Should you change your travel plans because of the coronavirus? Not necessarily, government says

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Airplanes and cruise ships are emptier than usual as the coronavirus continues to spread globally.

Travel advisories are changing constantly. Airlines including United, Delta, and American have cut several flights to Asia, while Italy announced a nationwide lockdown on Monday as the country’s coronavirus death toll continues to rise.

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With all of this in mind, many are wondering: Should I cancel my upcoming vacation?

Not exactly, according to the U.S. Department of State.

In its latest travel advisory, the federal agency recommended discussing travel plans with your healthcare provider and reviewing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel page for the latest notices.

“Older adults and travelers with underlying health issues may be at risk for more severe disease,” the state department said.

Flights

With coronavirus cases popping up in more than 100 countries, many travelers are looking to cancel or postpone their flights.

Many airline carriers have made some accommodations for those deciding not to travel, with some choosing to waive change and cancelation ticket fees for both domestic and international flights as people reassess their plans.

Below is a list of accommodations carriers are making for travelers:

  • American Airlines will waive change fees for passengers who’ve bought a ticket between March 5-31. It’s also suspending flights to Milan, Italy through April 24 and halting operations to and from Seoul, South Korea. The airline is expected to reduce 10% of its international flight capacity heading into summer’s peak travel season.
  • Alaska Airlines will waive fees for tickets purchased between February 27 and March 31, which applies to any travel through June 30. Customers will also be able to cancel or change any flight through March without fees, regardless of the purchase date. The policy applies to all of its fares, including its “saver fares,” which generally don’t allow for changes or cancelations.
  • Delta will waive fees for all flights booked anytime in March, including international flights previously booked that are scheduled to fly this month. The airline allows passengers to make a one-time change through April 30 for trips to Shanghai and Beijing, China, Seoul, South Korea and all locations in Italy.
  • JetBlue will waive fees for all new flights booked between February 27 and March 11 for travel through June 1.
  • United Airlines will allow all travelers booking a flight between March 3-31 to change it for free over the next 12 months. The airline will suspend flights between the United States and Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong and Shanghai, China through April 30. Starting in April, the airline will also reduce domestic flights by 10% and international flights by 20%.

Cruises

The CDC and the U.S. Department of State are urging Americans to avoid cruise ships as the virus continues to spread, however, most sailings are continuing as scheduled, leaving travelers unsure of whether to follow the government’s guidance or continue with their plans.

Traditionally, cruise companies have set very strict refund policies but in light of the global outbreak, most cruises are offering refunds or rescheduling.

In a statement, Royal Caribbean said anyone on cruises in Asia departing before March 23 will be allowed to rebook without penalty at a later date. Royal Caribbean also said that cruises with itineraries outside of Asia will continue as scheduled.

“We’ve been staying on top of the situation and had already canceled or modified most sailings in Asia through mid-March, with no sailings departing from mainland China or Hong Kong,” the statement reads.

Tawnee Sons, a senior sales manager and travel agent for Create Your Cruise, said the decision to travel all comes down to a personal choice and what you’re comfortable with.

“Things are so fluid that you have to do your part also, and do what is best for you, check with your medical professionals,” she said.

Sons said in the past couple of days, her agency has fielded hundreds of calls from vacationers with questions and concerns from passengers, adding that she’s had several customers cancel their trips outright as well.

“Most cancellations are from people that are in the higher risk bracket ─ people with high medical risk or the elderly,” Sons explained.

The decision to cancel also comes down to where you’re looking to travel to, according to Sons. Create Your Cruise has canceled all Asia itineraries as a precaution.

“I do not anticipate canceling Italy in that fashion, but with upcoming spring sailings, it’s a fluid situation,” Sons said. “It’s about giving it time and letting the government decide.”

Despite this, she said you can still book a cruise.

“Royal Caribbean is allowing passengers to cancel their cruise up to 48 hours prior to sailing for any sailing through July 31,” Sons added.

Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company, said in a statement that its brands, which include Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Cunard, enhanced their health screening protocols for passengers. The cruise line said its conducting thermal scans and temperature checks on all passengers before allowing them on board and while onboard the ship.

Carnival also said it’s working closely with the CDC and the World Health Organization, but allowing scheduled cruises to go on as planned and are not taking any further steps unless told otherwise.

“We continue to implement increased monitoring, screening and sanitation protocols to protect the health of our guests, crew and the residents of the destinations we serve,” Vice President of Guest Services Colleen Oliverio said. “Our measures are designed to be flexible to adapt to changing conditions and recommended best practices.”

Carnival guests who choose to keep their booking for departures between March 6 and May 31 do have incentives and will receive the following On Board Credit (OBC) amounts:

  • $100 per cabin for three- and four-day cruises
  • $150 per cabin for five-day cruises
  • $200 per cabin for cruises six days or longer
  • Guests who booked before March 6 and are looking to change their travel plans will be allowed to move their booking to a new date and receive a Future Cruise Credit in the amount of the non-refundable cancelation free.
  • Guests booked on sailings departing between March 9-31 can move their booking to a future date up to three days before sailing.
  • Guests booked on sailings departing between April 1 and May 31 can move their booking to a future date by March 31.

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