Pondering a trip on an airplane these days can be tiring.
First, there’s the possibility that you’ll get sick while crammed in with 100 strangers. The good news on planes is that everyone has a mask, although most passengers take their masks off at some point to eat or drink.
Lately, the CDC has been recommending that everyone double up on masks. Some airlines, like Lufthansa, are mandating that flyers have high-grade N95, KN95 or surgical masks. The most common recommendation for masks is to wear a surgical mask and cover it with a cloth mask, providing an extra barrier.
Of course, it’s not just the plane ride that’s risky business. No, it’s also the crowded airport, the airport bar, the bus to the rental car, the hotel shuttle and the chance that you’ll be around an entirely new group of people. Every single one of these interactions with individuals outside of your “bubble” increases the risk that you’ll contract COVID-19 or even unwittingly spread the virus. These are some of the reasons the CDC still recommends that you do not travel.
That said, experts have had a year to figure out some efforts that can mitigate the spread of the virus — aside from staying at home on the couch. Masks work. Social distancing — at least 6 feet — works. Washing your hands works. Avoiding large indoor gatherings where people aren’t wearing masks works. Also, vaccinations work. Hopefully, more people will get vaccinated, making it more difficult for new COVID-19 variants to spread.
The number of new COVID-19 cases still is high in Alaska and in the Lower 48. But those numbers are decreasing. That doesn’t mean travelers can let their guard down with masks, social distancing, handwashing and vaccination. But it is a hopeful sign for would-be travelers.
The other hopeful sign is the continued friction between Alaska Air and Delta, resulting in low fares to popular destinations.
Last week, there were deep discounts from coast to coast for travel ending on March 31. Alaska Air and Delta have been fighting all week and the fares continue to go up and down. But some good things happened just a couple of days ago.
Many travelers scooped up last week’s cheap fares. But many held back, because COVID-19 numbers still may be high in March. Now, there is a selection of good fares that are valid through March, April and May. These also are a few deals for travel all summer long.
Between Anchorage and Seattle, Delta is selling tickets for as little as $86 one-way for travel between March 13 and May 16. From Fairbanks, Delta’s rate is $93 one-way to Seattle. During March, Alaska Air has matched the Anchorage-Seattle fare. But my guess is that in a day or two, Alaska will match Delta’s fares. For travel through the rest of the summer, both Alaska and Delta are offering one-way fares of $107. These are the cheapest of the cheap seats. Alaska calls them “Saver” fares, while Delta calls them basic economy rates. Even with basic economy on Delta, though, the middle seats are empty through April 30. Alaska blocks out the middle seats only in premium class through May 31.
The price for traveling from Anchorage to other key airports in the Pacific Northwest from Anchorage is just $129 one-way: to Eugene, Medford, Portland, Boise or Spokane. From Fairbanks, the price to these destinations starts at $136 one-way for travel between March 13 and June 9.
From Anchorage to either Las Vegas, Chicago or Denver, the price is $129 one-way for travel through June 9 on Delta. Tickets from Anchorage to Salt Lake City are a little higher because it’s a Delta hub: $149 one-way on Delta through June 9. Prices from Fairbanks are either the same price (Chicago) or just $7 more (Denver and Las Vegas).
In addition to the good fares from Anchorage and Fairbanks, Delta has dropped fares from Southeast Alaska — Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka — to $94-$106 each way. Travel between May 29 and June 9.
My guess is that fares will be lower all summer. Like many travelers, airlines are cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 numbers will continue to drop and that travelers will once again take to the skies. As demand increases, prices will rise a bit. For example, nonstops from Anchorage to Hawaii are running $299-$313 one-way to Honolulu, Maui and Kona.
If you fly Outside for a trip, your return journey will be a little different. Because Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Alaska Legislature did not renew the statewide COVID-19 emergency declaration this month, the testing regimen for inbound travelers has changed.
COVID-19 tests were previously required for travelers coming in from outside Alaska, but now they are “recommended.”
Bryan Fisher is an incident commander with the state Emergency Operations Center. He said the screeners still will be at airports offering free tests for everyone, not just Alaska residents.
Fisher is clear: “The pandemic is not over. We still feel strongly there are risks associated with travel, particularly with new variants” of the coronavirus, he said.
“We would like to have the COVID-19 testing requirement,” he added, “and we’re going to have that conversation with the (Alaska) Legislature.”
“We want people to come to Alaska,” he said, “but we want them to do it safely.”