On today’s episode of the 5 Things podcast:
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Shannon Rae Gre…: Hey there. I’m Shannon Rae Green, and this is Five Things. It’s Sunday, December 12th. These Sunday episodes are special. We’re focusing on just one story instead of five, to go a little further into one topic. Let us know what you think. You can always tweet me at Shannon Rae Green, that’s R-A-E. 2021 is almost over. A lot of folks will get a break from work and some time with family, and that can mean travel for tons of people. Flight delays and traffic are inevitable during the holiday rush. I’ve asked consumer travel reporter Bailey Schulz to join the show, to share her knowledge about how to save where you can, if you’re traveling as the year comes to a close. Bailey, thanks so much for being here.
Bailey Schulz: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Shannon Rae Gre…: So Bailey, you’re based in Vegas. I know you’ve covered holiday travel over the years there in that community, and so because of where you live and what you cover, you know a lot about big crowds and last year was pretty different because the pandemic and now with the availability of vaccines and boosters, things have changed, but the pandemic is still ongoing. There’s two variants that are worth our concern, Delta and Omicron. USA Today health reporters have shared that we just really won’t know a lot of data about how Omicron is impacting the US until after the holidays. Bailey, what have you learned about travel restrictions regarding Omicron and what are some useful tips for travelers that are still needed right now since COVID-19 has come into our lives?
Bailey Schulz: Yeah, so we did see some travel changes around rules with entry for different countries after Omicron came out. The biggest change that we’ve seen so far for US travelers specifically is new testing requirements for people who want to enter the US. So previously, if you’re traveling outside the US and you were vaccinated, you had to get a test within three days before travel to enter. But earlier this month, that window was shortened. So now travelers, including US citizens have to take a pre departure test one day before travel and entering the United States.
The other major change we’ve seen from the US and other countries are new travel restrictions against a number of countries in Southern Africa. So travelers trying to fly out of countries like South Africa and Botswana will have a much harder time finding a place that will accept them, and I think the last point here is just that travelers should be aware that there is still a federal mask mandate for airports and airplanes and other forms of public transportation. So that mandate was previously set to expire in January, but has since been extended through March 18th now with the news of this Omicron variant.
Shannon Rae Gre…: And what are some things that will be useful for people who are traveling right now because of concerns about COVID-19?
Bailey Schulz: Yeah. For travelers who are maybe concerned about this new variant or wondering if now is a good time to travel, health experts are kind of saying the same things that they’ve said for a while. Take precautions such as vaccination, masking up, be aware of filtration in areas if you’re traveling or whether that’s domestic or international, but like you said, there is still a lot to learn about Omicron. So we’re in this period where we’re kind of in a wait and see mode for discovering just how much this new variant will impact travel and travel restrictions.
Shannon Rae Gre…: Yeah. I think the reality is that there is no zero risk option. So just mitigating your risk and making sure you have all the information is what has helped me the most when I’m trying to evaluate how my family will travel. So since you know, these days get so busy, what is the time that is the worst to travel between now and the end of the year?
Bailey Schulz: Yeah. So it’s interesting. I actually just chatted with some researchers who work at [NRX 00:03:45], which is this transportation analytics company. And so they are on top of advice on when to travel for the holidays and what surprised me is actually that the Christmas holiday travel period and traveling in the days leading up Christmas is actually less busy than other holidays like Thanksgiving and the days leading up to New Years Eve. Even so though, road congestion those days is going to spike a bit. We’re not quite back to 2019 levels with road traffic, but you will see road congestion that is higher than normal this time of year, but also be prepared to see certain roadways around popular destinations like New York city, for example, there should be a significant spike in traffic around certain areas like that. If you are traveling for the holidays and wondering when to take off, the sooner the better is generally the best advice. So preferably before 11 o’clock or noon, just because that traffic will continue to get worse in the afternoons.
Shannon Rae Gre…: That makes sense. I know the airline industry has been in the news a bunch based on flight delays and sometimes causing a lot of stress and wreaking havoc for families. What should people do regarding flight delays? What are your pro tips for managing and mitigating them?
Bailey Schulz: Our airlines report Dawn Gilbertson has been in on top of airline advice, so definitely recommend reading her articles. But one of the biggest tips that we’ve reported is that travelers should just know their rights if they’re going out during the holidays. So be aware that if your flight is outright canceled or significantly delayed, airlines are required to refund a passenger’s money, not just issue travel credit. The thing to note though is the definition of significant delay varies by airline, so best to check with each company. We do see that airlines tend to have it somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours though. Travelers should also be prepared for headaches if they need to find a hotel due to flight schedule issues. Airlines usually only pay if the cancellation or delay is their fault, and only then if the traveler does not live in the city that they’re stranded in. Another piece of advice is that if you do find yourself with the delayed flights and you’re trying to reach out to the airline for a quick response time to help out with re booking, try reaching out to them on Twitter, that that can often give a quick response.
Shannon Rae Gre…: That’s a great pro tip, Bailey. So when people are booking flights or thinking about any form of travel, are there certain red flags that they should watch out for to avoid being stuck in a jam?
Bailey Schulz: I think the best advice here for travelers is just to be prepared, plan out what you can. So if you’re traveling internationally or to certain destinations like Hawaii, that require certain COVID documents, get those prepared in advance, make sure you get all of the pretesting done well ahead, and know what sort of documents they require. For all their trips, getting to the airport early is always a good piece of advice, especially now because certain TSA and airport jobs have struggled to add staff, so that could mean wait times are longer. So what is usually recommended is get there two hours before departure for domestic flights and three hours for international flights. Additionally, some travelers have struggled to get affordable Uber and Lyft rides to airports, so consider getting a shuttle from a parking lot, or maybe using public transportation, or even asking a friend to drop you off to avoid that.
Shannon Rae Gre…: Yeah. And I think that that segues great into my next question, because once you reach your destination, you’re pretty reliant on cabs or Uber and Lyft and I that these ride sharing apps or the ride sharing cab companies seem to be frequently on surge pricing. Is that going to continue, you think, over the holidays and what should people do about it?
Bailey Schulz: Yeah, like you said, travelers have notice an uptick in Uber and Lyft pricing and experts I spoke to for a story said that they expect that the sort of uptick in pricing will continue through the holiday travel season. So sounds like that is not going away anytime soon, but there are a few tips for travelers who are using Uber and Lyfts and wants to maybe lower those costs a bit. So if it’s an option that’s available, consider sharing a ride, if that’s something that you’re comfortable with at this time, there are also features like Lyfts Wait and See feature that can give you a lower rate if you’re willing to wait a bit longer for the ride. Booking a ride in advance can also be useful, especially for those early morning trips to the airport.
Shannon Rae Gre…: That’s so helpful. Bailey, what’s the best way for people to find your work?
Bailey Schulz: Yeah, you can check out the travel section at usatoday.com/travel, or you can follow me on Twitter. I’m @Bailey_Schulz with no T.
Shannon Rae Gre…: Bailey, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Bailey Schulz: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
Shannon Rae Gre…: If you like this episode of Five Things, please write us a review on Apple Podcasts. You can also tweet us at USA Today. I want to say thanks to Alexis Davies for her help in editing this episode, Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with Five Things you need to know for Monday. Thanks so much for listening. I’m Shannon Rae Green. I’ll see you next time.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will omicron affect your end of year travel plans? 5 Things podcast
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