With the days ticking down to the summer months and travel restrictions rolling back, summer 2022 will likely see the return of robust international travel for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2022.
For many people, this summer might be the first time they’ve traveled internationally — or at all — in years.
If you’re among those venturing abroad for the first time, you’ve likely forgotten a few things about traveling internationally since the last time you went abroad. There’s also a lot that has changed due to the pandemic. Many airports, especially in Europe, are reporting long lines at security, customs and baggage checks, as well as canceled flights, due to staff shortages.
Here are a few reminders before you leave for your next trip.
Double-check the expiration of your passport
If you haven’t looked at your passport in a while, go grab it and look at its expiration date. If you’ll have less than six months of validity left on the passport when you plan to travel, it’s time to renew.
Even though the passport may not be expired, often countries will not allow you to enter if you don’t have a specified amount of validity left on your passport. In fact, the airline likely won’t let you board the aircraft.
In the US, a passport renewal can take 8-11 weeks to process. You can trim that to 5-7 weeks if you select expedited service. Bottom line: Check your expiration and plan in advance.
You need to be vaccinated to avoid additional restrictions when traveling to most countries
Travel restrictions are loosening worldwide, particularly in Europe where countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Poland, the UK, and more have dropped all COVID-19 entry restrictions at their borders. That means tests, vaccine certs and passenger locator forms are no longer required from passengers.
But some countries still want passengers to prove they’re vaccinated to avoid rules like testing, including popular summer destinations like France, Greece, and Italy. Others like Spain won’t even let US or UK travelers into the country unless they’ve been vaccinated or have a recent recovery certificate. Rules are particularly strict in most countries in Asia.
Some countries do require a booster shot so make sure you check your destination’s requirements before you travel.
When to book your airfare
Summer airfare to Europe is always expensive as it’s the most popular time for overseas travel. The weather is warmer. Schools are out so students and their families are able to travel together.
Don’t expect to find a lot of bargain fares if you want to travel at peak times. Along with the surge in demand, rising gas prices due to sanctions on Russia will impact the cost of jet fuel. Since fuel is the second largest expense for an airline behind labor, expect rising prices in the coming weeks.
Typically, you find the cheapest prices for peak travel periods in the season opposite of when you want to travel. However, COVID-19 as well as the situation in Ukraine makes things a bit unpredictable. Still, the rule of thumb is to book somewhere between one and three months ahead of time –as the prices will rise the closer you get to the date of departure.
Finally, if you have flexibility, consider waiting until the fall. Airfare prices are typically expensive less from September through November.
Low-cost transatlantic routes are coming back
One strong sign of the airlines’ confidence in the return of transatlantic travel summer, several low-cost and leisure carriers have announced the return of their North America to Europe routes just in time for what were the busy travel months for international travel.
JetBlue, Condor, French Bee, Icelandair and PLAY are all among the low-cost carriers who have all added routes across the Atlantic to meet the anticipated demand.
Reminder: Look for flexibility in fares, reservations and insurance
If we have learned anything from the past two years it is that things change rapidly. Make sure you have the flexibility to cancel if you need to do so.
A lot of places and airlines have rolled back some of their once flexible cancellation policies so make sure you understand the terms and conditions of your booking. If there’s a deadline for cancellation, consider entering a calendar alert in your phone so you don’t forget.
Finally, make sure you have travel insurance. specifically, some new things you may want to look for in a policy these days are:
COVID-19 coverage This is not just for medical expenses if you get sick but also reimbursement for added expenses like lodging if you test positive and need to quarantine or delayed returning home.
Cancel for any reason This gives you the flexibility to cancel if you don’t feel safe traveling and get most of your money back.
Interruption for any reason This is a great provision to have if you plan on going to multiple destinations. If one of your destinations sees a rise in cases and enacts restrictions, you could cancel and move on to your next destination or return home and receive reimbursement for some of the costs you incurred.
Waits at security and customs are long in some places
Make sure you’re planning ahead when deciding when to leave for the airport. It used to be you could arrive an hour before a domestic flight and two hours before an international flight. Now, airports are recommending that you get there two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight.
In Europe, they’ve seen lengthy lines at security. This Saturday (April 9) is set to be the busiest day at airports for two years as families jet off for the Easter school break, and already airports in Manchester and London in the United Kingdom are reporting wait times for security of hours, with some passengers posting on social media that queues for security starting from outside of the terminal building as early as 4 am. Police and members of the fire department have been placed on standby to manage queues in Manchester’s airport, with airport staff warning the chaos could continue for weeks.
In Dublin, passengers are advised to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of flight departures as the airport experiences at security lines caused by staff delays. Check-in, baggage claim and security have all been involved.
Elsewhere in Europe, longer airports aren’t as overwhelmed as those in Ireland and the UK but passengers are warned to expect-than-usual queues regardless. Spain’s busiest airports, including Madrid, Barcelona, and Palma in Mallorca, are asking passengers to arrive at least two to three hours early for their flights. Germany’s biggest airport operator Fraport also warned passengers of delays over the coming weeks.
If you travel often to and from the United States, consider fast-tracking through customs by applying for global entry which is open not only to US citizens and permanent residents but also to citizens of select countries as well. Check for eligibility on the Custom and Border Patrol’s website.
Don’t ignore emails from your airline
Do you usually ignore those pre-flight emails from your airline? Don’t. Airlines are sending valuable information you may need – such as validating your COVID-19 documents in advance – that could save you time at the airport. Take a second and read any communication you receive.
Also, double-check your airline has your correct contact information. Consider downloading the airline’s app so you get push alerts for your flight and can rebook quickly should your flight get canceled.
Airlines are still facing staffing shortages and it could impact your flight
Though travel restrictions are loosening, COVID-19 continues to cause a problem for airlines. As many airlines are still working to rebuild their staffing levels to meet demand, many have seen staff members calling in sick from the virus.
The BBC reported that both British Airways and budget airline EasyJet had to cancel flights out of London’s airports ahead of the Easter holiday due to staffing shortages. More than 1,000 flights were cut in the past week already, according to the Telegraph, with British Airways warning the disruptions would continue until the end of May.
Make sure you have a change of clothes and toiletries in your carry-on in case you get stuck. Also, have the apps for your airline on your phone so you can rebook quickly.
Finding food can be problematic at some airports
Staffing shortages are also impacting the restaurants and shops inside airports. That means you may still encounter limited hours, closed restaurants or long lines at the restaurants that are open.
Tote an empty water bottle so you can fill up past security and toss some snacks in your carry-on just in case you wind up unable to grab food.
Pack a mask… and patience
It’s a legal requirement that passengers wear masks in most airports (the UK is one notable exception) and if you’ll be facing long lines and crowded terminals, it’s a good idea to pack a sturdy one in your bag such as the N95 (or FFP2 in Europe) face mask.
Finally, be patient with your fellow travelers. The crowds at the airports, delays, cancellations, difficulty finding food in the airport and just the challenge of traveling, in general, all combine for a perfect storm of stress and frustration. Take a deep breath and exercise restraint with your fellow man,