Airlines Slash Travel Fares Over Coronavirus: Should You Book?

Amiee Maxwell

Salt Lake City, Utah

Airline fares are dropping nearly everywhere while fear and uncertainty over Coronavirus grows. The virus is halting most travel plans, but others are snagging up flights at rock bottom prices. Should you take advantage of the travel deals or stay grounded and close to home? Here’s the scoop:

Should I book flight deals during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Airlines are continually lowering ticket prices because of coronavirus fears, so many travelers are snagging discounted airline tickets for future travel. Frontier Airlines is advertising 90% off millions of seats for domestic travel booked through April, and Delta is advertising huge deals to the Caribbean, Latin American, and South America throughout the spring.

Flight deals aren’t just for immediate travel. Searching sites like Skyscanner and CheapOair, you can find huge deals to Europe, Southeast Asia, and New Zealand through the summer months and fall. Many airlines, such as Delta Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue, and Alaska Airlines, are also waiving change fees for new tickets so you can take advantage of the cheap fares knowing you can potentially cancel later without incurring any fees. 

The steepest flight deals offered involve travel within the next month, but many experts are advising to only fly now if absolutely necessary (and we agree). If you’re considering taking advantage of one of these deals, read more below. Perhaps now is just the time for dreaming up your next adventure and scoring sweet deals for future trips.

Should I travel during the COVID-19 outbreak? 

Although the situation is constantly evolving, as of March 18th, 2020, 40+ countries, including the EU, have enacted travel bans, essentially closing borders to non-essential travel. While the CDC does not generally issue advisories or restrictions for travel within the United States, some areas are experiencing community spread of the disease and ordering a city-wide lockdown. Even if travel is necessary, older adults and those with serious medical conditions should avoid travel to destinations with level 2 travel notices and all travelers should avoid nonessential travel to destinations with level 3 travel notices including China, South Korea, Iran, and all of Europe.

If you decide you need to travel, whether that be for work or to visit a sick relative, keep in mind that the situation may change. Even if the place you’re traveling to doesn’t have any travel restrictions in place now, that can change rapidly. This could mean having to book a last minute flight back home before borders close — like what just happened to travelers in Europe — or having to self-quarantine upon returning home.

See the CDC’s current COVID-19 risk assessment by country here

How likely is it to catch COVID-19 from a plane? 

According to the World Health Organization, air travel does not necessarily increase risk for communicable disease more than any other form of mass transportation such as buses and trains. The CDC says, “Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes.” Filters used on aircraft actually trap bacteria and viruses so you’re more likely to pick up a bug from surfaces and contact with other passengers. 

If you absolutely need to be on a plane (we’re looking at you, flight attendants), it’s a good idea to clean the airplane tray table, armrest, and seatback displays with a sanitizing wipe as soon as you get to your seat and avoid the seat pocket all together. Window seat passengers have less interaction with people in other seats so avoid the aisles if you can. Airlines have also stepped up their disinfectant techniques to combat the risk of COVID-19 and airlines like Delta are fogging the entire plane with disinfectants after returning from international destinations.

To keep yourself extra safe, consider bringing your own water bottle and refilling before boarding so you don’t need to use the airplane cups. Also, you’ll want to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Consider wearing a bracelet or rubber band around your wrist as a reminder to not touch your face or distract your hands with a fidget spinner or stress ball. Avoid the bathroom all together if you can, and use the air conditioner nozzle to create a sort of germ buffer around your head.        

What should I expect if I’m flying during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic? 

A few things have likely changed in airports across the world since the last time you’ve flown. You can expect a lot more cleaning. Janitorial staff are disinfecting high-contact areas such as handrails, elevator buttons, and doors more frequently, but you should avoid all high-touch areas as often as you can. You’ll also find hand sanitizer and reminders to wash your hands everywhere. 

No changes to screening procedures have been made. T.S.A officers are required to wear nitrile gloves when physically screening passengers and you always have a right to ask the T.S.A. officer to change gloves before handling your luggage or performing physical searches.