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When will we be able to travel again? Here’s what we know

We’ve got good and bad news: travel may still be on the cards this year, but not as you know it

Huw Oliver
Written by
Huw Oliver

In recent months, our worlds have become much smaller. They are our houses, our streets and our neighbourhoods. That same-old walk to the local supermarket and back. Our go-to comfort recipes and our go-to Zoom friends.

Of course, screens have provided an escape, a virtual window on to culture, landmarks and beauty spots across the globe. But unless you’re lucky enough to live overlooking a sweeping beach panorama, you’re probably bored of your window views by now and dying to get out and explore. If so, you’ll be one of millions asking: when can we travel again?

Well, with lockdown restrictions being lifted worldwide, an idyllic break somewhere could still be on the cards this year. The global travel industry is preparing to restart some services as early as the summer. It will be gradual, and choice will be limited, but if you start researching holiday ideas close to home, there’s a chance your getaway dreams could come true before the year’s end.

Here’s everything we know, positive and less so, about the travel industry and how it’s planning to get up and running over the coming months.

The good news

Airlines are planning to restart flights in summer

Over the past few months, severely reduced flight services have been running across the globe (largely to carry essential workers, repatriate stranded citizens and allow people to visit vulnerable relatives). 

With countries gradually entering ‘unlockdown’ the world over, however, major airlines have set out plans for a return to pretty much normal service ahead of their peak July and August holiday season.

In Europe, British Airways owner IAG has said it is planning for 50 percent of flights to resume in July, while a Ryanair spokesperson said it aims to have 40 percent of its flights in the air from July 1 (with 80 percent running by September). EasyJet is restarting a ‘small number’ of routes ‘where there is enough demand’ from June 15, including domestic flights across the UK and France.

American Airlines, Delta, Southwest and United Airlines, meanwhile, are all ramping up services across North America through the summer. Delta alone said that in June, it would reintroduce 100 more daily flights to its network. United said it would reopen several routes in June, including flights to Paris, Frankfurt, Shanghai and Tokyo.

In reopening routes – albeit at significantly reduced capacity – these airlines are anticipating that governments announce the lifting of travel restrictions over the coming weeks. From July 1, for example, the EU says it will lift a ban on international travel into Europe. Many individual countries are likely to ease their restrictions around the same time.

For now, stay up-to-date with our guide to when flights might resume near you.

Dreamy destinations are keen to welcome tourists again

It may be optimistic to think many housebound globetrotters will be willing – let alone able – to travel right now, but several countries have already reopened their borders in a bid to reboot their struggling tourism industries.

You’ve actually been able to visit Italy since June 3 – as long as you’re travelling from within the EU or the Schengen free-movement area. Unlike in many other countries, there’s no obligation to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

The Mediterranean island of Sicily has even announced it will offer a major incentive for all those who go there later this year, with the regional government saying it will cover half the cost of visitors’ flights and a third of their hotel expenses.

Portugal is also already open and ‘tourists are welcome’, according to the country’s foreign minister. Like in Italy, travellers arriving by air won’t be quarantined. Instead, they will face only ‘minimal health controls’ in accordance with the country’s lockdown rules.

Iceland, too, is already open to travellers from within the Schengen travel zone, and other international arrivals will be permitted from June 15. Those arriving will be able to skip kicking off their holiday with a two-week quarantine by being tested at the airport when they touch down.

France, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Cyprus and several other European countries are hoping to welcome tourists again through July and August. Many are already letting certain nationalities in, and planning to admit others in phases (depending on the status of outbreaks).

Outside of Europe, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, Tunisia, MexicoJamaica, Zanzibar and St. Lucia, Aruba and Antigua have also announced plans to open up their borders over the summer.

If you want to find out where else in the world you might be able to travel right now, check out this handy map from Tripsguard.

A ‘travel bubble’ or ‘air bridge’ could be your saviour

The fast-emerging idea of the ‘travel bubble’ is providing a glimmer of hope for many thumb-twiddling explorers. The concept, with countries buddying up with others with similar rates of transmission to expand their citizens’ travel options, is similar to the ‘social bubble’ that has been implemented or proposed for households in several nations. 

Before they opened their borders to more than 20 countries throughout Europe, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania teamed up to allow mutual travel between their countries. Australia and New Zealand, meanwhile, are also considering setting up a similar ‘safe tourism zone’.

If not a ‘bubble’, perhaps an ‘air bridge’ could come to your rescue. This is similar, but involves countries that are not necessarily in close proximity. For example, there has been a lot of talk about the UK and France, or the UK and Portugal, setting up a ‘bridge’ allowing their citizens to travel from one to the other without being quarantined on arrival (or their return home). Currently, anyone travelling to the UK is subject to a 14-day quarantine. But with a few bridges built, who knows?

Whatever else happens, you’ll probably be able to go on a staycation

Until the government advice changes, the tangle of restrictions and quarantine measures you’ll have to navigate if you travel overseas may be best avoided. In the meantime, a staycation could prove a lot safer – and avoid significant amounts of faff. So why not use this as an opportunity to resdiscover the beauty of your home country?

It is likely lockdowns will be eased in a way that allows for regional – and later full – domestic travel. Countries may first allow road travel to resume for short journeys then overnight domestic stays, followed by trains and short-haul domestic flights, and finally longer flights.

As an added bonus, the relaxation of internal travel restrictions – and our renewed desire to support local businesses – could well help countries’ homegrown tourist destinations thrive over the coming months.

Flights are currently dirt-cheap for 2021

The longer the current world situation continues, the more travel plans are being disrupted, cancelled or postponed. One upshot of this is that airlines and travel agents are offering plenty of incentives for you to think far, far ahead.

EasyJet, for example, has already starting selling flights for spring and early summer 2021 for destinations all around Europe – and they start at only £14.99 each way. Destinations from the UK include Ibiza, Valencia, Corfu, Mykonos, Lisbon and Nice.

As lockdown restrictions are eased around the world (and airlines deal with serious cashflow issues in the short term), it’s likely companies will launch other tempting deals in a bid to lure wary-yet-wanderlustful travellers. Such sales will be limited and won’t last long – so pounce fast. (But do make sure you’re happy with the airline’s cancellation and change policies before booking.)

The bad news

Everything is uncertain – and your options will likely be limited

Okay, here goes: we still don’t know when full international travel will actually be possible. For the moment, the UK, US and Australian governments are still advising against all ‘non-essential’ overseas travel. And politicians from several countries have suggested that there might be very little overseas travel possible for the rest of 2020. Australia may not welcome tourists again until mid-2021.

Plus, once your country’s travel restrictions are loosened, it’s all but certain the frequency of international trains and flights available will be reduced, and so too the range of destinations you can visit. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to visit your country of choice straight away, and you may have very little choice at all on where to travel.

Things will keep changing

Most nations have put in place some combination of flight bans, restrictions for people of certain nationalities and mandatory quarantines for new arrivals. Countries will lift these restrictions and reopen borders at different times, depending on the status of outbreaks around the world. This may change overnight, so you’ll have to keep on top of your government’s up-to-date travel advice before choosing your getaway. Last-minute booking could well become the norm.

You might be quarantined on return (and arrival)

The UK and Australia (among many other countries) currently have a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all inbound travellers – including British and Australian citizens coming home. The US may well introduce a similar rule. Should they continue, these measures will make the idea of a quick holiday abroad much less appealing. Would a week on the beach be worth having to spend two weeks in isolation on your return? Probably not.

Oh, and that’s not including any quarantine that your destination of choice might be placing on inbound travellers. Depending on your destination, you might have to spend 14 days confined in government-approved accommodation – which doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of a relaxing break.

Travel insurance will be hard to get

Many insurers have ‘paused’ cover for the time being. There are a few providers out there still selling policies that include medical cover – though more often than not, cancellations relating to new outbreaks won’t be accepted.

What’s more, if your government is still warning against ‘all but essential’ travel to your destination, then your insurance policy will be invalidated. It will only be valid again once the government gives non-essential travel the go-ahead.

Travelling without insurance is risky, especially in these uncertain times, so make doubly sure your insurer will still cover you before you book.

A second wave could scupper your plans

In absence of a vaccine, there will likely be a second major wave of cases. However, we have no idea exactly when – nor whether it will surpass the scope of the first.

Unfortunately, this means that even if the country you’re planning on going to has open borders and no quarantine measures for incoming travellers when you book, there’s no telling if this might change again before you go or even while you’re abroad. Rules could shift abruptly, and you could find yourself having to negotiate lockdown in another country or get home in a hurry.

Right now, though, any trip abroad may still be a while off – and that window on to the world outside will have to suffice. A would-be wanderer can dream, huh?

Find out more about life after lockdown

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