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No one expects travel to be the same today as it was a few months ago. And since every trip involves so many factors that have been affected by the coronavirus epidemic, it can be daunting to even guess exactly what your next vacation might look like.
To aid travelers and travel advisors who are grappling with the new normal, we’ve created a hypothetical trip. We detail every aspect of what’s different today, based on the latest guidelines and requirements from both the public and private sector.
For our imagined getaway, we’re flying United Airlines from San Francisco to Cancun, with a stay at the luxurious Le Blanc Spa Resort Cancun.
This may be just one itinerary, but it offers an interesting peek at what might await on that next international trip.
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“The U.S. and Mexico entered a joint initiative March 21 restricting nonessential travel along the U.S.-Mexico land border to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” according to the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Mexico. “Nonessential travel includes travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature. The restrictions are in place until at least June 22. Passengers and aircrew members arriving at Mexican airports may be subject to health screenings including temperature checks. Those exhibiting symptoms may be subject to additional health screening and/or quarantine.”
The DeparturePassenger pickups and drop-offs are still allowed at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), and taxis, ride-hailing apps, rental cars and on-airport parking garages are also still operational. If taking mass transit, remember that face masks are required when riding Bay Area Rapid Transit.
Clients should not take off face masks after they’ve entered the terminal, either; all passengers and airport employees must wear them. Passengers flying United Airlines have the option to use touchless kiosks for printing bag tags; those waiting in line for check-in counters (which now have sneeze guards) must stay 6 feet apart.
There are plenty of ways to stay safe at SFO: The airport administration has placed hand sanitizer stations and more than 4,000 spacing markers around the terminals. The security screening process has not changed, for the most part, although the Transportation Security Administration now allows travelers to bring liquid hand sanitizer containers of up to 12 ounces in carry-on baggage (it’s screened separately from other liquids).
Travelers should be prepared to find only a few businesses open within the airport terminal, including some food and retail shops, the medical clinic and Grand Hyatt at SFO.
The FlightLike other carriers, United Airlines has modified its boarding process. If clients are United 1K members or have complimentary Premier upgrades, they’ll still be able to be one of the first on the plane. Passengers without that status board from the back of the plane first. All passengers and flight crew must wear face masks.
United encourages travelers to use advance seat selection to avoid being seated next to unknown passengers. For crowded flights, the airline allows no-fee changes or travel credit. (United aims to let travelers know about flights that fall in this category about 24 hours before departure time.)
Onboard all United flights that last a minimum of two hours and 20 minutes, economy passengers receive an “all-in-one” snack bag that includes a wrapped sanitizer wipe, pretzels, Stroopwafel cookies and a bottle of water. Pillows, blankets and in-flight magazines have all been removed.
The ArrivalTravelers arriving from the U.S. should be prepared for the possibility of a health screening after landing at Cancun International Airport, which may include a temperature check. Those with symptoms may face additional review and possibly quarantine. Also worth considering is the commute from the airport to the hotel; clients concerned about minimizing human contact may want to consider arranging a private, individual transfer.
Le Blanc Spa Resort, which reopened on June 8, has a number of new practices in place to assure a safe and healthy stay. To start, guests can check in via the hotel’s app to reduce the amount of contact upon arrival. Those that prefer stopping at the reception desk will notice that acrylic barriers are now in place, and floor markers help guests to maintain a healthy distance from each other.
In addition, luggage is disinfected upon arrival. Each guest is asked to sign a health declaration to verify that they’re free of COVID-19 symptoms, have not tested positive or come into contact with someone who has tested positive during the previous 30 days.
The dining experience is a bit different, too. All buffets have been removed from the restaurants, and guests are encouraged to use the resort app to view the menu (although physical menus are disinfected after each use). Hotel staff are required to wash their hands every 30 minutes.
To promote social distancing, the number of guests allowed in most of the hotel’s on-site facilities — including the spa, beauty salon, fitness center and bars — is now limited. Elevator capacity is also limited throughout the property, and antibacterial gel dispensers are located at each elevator door. All public areas are sanitized daily with an electrostatic mist system, and all on-site transportation is disinfected every 30 minutes.
As for the hotel’s private spaces, guestrooms are disinfected with an electrostatic nebulizer system after each checkout, and a health certification is left so that arriving guests will know that the space has been fully cleaned. Each room is furnished with a personal hygiene kit, complete with disinfecting wipes, antibacterial gel and face masks — although wearing the mask is optional. Staff members, however, always wear face masks, and have their temperature checked every day that they report to work.
When returning to the U.S., passengers may also face health screenings, although there is no consistent protocol, according to The Points Guy. The new reality of travel is, in many ways, still evolving.