last updated: March 10, 2020

Concerned about the spread of the new coronavirus and how the coronavirus will affect your travel plans? Here’s what you need to know.

How worried should I be, actually?

How serious is the outbreak right now?

The outbreak is serious, but it’s not everywhere. And it’s best (in any case) to be concerned, but not to panic. For all questions about the seriousness of the outbreak in various destinations, check the CDC’s recommendations.

How serious is the outbreak in [country]?

Thankfully, right now the outbreak is only serious in a handful of countries. Travel restrictions and/or warnings are currently in place from the CDC for China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, although this could change at any time. For continued updates, watch the CDC for travel alerts.

How worried should I be about traveling? 

Currently, many destinations do not have enough coronavirus cases to be considered risky. If you had plans to travel to countries with current outbreaks—China, South Korea, Iran and Northern Italy—you should reschedule or delay your travel plans until the outbreaks are under control. For anywhere else, you shouldn’t feel worried about traveling, but exercise general precaution and good hygiene habits (i.e. frequent hand-washing, avoiding touching your face, etc.) to stay healthy. 

If you’re still nervous and want to cancel your trip, consider changing the dates or destination instead—this will prevent you from having to give up your entire trip. Many airlines—particularly big ones like United, American and Delta—are offering flexible travel waivers to help you re-book travel and stay healthy.

Cancellations, Refunds & Travel Plans

Can I still fly to [city]? 

If you have travel plans booked—or were hoping to make some—don’t cancel them just yet. For most places around the world, there aren’t enough cases to warrant an official advisory against travel. The most important thing to do is to check and stay updated with the CDC’s (aka the Center for Disease Control) updates and recommendations for travel with the coronavirus.

Currently (as of March 2020), the following CDC warnings are in effect: 

Avoid traveling to: China, South Korea, Iran, Mongolia and Italy

Exercise increased caution with travels to: Macau, Hong Kong

Some have also warned about traveling to: Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand

If you’re traveling elsewhere, the current risk is negligible. Of course, the situation in any city can change at anytime. For the most up-to-date information, watch for advice from the CDC

Will airlines refund travel disrupted by the coronavirus?

Typically, yes, but it does depend on the individual airline and the level of disruption. It is up to each airline to determine the level of disruption or risk necessary to offer refunds. However, you will be eligible for a refund if your flight is cancelled. Many airlines, including Delta, American, United, British Airways and others, have issued travel waivers for travelers who had plans to visit affected areas. For more information, read more on coronavirus travel waivers from airlines or view airline policies on their website directly for further details.

If you’re only cancelling because you’re worried about the virus and don’t want to travel, and if your airline hasn’t issued a waiver, unfortunately your chances of getting a refund are quite slim. You may be able to change the dates or destination of your flight, but without a waiver, the normal regulations and fees associated with your ticket will still apply. Many travel insurance policies won’t cover this either, unless you’ve purchased a “cancel for any reason” plan. The reason for this is because right now, in most places, the coronavirus is not a big enough risk to prevent or restrict travel. Thus, any cancellations in these situations would be considered voluntary. 

How can I get a refund for my flight if I booked with StudentUniverse?

StudentUniverse is limited to airline policy on all tickets: so we can only offer you free changes/cancellations and/or refunds if the airline has released a policy for us to do so. When travelers call in to ask us about a refund, we will look at what the airline has stated and follow what they’ve approved. If necessary, we can reach out to the airline regarding your situation. We can advocate your case to the airline, but we can’t offer anything that the airline isn’t offering.

Do any airlines already have precautionary policies in place?

Some airlines are taking precautionary measures or allowing more flexible change and cancellation policies for flights booked during this time. For more information, refer to our list of flexibility policies by airline.

All of these airline-specific policies apply to tickets from these airlines purchased on StudentUniverse as well. Also remember that many airlines are offering refunds/free changes for flights scheduled to specific destinations experiencing outbreaks. Check with your airline for their specific policy. If you do need to change or cancel your flights, expect more delays than usual from the airline or travel agency. Customer care centers are dealing with extremely high call volumes right now. As such, we appreciate your patience.

How will the travel ban affect study abroad programs?

This depends on your school, the study abroad program, and of course, the destination. If there are official travel bans in place for the destination of your study abroad program (i.e. China), your program will likely be cancelled. Some programs in areas affected by novel cases of the virus but without official travel bans have also been cancelled. These decisions are up to the individual school/program. The CDC recently issued a notice that universities and institutes should consider current risks for study-abroad programs. This means that many study abroad programs will be postponed or cancelled. As always, check in with your program directors for the official word. 

I need to get home immediately, but I’m having difficulty reaching your customer service. What do I do?

We’re experiencing record-high call and message volume right now, so our wait times on the phone have been several hours long at many points. We wish this wasn’t the case, but we are working to help everyone as quickly as possible. In the end, if you need to get home immediately, you might want to consider booking a new ticket home and then calling or messaging us to work out refund options for your original flight. If you can’t wait in the call queue, feel free to DM us on Facebook or Twitter, where we will respond as quickly as we can.

Staying healthy while traveling

what to do if your flight gets delayed
Should I wear a mask? 

Not unless you are ill or caring for someone who is. Most common masks do not offer full protection from the virus anyway. The ones that do are needed by medical staff and affected patients to protect the spread of the virus (and are in high demand and short supply).

Should I cancel my trip?

That depends. If you were planning on traveling to a high-risk area, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Reschedule your trip for another time. However, if you’re traveling elsewhere, it’s likely you’ll be fine. With that said, there’s no one right answer. You’ll have to consider potential risk factors for yourself, such as your physical condition, age, comfort with risk and so on. Although the virus can affect anybody, doctors have noted the risk of contracting the illness or having complications from it are higher with older adults and at-risk travelers (i.e. those with compromised immune systems). Follow the CDC for updates on the risk level of your destination.

Keep in mind that airline and travel agency customer care centers are overwhelmed with higher-than-usual call volumes. We (and the airlines!) appreciate your patience and understanding as we help you.

What are the best precautions to take if I were to travel?

When you do travel, the best precautions to take are the regular things you should do to stay healthy when you travel

  • WASH YOUR HANDS. This is the best way to protect yourself! Keep your hands clean and avoid touching your face, eyes and mouth (or your food!) without washing your hands first.
  • Keep hand sanitizer and wet wipes with you—and use them. Wipe down tray tables, armrests, headrests and other frequently-touched items on planes to help prevent germs from spreading.
  • Eat well and get plenty of sleep. When you travel—no matter when or where—you introduce your body to new allergens, germs and so on, because you’ve brought yourself to a brand-new location. Giving your body plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, plus getting enough sleep at night, helps your immune system stay on the top of its game. 
  • Avoid traveling to areas with known outbreaks. While many places right now have only been mildly affected, or not affected at all, don’t put yourself—or others—in harm’s way by exposing yourself needlessly to areas that have outbreaks. Postpone your trip and/or pick a destination that has been less affected by the coronavirus.
How do airports screen for potentially infected people?

For travelers coming from affected areas, they must travel through approved airports to complete an “exit screening” before re-entering the US. 

Additional screening measures taking place in varying levels at airports around the world include thermal screening (i.e. scanning temperatures for fevers); screening & reporting signs of respiratory illness (like coughing or wheezing); frequent disinfection of areas accommodating passengers, especially from areas with increased risk; and health questionnaires.

In short, many airports are now implementing temperature and symptoms screens to identify passengers that may be at risk, isolate them, and in some cases, admit them to medical care. If you’re curious about what kind of screening may be in place at airports you’re traveling to, you can read more about airport screenings for coronavirus.

How likely is it to spread if just one person on a flight has it? 

Not likely. However, you may be subject to additional screening. This depends on where you are traveling to or coming from, and on when the theoretical coronavirus carrier on the plane tests positive for the virus. If you are at risk, medical officials may quarantine you until they are certain that you’re not at risk for spreading the virus further. 

Are airlines doing anything special to prevent the spread of illness?

Most airlines already have CDC-approved cleaning policies in place for each flight, including disinfecting and cleaning surfaces in between each flight. In addition, many airlines use HEPA filters for air filtration on flights, which remove 99.97% of bacteria in the air on planes. This means that airborne particles that spread viruses aren’t spreading around planes through the recycled air. Finally, many airlines, like our airline partner United Airlines, are providing virus response kits and additional cleaning materials to crews flying through areas with higher risks and travel warnings.

Would local hospitals treat foreigners if needed?

Generally, yes. Hospitals and medical professionals will treat anyone who is ill, especially with a high-stakes illness like this one. However, your regular health insurance is unlikely to cover you abroad. For that reason, we highly recommend you purchase travel insurance that will cover emergency medical care before you travel. While this is a good idea anytime, it’s an even better idea right now. It may feel like a waste to pay for insurance if nothing goes wrong (as is typically the case). But if you do fall sick or have to stay in a hospital, you could get stuck with some hefty medical bills.

You can purchase travel insurance through us when you purchase your flights or separately, at any time before your trip. Just be sure it covers emergency medical treatment for you in your destination.

What are good places to travel to right now?

Central and South America, Northern/Eastern Europe and/or anywhere in North America, among other places, have been less affected by the virus and do not currently have any advisories against traveling to them right now.

Have more questions about coronavirus and travel? Head to our Instagram to ask more questions and get answers. We’ll keep adding answers to your common questions in this blog post, so stay tuned for updates.