There’s plenty to navigate as more locations welcome travelers while others see COVID surges

The big travel stories this week center on airlines that are adding international flights for fully-vaccinated travelers. But also in the news: how the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is shaking up plans for visitors and residents alike.

Most recently, England relaxed its 10-day quarantine requirement for fully-vaccinated visitors from the U.S. The new policy is going into effect on Aug. 2. Prospective visitors from the U.S. will have to produce proof of vaccination, as well as a negative COVID test prior to travel. There’s also a requirement for a post-arrival test.

England joins France, Spain, Italy and Canada in welcoming fully-vaccinated travelers from the U.S. Some other European countries allow unvaccinated travelers to visit, as long as travelers take a pre-arrival COVID test.

Right now, though, citizens from Europe and England are not yet allowed to come to the U.S. on vacation. Canadians can fly to the U.S., but are not yet permitted to drive across the border.

As soon as United Airlines got the news on England, the airline added 40 additional weekly flights from its hubs in Houston, Washington, DC, Chicago, Newark and San Francisco. Plus, the airline is planning new nonstop service to London from Boston.

American and Delta joined United in adding service to Europe as COVID-related restrictions eased. Earlier this summer, the carriers added flights to Dubrovnik, Rome, Reykjavik and Athens.

Even as travel restrictions are eased to European destinations, there is a surge of new COVID infections due to the delta variant. Local conditions vary and are subject to change. In France, for example, visitors must produce their “health pass” for admission to bars, cafes, restaurants and shopping malls. Right now, it’s still unclear how U.S. travelers can integrate their vaccination information into a compatible format to get a “pass.”

Aside from Europe, there are other international destinations that welcome U.S. travelers. Although the land border between the U.S. and Mexico remains closed, you can fly there. No test are required for entry. But cases are on the rise and the U.S. State Department advises against travel to Mexico because of the high risk of COVID-19 infection.

Further south, in Costa Rica, no tests are required for travelers to enter. However, travelers must fill out a health pass and purchase mandatory insurance to cover quarantine and medical expenses.

Many other countries have started re-opening their borders to international travelers. But large parts of the world remain closed including China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia and India.

As vaccinations in the U.S. increased, travelers are anxious to fly. While waiting for places like Europe to open, interest in Alaska soared. This summer, Anchorage is enjoying nonstop service from more cities than ever before, including Newark, JFK, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Maui and Honolulu.

Many airlines, including Alaska, United and Delta have announced hundreds of new jet orders to fill the anticipated demand for post-pandemic travel.

Fairbanks also is enjoying a bumper crop of nonstops, from Seattle, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Dallas and Chicago.

Marching in lockstep with the bustling flight schedule is the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant. Alaska’s infections are on the rise — and other destinations are having the same problems.

Juneau reintroduced a mask mandate for some public facilities this week — and new limits are in place for indoor gatherings. Sitka, which suffered a COVID outbreak last week, is considering a new mask mandate.

Last week Disneyland and Disney World introduced mask mandates at both parks. Down in California, three counties have reinstated indoor mask mandates: Sacramento , Los Angeles and Yolo.

COVID cases notwithstanding, robust airline competition continues to hold down air prices on some routes. Last week, Delta Air dropped the price of its Anchorage-Seattle tickets to $77 one-way for travel between Aug. 20 and Sept. 26.

Before the end of the day, Alaska Air matched the $77 one-way fare and offered more travel dates: from Aug. 20 to Nov. 17.

That’s a great price, but from Fairbanks, the price to Seattle on either Delta or Alaska is just $59 one-way. It’s available right now (no advance purchase) through Sept. 30.

In Seattle, King County’s public health officer is recommending everyone wear masks indoors. Although more than 70 percent of King County residents have been vaccinated, new COVID cases are on the rise.

The federal mask mandate still is in force for all airports and aboard passenger aircraft. Also, the mandate applies to sightseeing vessels, trains and buses. The federal mandate is set to expire on Sept. 13.

It’s clear that COVID-19 and the variants continue to impact travel here in Alaska, to the Lower 48 and internationally. If you want to see more of the world, fully-vaccinated travelers certainly have better options right now.