The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) says in March they saw about 1.5 million travelers daily, compared to 100,000 this time last year nationwide.
For context? About 100,000 people typically fly out of JFK International Airport daily during non-pandemic times. Travel agents say they’re getting busy, too.
But there are some things you’ll need know before you take your next trip.
“I’m finding a lot of people are wanting to travel to Mexico and the Caribbean because they can travel and not quarantine,” said Julie Humphries, a travel agent at AAA.
Both the CDC and New York State recently lifted quarantines if you’re fully vaccinated and that has put people who want to get away in motion, Humphries said. But you still may need a negative COVID test, depending on where you go, and you’ll need one to come back to the U.S.
“Even if you’re vaccinated, you have to get a test in the country three days before you return to the U.S.,” Humphries said. “Because you have to present a negative test. But when you get home and you have that negative test, you’re free to go.”
What You Need To Know
- TSA Guidelines now allow for one 12-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer in your carry-on, in addition to your 3.4-ounces of toiletries
- There is a federal mask mandate in place through May 11 in airports and on planes
- Be prepared to briefly remove your mask going through airport security to confirm your identity
- Some countries are offering deals like free hotel stays and meals, however, you’ll need to present a negative COVID-19 test prior to returning to the U.S., even if you’ve been vaccinated
If you test positive before leaving your vacation, you’ll have to quarantine in your destination for 14 days. Humphries says most hotels will put you up for free, but you’ll be confined to your room for the remainder of your stay.
Still, airlines have eliminated change fees for now, and some destinations, like Greece, which is now open to vaccinated travelers, are offering things like free hotel stays and meals.
“They really want you to come. They’re destinations that are huge on tourism, so their economy needs us,” Humphries said.
If you are planning to fly, TSA has some changes in place, too: You’ll wear a mask in the airport and on the plane through at least May 11, at which time the Biden administration may amend or extend its mask mandate. Be prepared to briefly remove it when TSA needs to check and see that you are who you say you are. You’ll also need to social distance in line.
As far as getting through security, Lisa Farbstein, spokesperson for TSA, says there are some other key changes to be aware of.
“Passengers will also be putting their own boarding passes, either paper or electronic, right onto the reader themselves,” Farbstein said. “This reduces a touchpoint between the TSA officer and the passenger.”
Farbstein said many airports are also able to pull up your boarding pass straight from your license, ID, or passport, so there may not even be a need to scan. She says reducing touchpoints is key, so now is a great time to sign up for TSA PreCheck, especially if you’re planning to travel a lot.
Having PreCheck means no removing shoes, light jackets, belts, phones, or keys when you go through security. It’s $85 for one year. If you don’t want to sign up for PreCheck, she recommends putting those items into a carry-on bag, rather than putting them in a bin. You will still need to put electronics like laptops and tablets in bins.
While agents will routinely change gloves for pat downs, you can ask them to change gloves anytime. And in an effort to keep germs at bay, TSA is allowing up to one, 12-ounce container of hand sanitizer for people to bring through the checkpoint, Farbstein said. That’s in addition to your regular 3.4-ounce of toiletries in a clear, quart-size bag, and they’re encouraging carrying wipes.
“Bring as many wipes as you like, even if you want to bring one of those big jumbo tubs!” Farbstein said.
If you’re concerned about plane snacks and want to bring your own, Farbstein says pack them in a clear, quart-sized bag, so it’s easy for agents to see them and it eliminates additional touchpoints.
“Know what is in your carry-on bag and make sure you don’t have any prohibited items because the idea is to reduce touchpoints,” Farbstein said.
While there’s a lot to keep in mind, things are constantly changing, and while many airlines have eliminated change fees for now, trip insurance is still recommended. Humphries says a travel agent will also have the most up-to-date information on what to expect.
“What you look at today could be completely different tomorrow,” Humphries said.
If you’re planning to fly soon, TSA says you should still plan to arrive up about two hours before your flight. As for checking what you can carry on, they have a free app you can download called MyTSA, where you can actually type in the items as you’re packing.
Farbstein also recommends packing extra masks so you can change into a clean one after flying.
When it comes to out-of-the country travel, Humphries says you may want to consider only traveling to areas with advanced health care options right now in case you do end up getting sick while you’re there.