Travel

If you plan to travel abroad from Alaska, stay on top of shifting pandemic restrictions

I was positively giddy last week when I checked the airfares for travel to Europe. Destinations like Barcelona and Madrid dipped below $400 round trip from both Anchorage and Fairbanks. Tickets were available to some destinations through mid-April.

Those deals are gone now. Chances are good that the low fares will return soon. But lots of folks scooped up the cheap tickets to Athens, Budapest, Paris and Rome. The question remains, though: Will they be able to fly?

If travelers are fully vaccinated, they are more likely to skip any new restrictions — additional testing and quarantine — that may pop up between now and the time they travel.

If you have not yet made firm plans to visit Europe, you should regularly check on what steps travelers must take before arrival. Last week, the European Union removed the U.S. from its list of “safe countries” because of the increase in COVID-19 cases. That means new travel restrictions are likely.

In fact, the Netherlands recently instituted a mandatory 10-day quarantine, even for fully vaccinated U.S. visitors. Non-vaccinated travelers cannot enter the country. Travelers can trim their quarantine if they get a negative test after five days. Italy also has added testing and self-quarantine provisions for U.S. travelers. Bulgaria now has banned U.S. travelers from entering.

Not all European countries are restricting travelers, though. Portugal allows U.S. travelers — both vaccinated and non-vaccinated — to visit, although pre-arrival COVID-19 testing is required.

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Two international airlines offer country-by-country details of entry requirements, including testing, quarantine and documentation. United serves up the information in a long list, including the requirements for re-entry to the U.S. In many cases, United provides a link to the required government health form.

All U.S. citizens must take a COVID test before returning home — even if you’ve been vaccinated.

Delta Air Lines has a map on its website that’s color-coded, depending on entry restrictions. You can sort the results to include only destinations where museums are open or exclude destinations that require quarantine, for example.

Most European countries require vaccinated travelers to present their original vaccination card. Photos of the card are not accepted.

Almost all countries have specific requirements for entry due to COVID-19. Many still are not accepting non-essential travelers. Many countries still require that travelers quarantine at their own expense. There is not a universal standard at all.

Here in the U.S., there are no specific restrictions on travel. But if you’re on the move, you’re wise to watch how COVID affects the communities you’re visiting. In fact, even here at home in Alaska, the virus is upending hospital and emergency services. The takeaway is: Don’t get sick or have an accident that requires a hospital visit. Not that anyone plans for that, but it adds another layer of risk for everyone.

In Hawaii, fully vaccinated travelers can avoid the state’s testing and quarantine requirements. But recently, Hawaii Gov. David Ige asked travelers to stay away from the islands until November because of COVID-19 spread.

Air travelers can find some pretty sweet deals to Florida right now. For example, tickets from Anchorage to either Tampa or Fort Myers are available for less than $120 one-way on Delta or Alaska. But you’d better pray that you don’t have to visit the hospital. The health care system in the area is stretched thin. Local hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 patients.

Last week, I was on family business that included a trip through the New Orleans airport, then up to the Mississippi coast and finally to rural Alabama.

Take a look at any COVID-19 map and you can see those three states have some of the highest infection rates, resulting in more pressure on hospitals.

If the case counts weren’t enough to push hospitals to the brink, Hurricane Ida came in with a vengeance to the Gulf Coast with wind, rain, floods and power outages. Our family members who were supposed to return from New Orleans had to quickly regroup and depart from Montgomery, Alabama.

As we head in to the latest surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers will need to look beyond official government guidance about whether to travel. Some governments are better than others when it comes to advising visitors.

Particularly regarding travel within the U.S., public health officials may offer a better barometer about whether or not to travel. Hospital counts and the number of new cases in a community may cause you to delay or cancel your trip.

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