By Caleb Lunetta
Signal Senior Staff Writer
For some, the notion of traveling — especially on airplanes flying at a usual altitude of 42,000 feet — has always been a scary proposition.
But since the global proliferation of the coronavirus last year, and the general acceptance that being among strangers in confined or unfamiliar spaces greatly heightened risk of exposure, the group of those afraid to travel expanded significantly.
According to a report by the International Air Transport Association, full-year global passenger traffic results for 2020 dropped by 65.9% compared to 2019, making last year the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history.
“As the coronavirus began its global spread, the air industry came to a virtual standstill by the end of March,” read a report released by United Nations officials in January. “Following widespread national lockdowns, by April the overall number of passengers had fallen 92% from 2019 levels, an average of the 98% drop-off seen in international traffic and 87% fall in domestic air travel.”
Although travel slightly recovered in the latter part of 2020, the widespread availability of the various vaccines across the world ushered in the next phase of travel in the COVID-19 pandemic.
While airlines previously grounded all flights and travel outside of the county was restricted, airborne cabins and family vehicles are once again filled with passengers and families heading out to fulfill the travel goals they had made during lockdown and/or quarantine.
But rules remain stringent, according to Santa Clarita Valley travel experts, and those rules remain in place to keep you, and all others safe, during your shared journeys.
According to the Transportation Security Administration’s website, the number of people who head through all airport checkpoints in the United States has been steadily increasing throughout 2021.
For instance, on Sept. 19 of this year, approximately 2,075,000 travelers went through TSA checkpoints during a 24-hour time frame, but only 848,000 went through on Sept. 19, 2020. The latest figures show a gradual return to pre-pandemic levels, because on the same day in 2019, TSA saw 2,517,000 travelers headed through U.S. airport security.
Even when comparing the growth in the number of travelers just this year, a gradual return to normalcy is apparent. In the early part of the year, such as January, the daily average number of travelers hovered in the six-figure range; whereas late-summer and early-fall averages show a daily rate in the seven-figure range.
“Almost overnight, we went from hardly booking anything at all to just ‘BAM!’” said Monica Vibe, a travel agent at Travel Leaders Executive in Stevenson Ranch. “People are definitely traveling and are definitely looking for next year if they’re not quite ready to go now.”
The latest protocols, even in view of local medical experts, can be confusing at times. But two good rules to follow, according to Dr. Jordan Michelena, a family medicine physician at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital urgent care, is to protect yourself and use common sense.
“So, if you’re out by yourself, going for a walk in a park or something, then feel free, you don’t need to wear a mask,” said Michelena in an interview posted to Henry Mayo’s community outreach webpage. “If you’re not around somebody who looks sick or has COVID or has COVID-like symptoms and you’re out in the open, we know that the infectivity rate is low at that point.”
“But if you’re going to be in a crowded room with other people, you don’t know whether they’re vaccinated, they don’t know if you’re vaccinated, then at that point, you would want to wear a mask,” Michelena added.
Michelena reminded people that the first step to making sure you’re safe while traveling is to get vaccinated.
“We know vaccines work from extensive decades of vaccination with measles, mumps, the flu, COVID now,” said Michelena. “We know that they do work. And so that would be step No. 1 … I encourage everyone to get it who is eligible and who’s within the age groups. And we know that kids are not eligible to get them. So, we want to be extra careful about protecting them, right? So, getting vaccinated would be No. 1.”
The second and third steps would be to wear your mask and wash your hands, Michelena said.
“You want to wash your hands,” said Michelena. “And, if you’re vaccinated, you’re a little bit safer with this, but wash your hands with contact with things that you think may be COVID-related, especially if you’re around people that look sick or something along those lines.”
Airports and Planes
Michelena said that when traveling, even when in airports, it is important for people to realize they need to keep their distance as best they can.
“If you’re having to travel on the plane, this makes it more difficult, but try to keep your distance at the airports,” said Michelena. “Try to arrive in a timely manner, but don’t show up too early to where you would be unnecessarily exposing yourself.”
In terms of the most recent advice given by the L.A. County Department of Public Health last week, those with the vaccine have a little bit more liberty when it comes to their travel restrictions.
For instance, for domestic flights, those who are not vaccinated must get tested one to three days before travel, quarantine upon return for seven days (10 days if you don’t get tested), self-monitor for symptoms and wear a mask and take other travel precautions during travel.
However, those who are fully vaccinated, or have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days, will only be required to self-monitor for symptoms and wear a mask and take other precautions during travel.
In terms of international travel, those who are not vaccinated must be tested one day before travel, get tested three to five days after travel, self-quarantine for travel for seven days with a negative test or 10 days without a test, self-monitor for symptoms and wear a mask and take other precautions during travel.
Fully vaccinated individuals traveling abroad do not need to self-quarantine upon returning but must take all other steps that unvaccinated people do — the only difference being that they will be required before boarding a plane to show a test taken three days before as well as their proof of vaccination.
Those who have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days will not need to do anything regarding tests nor have to self-quarantine. However, they will need to provide appropriate documentation of recovery.
Vibe agreed that the first tip she would give is to be vaccinated, but also advised that if you plan to travel internationally, and you’re not going to be using a travel agent, it’s important you understand all travel restrictions.
“Every state is a little different on their mask mandates but international is where we really see a huge difference in travel,” said Vibe. “And I think sometimes what’s hard for people to understand, they can go online and book an airline ticket to a country that’s not even open.”
Vibe said that if one is not prepared to adapt to quick changes, or has a solid understanding of the health requirements before departing, it could result in you being stuck in a country or missing your chance to take a trip.
“(The airlines) are very serious about masks and everybody else’s safety,” said Vibe. “I’ve heard several times in the last year and a half that when anybody even slightly has their mask down under their nose or something, they’ll make them pull it back up.”
As for vaccine cards, airports do not really require domestic passengers to have them at all times, Vibe said. However, when you land and head to restaurants or events, they might be required, depending on the state. But if you’re heading internationally, you will definitely need your vaccine card, and some countries may even require you to download it.
“There’s a lot of different variables out there right now, and you have to be aware that anything can change at any moment,” said Vibe. “So, what is allowed today may not be allowed in two months.”