How Will the Omicron Variant Affect Your Travel Plans?
Most people are now well aware of the delta variant of COVID-19. But with more of the population being vaccinated — and even receiving boosters at this point — many consumers were probably confident in any upcoming travel plans. And then news of the omicron variant broke. Now, people who were eagerly planning to travel for the first time since the pandemic began may be asking if they should cancel or change their trips.
Here's what you need to know about how the new variant could potentially affect your travel plans.
How Will Omicron Affect Your Travel Plans?
What to Know About the Omicron Variant
There's a lot that's still unknown about the omicron COVID variant because it's still so new. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that it probably spreads more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, but that they also aren't sure how easily it spreads compared to the delta variant. They also don't know yet if this variant will cause more severe illness, noting that more data is needed. The CDC continues to recommend those who are able to be vaccinated, and also to continue wearing masks.
Wondering where omicron has been detected? The CDC has now noted that the omicron variant "has been detected in most states and territories"; the organization has also clarified that the proportion of of COVID-19 cases it's causing is "rapidly increasing." If you're planning to travel at all, then you'll want to pay extra attention regarding your travel plans.
You'll Have to Mask Up to Travel
The Transportation Security Administration has extended its mask mandate, thanks to the omicron variant. Because of that, you'll have to mask up when traveling on airplanes, trains, and buses, as well as in airports and train stations.
The mandate is set to be in place through March 18, 2022, and this is the third extension since it first went into effect at the beginning of February 2021, according to USA Today. Think you can get away with wearing no mask? You might not want to chance it — refusing to wear a mask could result in being fined from as little as $500 to as much as $3,000 for "repeat offenders," a news release from the White House states. There are some exemptions for those under the age of 2, as well as travelers with certain disabilities.
International Travelers Must Get Tested a Day Before Departure
International borders have recently reopened for non-U.S. citizens coming into the U.S., prompting plenty of visits from loved ones who were unable to visit for a year or more. If you have an international visitor coming, though, you should prepare them for new COVID-19 testing protocols. Now, instead of needing to test negative within three days of departure, visitors traveling by air must test negative within one day, regardless of vaccination status or nationality.
Omicron Travel Restrictions Are Being Lifted
The omicron variant is said to have originated in southern Africa, so it's no surprise that incoming U.S. travel was suspended from select African nations, including South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. However, as of December 31, 2021, those travel restrictions were lifted, as the U.S. is following similar measures by other countries, including Canada. But, it's also important to note that the CDC is still advising against travel to South Africa, as the countries are said to have "very high" COVID-19 risk.
Can You Change Your Flight?
The ability to change your flight varies by airline, but some of them are taking steps to assist travelers. Be sure to check often to see if your upcoming trip has been affected. For instance, CNBC reports that Delta Air Lines is eliminating fare differences for travelers who were headed to Japan and Israel, as both have banned foreign visitors — at least temporarily.
American Airlines is offering a wide-reaching solution, as well. For travelers who have bought tickets to and from Australia, Europe, the U.K., Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, or South Africa between March 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021, their tickets can be used this year. The travel must have been set to take place through the end of 2021, but as long as it meets those requirements, "the value of the ticket can be used for trips through Dec. 31, 2022," according to CNBC.
For now, CNBC reports that major U.S. airlines have dropped "change fees for both international and domestic main cabin and above tickets." As long as they were purchased in the U.S. or certain other countries, the tickets should be eligible. However, it's important to note that you may still have to pay for differences in fare if you choose to travel on an alternate date. Additionally, if you have a basic economy ticket, it may be more difficult to change, as those tend to be less flexible.
Feeling confident about traveling? Check out the best travel deals you can book right now!