Lots of travelers are asking me, “When will it be OK to fly?”
My neighbor is a pilot for Alaska Airlines. So, he’s fine with flying right now, since it’s his job. I have a friend up in Utqiagvik who just flew up there with her two small children. Thursday afternoon, I went out to the airport to see the world’s biggest cargo jet, the Antonov An-225. The crew of six was flying a load of masks, gowns, gloves and other medical safety gear from Tianjin, China, to Montreal, Quebec. They all had their masks on.
So, the short answer is that it’s OK to fly. But the more important question is whether you’re willing to risk getting sick. Then you can start dialing in the precautions and safeguards you’ll use to protect yourself, your loved ones and those around you.
Everyone’s tolerance for risk is a little different. In the case of flying on a plane, it’s my prayer that if travelers want to engage in risky behavior, they keep it to themselves. Specifically — don’t fly when you’re sick, and wear a mask. Lately, the airlines are taking more steps to keep their planes clean, to leave middle seats open on the 737s and to cut down on the touchpoints in the cabin (by no longer serving meals and drinks or offering the occasional hot towel). Pretty soon everyone will have to wear a mask to board a flight. Even the airlines are recommending you wipe down your own seat with disinfectant wipes.
The extra vigilance, along with increased testing and a falling-off of new cases, may offer some optimism for summertime travel. I’ll ask Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, for expert guidance on the issue.
There are lots of travelers who are waiting for a vaccine or a treatment to combat the COVID-19 virus before getting on a plane again. Others are ready to fly now, or as soon as the 14-day quarantine orders for those coming in from out of state are lifted.
If you’re looking for some good bargains for out-of-state travel, there are lots of options. I’m only interested in airfares for flights leaving after June 1. There still are travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders throughout the country. So it’s a good idea to confirm the restrictions are lifted before you purchase a ticket.
Between Anchorage and Seattle, the lowest rate is $107 each way on either Alaska Air or Delta. That’s a great deal, although early in March rates had dropped to as low as $83 each way. The rates are valid all the way until March 2021, except for Christmas and spring break. From Fairbanks to Seattle, it’s just a little cheaper: $106 one-way.
Between Anchorage and Portland, Alaska Airlines offers nonstop flights for $137 one-way starting in June.
Alaska Air’s nonstop from Anchorage to San Francisco, which remains under a stay-home order, got off to a rocky start. Originally scheduled to begin on April 21, the flight got pushed back to May, then again to June 1. It costs $142 each way. United also offers a nonstop flight for $142 each way. You can’t fly from Fairbanks to San Francisco nonstop this year. But on Alaska, the cost is just a little more, $148 each way.
Flights to Los Angeles have been competitive all winter and prices are depressed going into summer: just $122 each way. Alaska Air offers this rate starting June 1. United’s nonstop Anchorage-Los Angeles flight starts on June 18 for the same basic economy or “Saver” rate. The difference with United Airlines is there’s an extra charge to bring your regular-sized carry-on bag in to the cabin. Also, Alaska residents can get the Club 49 offer from Alaska Air for two free checked bags.
Both Sun Country Airlines and Delta Air Lines offer nonstop service between Anchorage and Minneapolis. Delta is selling tickets for $142 one-way, while Sun Country’s base price is a little less: $137 one-way. Keep in mind Sun Country also charges for cabin baggage, while Delta does not.
American Airlines only flies to Anchorage during the summer, and the Anchorage-Dallas flight always has been a strong route for them. This year, they’re offering the nonstop flight for just $285 round-trip, starting June 4. The rate is valid until the last American flight leaves Anchorage this fall on Oct. 6. From Fairbanks to Dallas, both United and Delta offer tickets for $296 round-trip.
Chicago is a popular nonstop destination from Anchorage, and it just got more competitive. Alaska Air and United have offered nonstops for years. But this year, American also is offering service. Rates start at $122 one-way starting June 1. From Fairbanks, United offers nonstop flights for as little as $295 round-trip.
Fly from Anchorage to Phoenix for as little as $132 one-way on Alaska Airlines. The flights stop in Seattle for the summer. Perhaps Alaska will bring back the nonstops in the winter. From Fairbanks, both Delta and Alaska Air offer rates starting at $148 one-way.
For nonstop international travel, there are fewer options. Icelandair, for example, has canceled its Anchorage-Reykjavik flights for the summer. And Condor has pushed its initial flight from Anchorage to Frankfurt back to June 27.
Rates go up and down all the time. What’s new this year is that flights may not operate due to government restrictions.
If you elect to fly out of state this summer, invest some time to learn about what coronavirus restrictions (if any) are in place at your destination. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. And pay attention to your public health officials regarding travel, social distancing and caring for your loved ones in the age of COVID-19.
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