Uncertainties face vacationers as coronavirus situation evolves

  • Passengers arriving from abroad at O'Hare International Terminal 5 wear face masks Friday, amid heightened concerns about the contagious coronavirus.

      Passengers arriving from abroad at O'Hare International Terminal 5 wear face masks Friday, amid heightened concerns about the contagious coronavirus. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/3/2020 6:11 AM

Do I cancel my Italy trip? Is it safe to go on a cruise ship? Can I get my money back on my flight to Beijing?

As the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus widens, so do the questions and angst for travelers planning vacations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Things are changing daily with updated news and it's a very fluid situation," AAA spokeswoman Molly Hart said.

For vacationers with basic queries, the U.S. Department of State's Travel.gov and U.S. Centers for Disease Control coronavirus websites are chock-full of information about where you can travel, can't travel and should think twice about traveling.

For starters, "do not travel" to China and Iran is the State Department's current edict during the coronavirus epidemic. That's easy to obey given major carriers like United, American and Delta have either halted or reduced service to China during the spring.

The government is also issuing travel advisories about countries including South Korea, Italy, Japan and Hong Kong.

At United, "we've suspended all of our flights to China and Hong Kong until April 24 and provided a waiver for customers who need to change their travel," spokeswoman Leslie Scott said. "South Korea was added to that waiver on Monday."

Many airlines are giving flyers the option to delay or change existing flight bookings to countries with coronavirus clusters, without penalties.

However, reimbursements for flights, hotels or packages could be dependent on when you pulled the trigger.

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The insurance company Allianz Travel's website notes that many travel insurance plans "exclude losses caused directly or indirectly by an epidemic."

Also, Allianz advises that the coronavirus became generally known on Jan. 22, 2020, and travel insurance typically won't cover losses caused by issues that were "known or foreseeable" at purchase time.

If your international trip is booked, Hart recommends signing up with the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment System to receive advice on changing conditions in your destination country.

The State Department also is throwing cold water on cruise ship vacations to or within Asia in the wake of passengers contracting coronavirus aboard the Diamond Princess and enduring quarantines. The government is also tepid on international cruises, noting that at some ports countries are implementing strict screening policies that could prevent Americans from disembarking or result in being quarantined locally.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Moving forward, Expedia's Haytham Akremi, senior customer experience analyst, advises "consider booking refundable travel vs. nonrefundable. Typically travelers like to book nonrefundable because it sometimes comes with a cheaper price, but right now we believe that flexibility is key for travelers so it's something to consider when searching for travel options."

If you're dead-set on a dream trip to Italy or other countries with coronavirus issues, authorities advise that older adults or people with existing serious health conditions are more at risk of falling ill, and suggest checking with a doctor first.

Hart also suggested that vacationers bring an extra supply of medication and check that your cellphone plan will work internationally in case of the unexpected.

"The decision to travel is a personal one; we advise travelers to make an informed decision," she said.

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