The Latest Travel Developments

  • 4 min read

Airlines to Soon Offer On-The-Spot Coronavirus Testing

United Airlines will begin offering on-the-spot coronavirus testing to some passengers at the airport before they board their flight. The tests will be offered to United customers going to Hawaii from San Francisco International Airport in a pilot program beginning Oct. 15. The rapid tests, developed by Abbott Laboratories, can provide results in 15 minutes. United customers also will have the option of a self-administered, mail-in test that they would need to submit within 72 hours before their departure.

Other airlines, including Lufthansa, are working on developing their own coronavirus testing for passengers in hopes that enabling travelers to bypass quarantine requirements would spark an increase in air travel, especially to international destinations.

In a clinical study, the Abbott Laboratories testing kit demonstrated a sensitivity of 97.1% and specificity of 98.5%. For a rapid test, this level of accuracy is impressive and will go a long way in restoring some peace of mind in travel planning. The company is also launching a complimentary app which will display a temporary digital health pass and test result date for those who have tested negative. Show that at the boarding gate and you’re good to go.

New Online Tools to Navigate Covid-19 Travel Restrictions

A host of new online travel resources have sprung up to help you navigate the ever-changing rules and restrictions in the US and abroad.

Developers from Singapore’s MIT Senseable City Lab (a research group focused on design and technology) have rolled out a new Covid Controls tool (covidcontrols.co) to help travelers answer a simple question: where am I allowed to go? An interactive map lets you plug in your country of origin to find the countries you can visit, and what (e.g. proof of a negative Covid-19 test) is required to do so. When picking the United States as your point of origin, you’ll notice that the map turns disappointingly red, with only 16 countries and territories fully open to visitors from the U.S.

For those planning a trip within the United States, AAA’s TripKit site (tripkit.aaa.com) recently launched an interactive map that highlights COVID-19 travel restrictions at the city, county, and state level, as well as confirmed covid cases at the county and state level. The map also shows roadway checkpoints, and closings at the borders with Canada and Mexico. The site also gives safety and cleanliness scores for 27000 hotels in North America with some getting a special Best Of Housekeeping (HK) designation to highlight their stellar level of hygiene.

If you have a European passport and would like to explore travel options within the European Union, check out “Re-Open EU” (reopen.europa.eu) which offers real time information on whether your dream destination is accepting flights from your airport, if restaurants and museums are open, travel documentation requirements, and the latest health information on the pandemic.

Berlin-based travel company Airsiders (health.airsiders.com) attempts to keep track of airport-specific Covid-19 protocols as well as individual airline requirements. And launching next week, the company’s newest tool called Compass promises to help travelers plan and manage airport connections—an increasingly fraught issue now that so many direct flights have been canceled. The algorithm will tell you how much time you’ll need in an airport to collect and recheck bags, even factoring in allowances for in-airport Covid testing, where required.

Amazon Launches Virtual Experiences

Amazon has launched a new service called Amazon Explore that allows customers to book live, virtual experiences led by local experts. The experiences are focused on creativity, learning DIY skills, taking virtual tours of far-off places or cultural landmarks or, in some cases, shopping local boutiques from around the world.

For example, you could book a virtual wine tasting experience in Argentina, learn how to make smoked fish tacos in Mexico, take a virtual tour of Kyoto’s Nanzenji Temple, tour a 500-year-old mansion in Peru, learn about coffee creation in Costa Rica, learn how to make sushi from a home kitchen in Tokyo and more.

Though the tours and experiences offer the ability to virtually travel the globe, the ability to sign up for an Amazon Explore session is currently offered on an invite-only basis for customers in the U.S. only. The virtual experiences themselves will be guided by local experts who are trained and supported by Amazon, the company says.

Some, but not all, experiences are also shopping-enabled. In such cases, customers are able to visit local stores and markets, browse items and ask questions of the shop owner as if they were there in person. They can then choose to make a purchase and receive the items they bought as if they had been shopping on Amazon.com directly. 

The sessions themselves range 30 to 60 minutes in length and can be canceled or rescheduled with up to 24 hours’ notice. When it’s time to begin your tour, you’ll just sign into your Amazon account online, then click in to Your Session page from the “Your Orders” section to get started. There are currently 86 total experiences available across 16 countries, with the plan to grow the selection in time.

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