Perhaps you’re planning a fall getaway to wine country? Maybe your college-aged loved ones are heading off to a study-abroad program? Or possibly your boss decided it’s time to restart domestic, even international, business travel again?

No matter the reason, people have been traveling at steadily increasing volumes during the late spring and summer, based on TSA’s airport-screening data. But the delta variant may be changing that trend.

The delta variant of coronavirus is making news headlines, and some of the reporting is contributing to traveler confusion about whether they should take trips and, if they do, how to minimize risk and travel safely.

The delta variant is twice as contagious as previous strains of the disease. But the available scientific data indicate COVID-19-vaccinated people and those who have been infected and subsequently recovered are far less likely to catch coronavirus in any form, including delta.

The most recent data indicate that all Western-approved vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca — are highly effective at protecting against the worst outcomes of COVID-19, including the delta variant.

The Pfizer vaccine was 92% effective at fighting the delta variant, but the vaccine’s effectiveness fell to 90%, 85%, and 78% after 30, 60, and 90 days, respectively, according to a recent study by the Nuffield Department of Medicine (University of Oxford).

In another study published by Reuters in August, researchers found the effectiveness of Moderna’s vaccine against infection from the delta variant was 76%.

To minimize contracting or spreading the virus during air travel, people should continue to mask and physically distance in airport terminals, screening and security areas, at the gates, and on the jetway.

Inflight is different. Passengers cannot socially distance on board a jet, but masking is still required. Travelers should know that the onboard jet air filtration is fast and effective against bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19.

A United States Transportation Command study revealed the chances of becoming infected with COVID-19 while wearing a mask and flying on a modern commercial airline is about the same as being struck by lightning: about 1 in 500,000.

Air filtration and recycling on a jet are fast and effective due to the use of powerful air-circulation fans and high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filters.

“The HEPA filters are 99.9% effective or greater in removing particulate contaminants, including viruses like COVID-19, and bacteria and fungi from recirculated air. The air flows from the ceiling to the floor and creates completely new air in the cabin every six minutes,” said Denise Stecconi, a commercial pilot who flies Boeing 737s for Alaska Airlines.

When it comes to destinations, domestic or international, travelers should look at hotspot trend data to identify places to avoid, but they should also be aware that viruses mutate.

“Hedge your destination bets by picking outdoor getaway spots where COVID-19 and delta variant trends matter less, like remote camping, horseback riding, ranch or seashore vacations, and hiking. Go where you can be outside and away from crowds,” said Kent Webber, senior manager, Intelligence Services at Global Rescue.

Medical experts, like Amber D’Souza, professor of epidemiology for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agrees delta variant infection rates are getting worse, but she adds that “in evaluating now whether to go on trips, if individuals are vaccinated, risk does remain low if you take appropriate precautions.

“I think it still is OK to consider taking those trips.”


Dan Richards is CEO of Global Rescue, the leading provider of medical, security, evacuation, and travel-risk management services. He serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of Commerce and is a global member of the World Travel and Tourism Council.

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