Despite the massive rebound for air travel that has occurred after the success of the COVID-19 vaccination program, there still aren’t a ton of people traveling internationally. Part of it is that there are many countries who don’t have great access to vaccinations or haven’t managed to bring their infection and death rates down, and part of it is that the U.S. requires you be COVID-tested prior to returning to the States. For a non-rev flyer like me, that presents opportunities.
Let me tell you something about non-rev travel in the summer—it’s rarely possible. When vacation travel is in full swing, nearly every flight is full or almost full. When my coworkers are jetting off to Hawaii or Rome, I’m usually sitting in the air conditioning, living vicariously through them. With domestic flights right now, it’s same old, same old—and it is exacerbated by airlines being wildly understaffed due to their successful incentivized retirement offers in the throes of the pandemic. Thousands of flights per day might be cancelled, but these cancellations are largely not affected international flights.
With many European countries recently opening to American tourists, it’s like the perfect storm the rare chance to travel to Europe during high season. You can see where this is going, right? I recently hopped a flight to Amsterdam . . . because I could. It wasn’t as uncomplicated as all that, though. Having been hospitalized with a severe case of COVID (and double COVID pneumonia) about half a year ago, and now being fully vaccinated, I very carefully considered the risk.
The U.S. State Department recommends NOT traveling to the Netherlands right now—the CDC has the Netherlands at level 4 status, partly because of COVID but also because of terrorism risk. Now, the Netherlands website rates the risk of terrorist activity there as minimal (conceivable but not expected), so the State Department website seems, well, wrong. And as far as COVID-risk goes, the Netherlands is the eleventh most fully vaccinated country in Europe despite being the last EU country to begin COVID vaccinations. About 48 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, compared the 47 percent of fully vaccinated folks in my U.S. county. Like all countries, the Netherlands is seeing an uptick in positive cases, primarily Delta variant cases and predominantly in the unvaccinated population.
Considering the similar vaccination percentages, I decided my risk was fairly low—especially since masks on planes and other public transit continue to be mandatory in both the U.S. and the Netherlands.
The other issue is COVID testing, which I’ll do a separate entry on. Keep an eye out!