This Is How The Coronavirus Outbreak Is Expected To Affect Your Travel Plans

Alex Landon Alex Landon - Editor

Coronavirus travel

The coronavirus outbreak is all-but-certain to impact your future travel plans.

Let’s be honest, after the year we’ve been having, a holiday is exactly what we all need right now. However, the realities of the post-lockdown UK are starting to emerge (here’s how life is expected to change for the foreseeable future), which is likely to alter the likelihood of us all jetting off on a well-earned break anytime soon.

Though tourist-dependent destinations are desperate to entice travellers back – just look at Sicily, which is offering to pay for half your flight costs in order to get you to visit – things are likely to take a while to get back to a place approaching normal. But since we’re just as desperate as you are for a break, we’ve done a bit of digging to try and begin to answer the question on everyone’s lips: “when can I go on holiday again?” Here’s what we’ve found:

Border closures are likely to limit your options for a while

Coronavirus travel

It’s important to stress that we’re still in the early days of European countries easing their lockdowns – indeed, we’ve only just passed the outbreak peak in the UK – which means this picture is likely to shift a fair amount in the coming days and weeks. For now, we know that the UK Foreign Office has placed an “indefinite” ban on non-essential travel, due to what they’ve dubbed “unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions”.

Essentially, if things were to continue as they are, any trips you’ve got planned in future should be considered cancelled – but with tourist hotspots desperate to get their economies moving again, this advice will probably shift again in the coming weeks and months. For now, we know that popular tourist destinations such as Cyprus, Italy, Spain, and Turkey are still operating with closed borders, with no word on when they’ll reopen. Plus, as the coronavirus outbreak has affected countries unequally, we’re likely to see a piecemeal reopening of international borders – for instance New Zealand, which recorded zero new cases yesterday, will most likely be welcoming international travellers before the USA, which currently boasts the world’s highest death toll from COVID-19.

Industry figures are remaining upbeat about the prospects of travel this year – Mark Hall, Director of Product at leading tour operator TUI UK, has said that travellers could be jetting off as “early as autumn” – but it’s likely to hinge on where you’re travelling to, and how under control their coronavirus cases are. Our best advice? Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and keep a weather eye on the local rules and restrictions.

Airports will look very different

Coronavirus travel

With UK air traffic having fallen approximately 90% compared to last year, airports are eerily quiet right now – witness Leicester City footballer Christian Fuchs catching a flight from JFK Airport back to England this week. Those famed queues at security aren’t likely to be seen for a long while yet, as a combination of passenger uncertainty, reduced airline capacity, and closed borders make any return to past normality a slow process.

Social distancing measures, which you’ve no doubt seen in place at supermarkets, are being mooted as a solution for international airports. Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, was quoted in The Telegraph as recommending temperature screening, minimal contact between passengers and airport workers, wearing masks when travelling, and an increase in airport hygiene – including deep cleaning and sanisiter stations – as practical steps which would help airports regain some of their lost passengers.

That likely means online check-in and airport self check-in will be pushed as an alternative to staffed check-in desks where possible, although hurdles still remain given the sheer volume of passengers in a confined space at busy UK airports. Holland-Kaye warned that the current two-metre social distancing rule would likely lead to queues of 1km per jumbo jet if applied in airports, calling such measures “physically impossible”.

Airlines will fly fewer, emptier flights

Coronavirus travel

Currently, the airline industry is in an strange and frankly dire position, with fewer planes in the sky, and flights departing mostly empty. Airlines including Easyjet and Wizz Air grounded their UK fleets earlier in the lockdown (although Wizz Air has recently resumed some flights, with face masks and enhanced cleaning routines both mandatory). Meanwhile British Airways has announced 12,000 redundancies and severe cuts to their operations at Gatwick Airport, as have Virgin Atlantic, and the airline group International Air Transport Association (IATA) is forecasting a £249 billion drop in revenue across the industry this year.

In other words, a pretty grim picture, and one which has airlines scrambling to work out how to remain in business. Easyjet has mooted the possibility of leaving the middle seats on their planes empty, though Ryanair’s typically outspoken boss has dubbed this “idiotic”, arguing that it still wouldn’t constitute social distancing. Face masks and deep cleaning regimes are likely to be pushed as potential solutions, but before that happens, any widespread resumption in flights likely depends on cues from the government about lifting the restrictions on non-essential travel.

In any event, the laws of supply and demand are likely to affect the cost and availability of flights. Flying half-empty planes in an attempt to aid social distancing, or operating fewer flights due to a low demand, is likely to be offset by a future rise in prices, which was all but confirmed by the head of the IATA in a recent press briefing. It’s not all doom and gloom on this front, though, as you can expect a wave of discounts and sales to start enticing the first travellers back: Easyjet has already kicked off a spring sale for 2021 in a bid to bring in some revenue. Due to the high volume of passengers and enclosed spaces, air travel is going to be one of the last industries to return to normal – or at least, normal as we knew it before the pandemic.

Cruises are out of action for now

Coronavirus travel

It’s perhaps a little hard to recall now, nearly two months into the UK outbreak, but cruise ships were amongst the early warning signs of an impending problem. A large concentration of people, who’d arrived from all over the globe, stopping at multiple ports, packed onto a ship with limited medical supplies and plenty of person-to-person contact: cruise ships proved the ideal hotspots for coronavirus to spread quickly.

Unsurprisingly, most cruises were stopped once the outbreak started to spread, with the USA’s Centre for Disease Control issuing a “no-cruise order”. The industry is under scrutiny for the speed of their response to coronavirus, and there’s currently no date given for when cruises might return to the seas – though one US operator is targeting an August 1 date to relaunch. Again, this is an industry that’s likely to take a while to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Train journeys will operate under new rules

Coronavirus travel

As with airlines, trains across the UK and Europe are still running for the benefit of cargo and key workers, though services have been reduced due to the declining demand. Emptier trains have made social distancing easier than before, although some commuter trains were still packed in the earlier days of the lockdown. Network Rail has already enhanced their cleaning regimes, with more regular disinfecting of handrails and ticket machines, and keeping bathrooms stocked with soap, but a swell in passenger numbers will likely require new plans.

The government has mooted more rail services as a possible solution to increased passenger numbers post-lockdown, although union bosses have already voiced their displeasure at the proposal, arguing that it would endanger passengers and rail staff. Social distancing measures are again difficult due to the enclosed spaces of train carriages, and so face masks are being put forth as an option. Indeed, as of yesterday, Eurostar has made face masks mandatory on all their services (in line with guidelines set by the French and Belgian governments), a move which could be co-opted by more rail franchises in the near future.

Staycations and UK breaks are likely to become more popular

Coronavirus travel

If international borders remain closed through summer – and the UK lockdown laws permit more freedom of movement – then staycations are set to become rather in-vogue. A study conducted by CabinBookers has revealed that 90% of us are planning a holiday in the UK once the restrictions are lifted, with 44% saying was due to the pandemic leaving them with tighter budgets. It’s not just a financial choice, though: 8 in 10 people admitted that they now had a higher appreciation for the UK’s beauty spots, with 86% opting to choose a countryside holiday over a city break.

So, perhaps your summer will be filled with brilliant day trips, excursions to enchanting castles, stays in magical treehouses, and time spent on UK beaches? Certainly doesn’t sound too bad right about now…

We’ll try to keep you updated with any changes to the global travel situation when we have more information.

Also published on Medium.