At the beginning of the global pandemic I began cancelling trips to regions then-unaffected by the virus not out of concern for getting sick, but out of fear of travel bans or flights shutting down while I was away. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to get home. The number of repatriation flights, and people still stranded around the world, suggests the fear was reasonable.
Then as travel began picking up my concern shifted – even though I’m comfortable actually flying one reason to proceed with caution is the risk that you’ll get sick, or come into contact with someone that’s diagnosed with COVID-19, and have to quarantine. That means you may have to stay at your destination for up to a couple weeks longer than you had intended, at your own expense.
My original fear – about changing travel rules while you’re gone – seems to be a risk again as countries figure out how to open up, and as they shut down again sometimes in targeted ways in response to outbreaks in specific regions.
Even New York’s domestic travel restrictions are ever-changing, based on rate of COVID infections in different states. As infection rates change, states will be added and removed from the list of those having to quarantine for two weeks on arrival. So your state may be clear now, you’ll buy airline tickets, and by the time it comes to travel you could be facing travel restrictions.
Something even more extreme happened to a large number of passengers on two separate Qatar Airways flights bound for Italy: restrictions changed while the passengers were on their way to the country, and they were forced to turn around once they had landed.
Qatar Airways flights to Milan and Rome carried 152 passengers from Dhaka, Bangladesh on Wednesday. While they were in transit Italy imposed restrictions on entry from Bangladesh based on increasing confirmed COVID-19 infections there. Qatar Airways flight QR131 from Doha to Rome returned 3 hours later back to Doha with 112 Bangladeshis on board, while flight QR127 from Doha to Milan returned carrying 40 of its passengers from Bangladesh. Other passengers who had arrived on those flights are being required to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution.
According to a Qatar Airways spokesperson (via Google translate),
[P]assengers from Bangladesh who traveled on scheduled services to Rome and Milan via Doha on 8 July were unable to enter Italy due to a change in the regulations made by the authorities competent while they were traveling. ” The carrier says it has “guaranteed passengers assistance and made available the flights to return to their country of origin”.
It’s the regime uncertainty as much as restrictions themselves that are damaging to travel at the moment.