Is summer travel safe? Families are staying closer to home — for now

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Venetia Houser, an Avondale mom of two, missed two vacations due to COVID-19 closures, including her sister’s postponed Cacun wedding and a spring trip to Disneyland. So when a friend asked whether she’d like to bring her family to a Las Vegas time-share for a week in mid-June, she was thrilled.

“You’ve got to get away at least once,” says Houser, who balanced work with homeschooling her 8-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter after schools shut down this spring. “I feel like there are still things you can do safely. We’ve barely left the house in months. … I need a little fun time with my family.”

Shana O’Mara, owner and founder of Tempe-based The Pixie Planner — which specializes in Disney vacations, cruises and more — has spent two months rescheduling clients’ spring and early summer travel plans.

She says her clients want to travel again — eventually. For now, O’Mara recommends families stick closer to home — road trips to places like Sedona, or San Diego, for example — and save more remote travel destinations for later this summer, when additional services are back in operation.

“Most destinations are closed through at least June right now,” O’Mara says. “We’re just kind of in a holding pattern.”

And while most hotels and airlines are offering flexibility by eliminating change fees, O’Mara points out rescheduling travel arrangements is not always quick or easy. She has spent hours on the phone helping families navigate those changes. Travel experts also may be more knowledgeable about details like where shelter-in-place or quarantine orders are in effect. For example, she says, plane tickets to Hawaii are cheap right now, but travelers must self-quarantine in a hotel room or rented lodging for 14 days until they can go anywhere.

Many of The Pixie Planner’s clients with spring and early summer travel plans have rescheduled their vacations for September, October or later.

“We’re being cautiously optimistic, but we also want to set realistic expectations for people,” O’Mara says, noting Disneyland and other theme parks may look a little different when they do reopen. They may offer virtual line queues, require face coverings, limit attendance and mandate social distancing. Will there be character dining with princesses wearing masks? Maybe not.

Wally Jones, a travel adviser at Travel Leaders in Phoenix, says border closures — which have been extended until July 21 — are affecting summer travel to Mexico and Canada. Jones thinks traveling to those destinations will be on hold until July or August — longer if the border closures are extended again. And he predicts travel to Europe and overseas won’t be back to normal until spring 2021.

“I had a family that was supposed to be going to Ireland in June, but they’re looking to reschedule for next spring,” he says.

Hotels are doing their best to ease guests’ fears with rigorous cleaning regimens and things like automated, no-contact check-in. Airports and major airlines are requiring face coverings. But like everything with the coronavirus pandemic, it will likely take time for people to feel comfortable and safe while there’s still no cure or vaccine for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Houser says she’s been cautious and careful through the pandemic, but she’s eager to resume some normalcy.

“I don’t go on vacation to panic and stress out,” she says, adding her family will likely cook some meals at the time-share, order out and even venture into a restaurant. “It’s not that I’m not scared, but I’ve been cooped up in my house for months!”

Phoenix Sky Harbor — like all of Phoenix, now — requires masks

As of June 1, everyone who enters Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport — including the terminals, the Rental Car Center, the PHX Sky Train and airport buses — is required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth. The new requirement mirrors regulations by major airlines, the Transportation Security Administration, airports (including Seattle, Denver, LAX, New York’s JFK, Boston Logan, Miami) and travel-support companies including Uber. Travelers, employees, and those visiting the airport should bring their own masks to wear throughout the airport. If you forget yours, airport stores are selling them. See details at skyharbor.com