Mid-pandemic, the outlook of border closures, airline flights and cruises

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the July 2020 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 533rd issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine, keeping the celebration of travel going while we’re waiting for the coronavirus-imposed worldwide shutdown to be lifted.

Subscribers offered mixed reactions to our publishing the May issue online only, something which we could not avoid under the circumstances, as I explained last month. 

One subscriber wrote, “Yuk! Not happy.”

Another, “I don’t take the computer to bed with me.”

John McManus of Santa Barbara, California, wrote, “Wise call, dear folks. We support you 100% (have been since the late ’80s) and hope all goes well for you during this period. We’ll all be back to traveling internationally before long.”

Marcia Brandes of Atlanta, Georgia, wrote, “Thank you for reminding me of the online edition. It is especially nice to be able to see and read about others’ trips in color.”

Related comments from Susan Jerrick of Portland, Oregon, happened to arrive while this discussion was going on: “I recently moved, and because I didn’t send in my change of address in a timely fashion, I didn’t receive my April 2020 issue of ITN, so I started reading it online.

“What fun! I could definitely recommend this virtual travel for any subscriber. It’s a different feeling from sitting down and reading the print version (which I will, however, continue to do going forward). The fun of the change is enhanced because we’re all being forced to stay at home now. So thank you for providing both versions.”

I asked Susan, “I’m curious. In reading ITN online, are you reading the PDF version, which duplicates the appearance of the printed version, ads and all (except that it’s in color)? Or do you first click on the heading ‘Issues,’ then on the latest issue, then click on each posted item in turn?”

Susan replied, “The second way; I first clicked on ‘Issues.’ However, thank you for reminding me about the PDF, which sounds like even more fun.” 

We know that other subscribers also overlooked the PDF version. Getting to it from our home page is a 2-step process, but in each step, just look for the picture of the cover of the magazine and see where it says “CLICK HERE.”

Up will come a color version of the magazine’s cover page. Clicking on the arrow(s) will turn the pages (showing full spreads), and there’s a slider bar at the top so you can enlarge a section of a page to make the point size of the type as big as you want. You can look at different parts of the page enlarged by holding down your mouse and moving the cursor around.

If you’re on our website reading individually posted items, you can enlarge that type as well. Most web browsers have a Zoom command. On my Firefox browser, I first click on “View,” then on “Zoom,” then on “Zoom in” (repeating that a few times).

Another subscriber, Cindi McNabb of Sequim, Washington, wrote, “I just finished reading the May issue online, and although I am glad there is a magazine at all, I miss the hard copy (for reading in the bathtub)! And I cannot figure out how to print it out, since it only recognizes one page at a time. Help!”

Normally, for several reasons, we have it set up so online visitors cannot easily print out pages of the PDF version, but after hearing Cindi’s plea, we made an exception regarding the online-only May 2020 issue, and our Webmaster, Demian, has made that issue fully downloadable so you can add a printed-out version to your bookcase. 

After you “Click here” under the photo of the cover on the home page, look for where it says, “Alternatively, you can download the PDF file if you would like to print the May 2020 issue at home.”

That issue is also the first one whose full content we have made accessible to all, including nonsubscribers. Tell your traveling friends about ITN. Or buy them subscriptions. Keep the conversation going!

Now let’s get to some news.

As the world begins to thaw from the COVID-19 ice age, it’s possible for us to start looking back to see exactly what kind of effect the pandemic has had on international travel.

The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) did a study of border controls across its 217 member states to see how strict, or loose, each was. On May 11 they released the results, which showed that, as of April 27, 100% of its members were enforcing some level of border restrictions, 72% of them (156 states) enforcing the complete closure of land and sea borders.

To narrow it down even further, in Europe, 83% of countries and territories had completely closed their borders; in the Americas (North, South and Central and the Caribbean), 80% had closed; in Asia and the Pacific (including Australia), 70%; in the Middle East, 62%, and in Africa, 57%.

Nine member states were allowing some travel but denying entry to people arriving from specific countries, even if one of those countries had been stopped at only in transit. (The US is included in that nine.) Another nine were allowing people to enter if they then underwent a 14-day quarantine.

The most stringent destinations — 26 of them, or 12% of UNWTO members — have completely suspended all international flights in and out temporarily, some suspending domestic flights as well.

At the time the study was released, not a single country had eased COVID-19 travel restrictions. However, just a few weeks later, at ITN’s press time, some destinations had already either opened their borders or had scheduled openings (see page 4).

These border openings are not without restrictions. For example, the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia was scheduled to open to tourism on June 4. However, at the moment, tourism is limited to people flying in from the US, and each visitor must present a certificate showing that he or she has had a negative result in a COVID-19 test administered no more than 48 hours before arrival. (This effectively limits travel to only US citizens and foreigners already within the US, since the US is not allowing foreign tourists to transit its borders at this time.)

Other places have taken a more creative tack in opening their borders. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania opened a “travel bubble” between them, allowing citizens of each country to travel freely between the three countries but excluding all others, even those living in neighbor countries like Poland and Russia. 

More travel bubbles like these, comprising neighboring countries with long histories of cooperation and trust, are likely to develop before wide-open borders return around the world.

The opening of borders does not mean that air travel will return to pre-COVID levels anytime soon. At press time, international air travel was quite limited; the numbers of flights were still reduced, and the vast majority of passengers were either classed as “essential” by the countries they were flying to or were people returning to their home countries.

The rescheduling of international flights once countries reopen to tourism will be slow, hampered by common transit countries’ remaining closed to foreigners.

However, within the US, domestic air travel is still available to all, whether flying for essential purposes or not. Airlines in the US have dropped some flights due to low demand, and many are limiting the numbers of passengers so that those on the flights can safely distance, but, for now, people can board with few restrictions. (Several airlines are requiring passengers to wear face masks, and, with testing available at many airports, airlines can deny boarding to anyone with a cough or fever.)

There have already been signs of recovery for the air industry, however. On May 20, Southwest, Delta and United all reported that there were more new bookings in May than there were cancellations — the first time that had happened since February. The numbers of new bookings were still far short of normal, but it does show that some people are eager to fly again. 

As for cruise lines, they’re in a different position than airlines, as it is more difficult to schedule a cruise itinerary with stops in several countries than it is to schedule a point-to-point flight. Still, some lines have hesitantly begun to plan cruises for the latter part of this year.

At press time, Carnival, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean had scheduled some cruises to begin on Aug. 1, 2020. While not specifying a return date, Oceania’s earliest scheduled cruise was also listed as embarking Aug. 1. Holland America had canceled all of its Alaska, Europe and Canada-New England cruises, but for the cruises still on its docket, the earliest scheduled one was a round trip from Vancouver to Hawaii, set to embark on Sept. 20.

All of the lines I’ve mentioned have pushed the restart dates back more than once already. Even with the most recent updates, some cruises are only tentatively scheduled. 

Carnival has listed only a few cruises as beginning on Aug. 1, with others still canceled until at least 2021. Royal Caribbean said that their goal is to resume sailing on that date, and Celebrity said it expects to return on that date, offering no other specifics. 

For what it’s worth, the Sports & Leisure Research Group conducted a poll in May and found that 58% of people who took a cruise in 2019 would take a cruise “today” if they could. In the same survey, only 43% said they would take a commercial flight “today.”

A lot of people must think cruising is so much fun, it’s worth the risk, or they trust cruise lines to make things safe.

A CORRECTION to note —

I apologize to Diane Powell Ferguson of Scottsdale, Arizona, whose name I misspelled in last month’s column. Ironically, I had quoted her as writing, “I regard ITN readers as my extended family and friends.”

Some “family” member I am!

Also from our June issue, I am reprinting a subscriber’s information request. At the end of the letter “Unexpected Disembarkation” (June ’20, pg. 25), Pamela Zent wrote, “From ITN readers, I would really just like to know if other couples on a cruise have found themselves in a predicament where one member was in the hospital and the other had to pack up and leave. What assistance did the ship’s staff offer the wife or husband in getting off the ship and on their way?”

Subscribers, if, due to an emergency, you had to pack up and leave a ship on your own in the middle of a cruise to attend to your travel companion, what assistance did the ship’s staff provide, and how did you arrange for that? 

Include approximately when (month/year) this occurred, the port where you had to disembark and which ship you were on plus relevant details. Email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Unexpected Disembarkation, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Responses may be printed in ITN.

While it will be obvious, I will just point out, for the record, that most of the articles and letters in this issue were written about trips taken before the COVID-19 pandemic or its travel shutdown, back when it was not unusual to encounter crowds.

While many things may be different when travel is common again, landmarks remain to be visited, exotic cultures have knowledge to share, adventurous plans can be made and dreams can still take place.

All of that continues to be discussed here in ITN.