Traveling for the holidays? Here’s what you need to know

As the holiday season approaches, Greater Columbus residents wondering what the best advice is for navigating travel in pandemic world need to look no further.

The Dispatch has compiled advice from the Ohio Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and officials at the Columbus Regional Airport Authority to help you make the smartest and safest choices whether you are driving across county lines or flying across country borders.

Paying at the pump: Gas prices hit a 7-year high in U.S. Here’s where to find the cheapest gas in Columbus

If you’re driving, be mindful that gas prices have hit an all-time seven-year high nationally, with the average price of gas in Columbus clocking in around $3.28 as of Monday — a significant jump from last year’s average of $1.97, according to AAA.

USA Today reported that spike won’t be as dramatically experienced by air travelers. Travel data company Hooper projected airfares will cost consumers on domestic roundtrips roughly $289 on average — slightly higher than last year around the holidays, but still cheaper than pre-pandemic levels in 2019, which averaged around $353.

For information on air travel specifics and COVID-19 guidelines, here’s what central Ohioans need to know: 

From packing to take-off

Flying for the first time since the pandemic began?

Sarah McQuaide, a spokeswoman for the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, said  John Glenn International Airport and Rickenbacker International Airport are prepared for a swell of travelers over the next two months. 

“Our early projections are showing it’s going to be the busiest time since the pandemic,” she said, noting there were 8.9 million visitors to John Glenn and Rickenbacker combined in 2019.

McQuaide urged travelers to visit FlyColumbus.com/BeyondReady, the airport authority’s online guide for flying, and to keep in mind the following tips:

  •  Plan ahead: Masks are required in the airport, on shuttle buses and on all aircraft. If you forget to bring a mask, free ones will be available at John Glenn and Rickenbacker.
  • COVID-19 Testing/Vaccinations: Per President Joe Biden, international travelers coming into the U.S. must be vaccinated.  
    • If you’re vaccinated you can: travel safely in the U.S. without being tested.
    • If you’re unvaccinated you should:  get tested 1 to 3 days before domestic travel and again 3 to 5 days after travel and self-quarantine for 7 days after travel or 10 days if you don’t get tested post-trip.
  • If you’ve agreed to contribute to a family meal, please search the TSA’s “What can I bring?” site to determine whether you should carry-on or check your bag.
  • Some restaurants and shops have adjusted hours due to a labor shortage. You can see what’s open there.
  • How early should I arrive? McQuaide’s general rule of thumb for domestic flights is 90 minutes before scheduled departure and two hours before scheduled departure for international flights.

And, if you or someone you are traveling with have a disability, McQuaide encourages you to check out the airport authority’s Special Assistance page to apply for Journey Care Kits, a resource travelers with visible and hidden disabilities can take advantage of.

Is your family unvaxxed and you can’t relax? How to protect yourself, loved ones from COVID-19

During a news conference in mid-November, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff encouraged central Ohioans who are not inoculated to get out and get vaccinated.

“Every day matters,” he said.

While ODH does not have any public orders in place that would limit gatherings nor are there any separate travel restrictions beyond the federal government’s recommendations, a department spokesperson suggested that travelers visit the CDC’s site that tracks the spread of the virus

“It’s natural for families and friends to want to get together, and it’s important for the bonds that hold us together,” Vanderhoff said. “But I’d ask that we do it in a smart way. We know so much more about this virus and how it spreads.”

If folks are due for a booster shot, then they should get out and schedule that appointment, he added.

Vanderhoff also said that if Greater Columbus residents are traveling to a high-risk environment where there are going to many unvaccinated people they should follow the following common sense tips:

  • Ask yourself: Is traveling to this area really the right thing to do?
  • Think about: is it appropriate to wear a mask? What’s the ventilation like at this family gathering, can we maybe crack the windows?
  • Can we limit the size of the crowd this year?

“We’ve all learned a lot,” the ODH director said. “I think Ohioans have become much more, not only aware, but confident about how to apply some of these tools as they go forward.”

Céilí Doyle is a Report for America corps member and covers rural issues in Ohio for The Dispatch. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation at https://bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.

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@cadoyle_18