Dec 16, 2020

Planning to travel in 2021? Prepare for vaccine requirements, more testing


Gjirokastra, Albania where Americans can still visit 

It's time to spin the crystal ball, and make a few predictions for travel in 2021. Not surprisingly, almost everything depends on the successful rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S. and abroad.

Vaccination and testing

When it comes to international travel, look for many countries to require proof of a vaccination and a negative Covid test for entry.

U.S. airlines, unless ordered by the Federal Aviation Administration (which at this time imposes NO Covid regulations on airlines or airports), likely won't require vaccinations, but foreign airlines will. Australia-based Qantas was the first to say it will require proof once vaccinations become available. Asian airlines will almost certainly follow. And many nations are sure to add Covid vaccination to their list of entry requirements. 

If you don't already have a smart phone capable of downloading apps, plan on getting one. United and four other airlines so far have announced plans use the CommonPass app on international flights. The app allows passengers to download virus test results and vaccination certificates to a smart phone. It then checks the data and issues confirmation codes to confirm health status. Competing apps are in the works, so let's hope the industry can coalesce around a universal system.  

Most airlines mandate that passengers wear masks in flight, but look for the FAA, under the Biden Administration, to make it a federal requirement. 

Hopefully more airlines will join Delta and United Airlines in asking domestic and international travelers to voluntarily provide key contact information to aid the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s contact tracing efforts. The hope is that by collecting information directly from passengers, it can reduce the time it takes health officials to track travelers who may have been exposed to others on their flight who have tested positive.


Airports with the foresight and resources to make changes should be cleaner, more efficient places to be. Los Angeles International, for instance, is investing in ultraviolet cleaning technologies, and adding touchless components throughout the terminals. Prepare to give up some privacy. The airport is trying out a thermal camera program in the international terminal to measure passengers' body temperatures, and is implementing biometric boarding for international flights. 

Flexibility to cancel

Look for U.S. airlines to continue to waive cancellation and change fees for domestic and international travel. It's doubtful airlines will leave middle seats open once demand picks up, but it's possible some will create another tier or expand premium economy for those willing to pay a higher fare. 

Where to go

Many travelers consider safety when they decide where to travel. In the near future, this will include how well different countries bring Covid under control. Brazil is a mess right now. Australia is nearly back to normal. Spain has been especially hard-hit; Iceland has not. Some countries, such as Albania, will welcome American travelers without requiring a vaccine, test or quarantine. Others, such as Canada, will keep their borders closed. 

Covid will continue to factor into where to travel in the U.S. as well as internationally.  I live in Seattle, for instance, but would not consider traveling to neighboring Idaho for many reasons, including the high numbers of cases, overwhelmed hospitals and a general disregard for Covid restrictions in some parts of the state. With its bike trails and brew pubs, Boise has earned a reputation as a nice place to visit, but it dropped several notches in my book after the mayor and chief of police said intense protests outside the health department building — as well as outside some health officials’ homes — were threatening public safety. 

As autocratic leaders and right-wing extremist groups become more vocal, the political climate in various countries and states will influence travel decisions.

Travelers always have had to ask themselves how they feel about traveling to places with repressive regimes. Now we need to consider what it might be like to go to places where, not just the leaders, but much of the local population support extreme right-wing movements. 

Budapest is a beautiful city governed by an autocratic prime minister 

Hungary’s parliament just passed a law effectively banning adoptions for same-sex couples, the latest in a succession of restrictions on LGBT rights under autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban whom many there support.

More than 100 towns in Poland have passed resolutions declaring themselves free of LGBT “ideology. With Poland ranked the worst place in the European Union to be gay or trans in 2020, some Poles have found themselves facing the dilemma of whether to stay and fight or to escape. 

Raising unusual ethical and safety questions is Qatar Airway's recent announcement that it will partner with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines on non-stop flights between Seattle and Doha. Qatar recently required women aboard 10 flights from Doha to deplane, and undergo medically invasive exams after an abandoned newborn was found in an airport bathroom.  

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