don’t have to carry paper documents (primarily check-in, security, boarding and hotel confirmation). Also, consider taking most of your foreign currency in electronic form. Multi-currency cards with e-wallets mean you can avoid international bank fees and use contactless payment over notes and coins.”Dave Thomson, Chief of Staff at Skyscanner
2020 travel checklist FAQs
Bring hygiene items like hand sanitiser, latex gloves, spare masks and filters and some antibacterial wipes. It’s also worth bringing your own medicine like paracetamol and a digital thermometer to keep an eye on symptoms. Consider packing some convenience food in case you need to go into quarantine upon arrival.
In light of COVID-19, most airlines have made their cancellation policies more flexible. Many are offering full refunds, the chance to re-book for free or a travel voucher for future flights. Some even have incentives, such as 20% towards a future trip. Always check with the airline to find out what they’re offering.
Although travel insurance companies aren’t covering cancellations due to coronavirus, it’s still a good idea to buy travel insurance for your flight. Depending on the policy, this may cover you if you develop coronavirus symptoms and need to cancel or if you have a family bereavement. It will also cover you against any non-coronavirus related issues. Always read the small print.
Aeroplanes are usually cleaned after every flight, with rubbish removed and seats quickly wiped down with disinfectant. Many airlines have stepped this up since Coronavirus became a major issue. Every airline is different, so it’s best to check their individual website to find out their policy. We recommend bringing your own wipes to disinfect your seat area, just to be on the safe side.
Yes, you should wear a face mask while travelling. Wearing face coverings on public transport is mandatory in most European countries, including the UK, and private firms like Uber and Lyft also enforce this. Policies differ between airports and airlines, but as a general rule of thumb, most require their guests to wear face masks. Check the official website of your airline, as well as departure and arrival airport, for up-to-date guidance.
Of course, not everyone will be ready to hop on a plane just yet. Whether you decide to travel or not is totally up to you. We hope this article has given you the information you need to make your decision a little easier.
*11,684 people surveyed globally between June 15-21, 2020
Want to read more? We’ve been busy finding ways to help travellers feel informed and inspire them when the time comes to travel again.
Our Coronavirus Travel Advice Hub is updated every day with the latest news and information
If you need some inspiration, we recently sat down with Jess Parr of The Layover Life to chat about dream destinations to visit after lockdown
Still not sure what to expect? Here’s a first-hand account of flying during coronavirus.