Coronavirus and the new normal of US travel

New normal of US air travel

What changes can ESTA traveler expects as air and cruise travel implements new safety measures 

30 June 2020 – The world is settling into a new normal as countries have finally begun to reopen their economies and their borders once again. Since the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic, the travel industry and travellers are settling in to a new normal. The airline and cruise industries look to a future of safety in the wake of the coronavirus. And travellers with the ESTA Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) are seeking to understand what international travel may look like as holiday and business travel plans are again on their minds.

Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, released a 51-page document entitled “Our Plan to Rebuild” in May 2020  outlining the UK’s plans for reopening the economy. Largely, the plan is underway. Britons are still required to wear face masks an observe social distancing, but workers are “actively encouraged” to go back to work if they cannot work from home. 

Previous limits on time spent outdoors are being removed and bars, restaurants and retail will potentially reopen in July. Some sports events may be resumed behind closed doors, and according to a government-issued document, “the government will require all international arrivals not on a shortlist of exemptions to self-isolate in their accommodation for 14 days on arrival into the U.K.” Boris Johnson described these plans as the “first careful measures” to ease the lockdown, going further to state that, “Our challenge now is to find a way forward that preserves our hard-won gains, while easing the burden of the lockdown”.

In the rest of the EU too, 15 and 16 June were significant dates for the lifting of temporary travel restrictions and more re-openings are expected in the latter part of the summer. European countries like Croatia, Portugal and Greece have already begun reaching out to tourists and recent surveys have revealed that 80 per cent of travellers have plans to visit the Schengen Area within the first 3 months of reopening, with almost half of them planning to travel under the VWP.  Among the respondents, tourism and leisure travel stood out as the number one reason for their travels.

And in the US, President Donald J. Trump’ White House administration published a blueprint on the White House website called “Opening Up America Again” detailing their plans for reopening the country. In addition, some big businesses such as Boeing, parks, beaches, spas, salons, and gyms have already reopened, and several states like Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alaska, and Texas, among others, have begun relaxing many measures while balancing by re-implementing others in response to the coronavirus situation in real time. The finite balance will be a work in progress for the foreseeable future.

That said, temporary travel restrictions to the US are still in place and these restrictions also apply to those travelling under the ESTA Visa Waiver Programme which allows Britons and other European Union citizens to visit the US without a visa with a 90-day limit on the length of their visits. However, these re-openings offer a glimmer of hope that the worst is behind us and that soon, travel would resume. How so looks to be an entirely new normal, complete with a few significant changes. 


The 'New Normal' for international cruise travel from the UK to the US

As expected, the changes that will ripple across the travel industry will alter cruise travel as we know it. Every facet of cruise travel is being reassessed by cruise companies and several changes geared towards ensuring the safety and protection of crew and passengers are being made. 

It is anticipated that cruise lines will reduce the number of passengers they take on each trip. This will be dependent on the size of the vessel; a boat with a normal capacity of 250 may now take only 100, for example. Group tours would be much smaller. Rigorous health screenings will be undertaken before passengers and crew embark on the vessels. Items that are generally shared by the public, such as self-service snacks and candy bars, would be removed to limit contact between multiple people as much as possible.  
In the dining areas, seating would be pre-assigned, again, to limit passenger exposure. This way, people end up sitting at the same table every time with the same people. Shared items like bread and butter will be served in single, individual servings. Much consideration is also being given to whether or not buffets should still be allowed. On-board shows and restaurants will only host a limited number of guests at any one time.

Moreover, crews shall be retrained to adopt new etiquette and protocols. Disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer dispensers will be made more available throughout the vessels, in addition to face masks. Contactless payment methods would be adopted so that no one has to touch a touchpad that has been used by several other people. Where touchpads are used, they would be wiped clean after every use. Regular temperature checks will be done and thermal imaging will be adopted to check guests’ temperature as they embark and disembark. 

On May 5, 2020, Carnival tweeted about its reopening date, saying, “Any resumption of cruise operations—whenever that may be—is fully dependent on our continued efforts in cooperation with federal, state, local and international government officials.” Carnival plans to begin sailing again in September 2020.


Airline travel and the new normal

As expected, the airline travel experience would also change dramatically. In the EU, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a 28-page document containing new safety measures to be adopted by airports and operators. Plans for new safety measures for air travel will cut across every stage of the travel process, from arrival and check-in to baggage claim. 

For example, anyone who develops symptoms or has been in contact with a Covid-19 sufferer after booking is mandated not to show up for the flight. Nobody who is not travelling or working at the airport would be allowed inside, which means that passengers must bid farewell to friends and family outside the terminals. Washing hands and wearing face masks is mandatory, with children under six years of age and people with medical reasons not to do so being the only exemptions from these precautions. Passengers will be reminded to adhere to these instructions regularly through the public address system, security messages, and flight information. 

People in airports and on-board flights would also be mandated to cover their face when sneezing or risk being ejected from the airport and facing other penalties from local authorities. The required minimum physical distance between people is set at 1.5m and floor markings would be used to indicate where people should stand. EASA also requires airport operators to set up interview booths for people showing symptoms such as a temperature over 38C. Airport staff would hand out face masks to passengers not wearing any, and Perspex barriers might become a feature of check-in desks. 

Aircraft would be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between flights. Masks will be worn by passengers and crew on-board the aircraft and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recommends that they be changed and discarded every 4 hours. Some airlines–such as British Airways–have considered removing idle seats to improve social distancing, but this is not mandatory in Europe and the US. 



Staying safe while traveling

While travelling may not be entirely risk-free, there are a few things you can do to stay safe while you travel:

•    Wash your hands with soap frequently under running water for at least 20 seconds. If you cannot for any reason, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content on your hand and wrists. But wash your hands as soon as you can; hand sanitizers are just not as effective at getting rid of the contagion.
•    Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands at all costs. This is one of the reasons for the face masks. Only touch your face after you have thoroughly washed your hands, and only use single-use wipes to touch your face. Throw them away after each use. 
•    Practice good social distancing. Always stay at least 1 meter away from people, especially those who are coughing or sneezing. You might become infected if you are exposed to their airborne respiratory droplets.
•    Avoid crowds. Smaller groups are less risky than larger ones.
•    Always wear a face mask when in public to protect yourself and others.
•    If you develop symptoms such as coughing, fever, or difficulty breathing, seek medical help immediately.

It is too soon to announce when it is anticipated that ESTA-approved travel from the UK to the US will be able to resume travel. The proclamation will be lifted in due time. It is clear that travellers are eager to travel again and the EU has opened most of its internal borders, Britons hope to be able to travel to the US under the ESTA Visa Waiver Programme by the end of 2020.

Bookmark our blog now to keep up with the latest travel news that relates to ESTA travel to the US. To learn more about the VWP you can visit our comprehensive ESTA Guide here. 

Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.

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