How could travel and visas change as a result of events like Covid-19?

Cory Mayfield
Updated on
July 21, 2020

What can we expect to change when it comes to travelling around the world thanks to events which disrupt travel all across the globe?

Disruption to international travel and visas is one thing, but what kind of changes can the individual traveller expect to face either during, or, as a result of the pandemic? Is this an isolated incident that we can expect the world to recover from, or are we looking at a massive shift in the way travel and tourism will work across the world?

Whilst there is still much cause for speculation, we’ve compiled the following examples of areas whereby both international travel and applying for visas could change as a result of global incidents like COVID-19, and the effects they might have on travellers.

Periods of blanket bans on global travel have happened in the past (It’s not new to we’ll get through this!)

In 1919, the Spanish Influenza devastated many countries around the world, wiped out a third of Europe, and led to restrictions on international travel that had never been seen before. Despite the end of the First World War the previous year, countries were once again forced to shut their borders and restrict access to ports and harbours to prevent the spread of the virus. This went on for several years in some parts of the world and even though these events took place more than a century ago, similar travel restrictions have occurred in more recent times, and not just because of epidemics and pandemics.

On September 11th 2001, the whole of North America saw all flights grounded in the wake of the terror attacks that devastated the United States of America. Both the U.S.A and Canada closed their airspace to thousands of flights for several days, affecting hundreds if not  thousands of passengers daily. Thankfully, an event of this particular nature has proven to be incredibly rare, but it sets a precedence that less destructive events can prove to be even more disruptive.

In 2010, the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption and subsequent ash cloud affected almost the entire northern hemisphere and grounded aircraft for several weeks. Volcanic eruptions are nothing new to the world of aviation, but travellers from all over the world were affected by the cancellations and delays that resulted from both the initial eruption and the knock-on effects of the debris and ash that was dumped into the atmosphere, even after flights had resumed their usual operating services.

Events like this are not any more likely to occur more often now than before, we should not discount similar periods of disruption occurring as a result of an outbreak of a pandemic or epidemic like COVID-19. We cannot predict when international travel will return to its usual levels and according to experts, it is not likely we could see this happen at all until a working vaccine is developed.

Wearing a mask and being tested before you board a plane will become more common

Air travel has played a crucial part in the spread of COVID-19 across the world but fortunately, the aviation industry has already taken steps to ensure it plays its part in combating future transmissions of this particular outbreak, as well as ones in the future. Whilst it is debatable how effective these steps may prove to be and there is no clear indicator of how long they will remain in place for, they are significant for the average flier.

Masks will become more common for those travelling by air whether an airline chooses to enforce people wearing them on board or not. Whilst there has been a lot of scepticism concerning masks and their effectiveness at reducing transmission, airlines all over the world are currently making it mandatory for passengers to wear them at all times. Travellers have been using masks more frequently in the last few years and as a result of current events, it seems fair to assume they will continue to become a more common sight in the future.

Testing before travel is also an initiative that airlines and airports are taking advantage of. This will likely be in conjunction with other measures but again, the effectiveness of testing is still hotly debated and cannot be taken as a guaranteed solution to preventing transmissions through air travel. Yet if airlines and airports decided to implement testing as a short-term measure regardless of the virus current spread you will have to abide by these new rules or potentially be denied boarding.

The cost of and availability of flights will fluctuate

During the disruption caused by the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, the airline industry is estimated to have cost US$200 million per day, with a total loss of US$1.7 billion. The losses the airline industry will end up facing as a result of COVID-19 will be significantly higher and this is already visible from the number of staff who have lost their jobs from either cuts or airlines shutting their doors indefinitely. 

In light of this, prices for airfares will vary depending on many different factors. As airlines begin to resume services again, prices are quite low due to the uncertainty of whether or not some of them may go ahead. We can expect this trend to continue perhaps not across the globe, but in certain hotspots where the pandemic experiences a sudden resurgence in cases, at least in the near future.

Looking further down the road, airlines may be forced to reduce prices in order to become more competitive but, the opposite scenario could be just as likely. It is expected that the demand for flights abroad will only continue to grow in the future yet if airlines are forced to scale back operations at the rate they are currently, then a shortage of seats could lead to an increase in ticket prices.

If airlines continue to take hits from the effects of the pandemic then some smaller airlines will collapse without support. Whilst air travel and airfares are not going to vanish overnight, it is increasingly likely that the way they work could be seriously impacted as a result of the pandemic and prompt much more permanent changes in the future.

Visa arrangements could become more flexible and the way visas work could change dramatically

This is more concerning long-term visas such as work permits and residency than short stays but we could see changes to how visas work across the board. The need for short, 30-day visas could disappear entirely in some countries to boost tourism and make travel that little bit easier. Citizens from Australia already enjoy some very good arrangements with many countries in the world regarding flexible visa-free travel, so the possibility of more flexible arrangements cannot be ruled out in a bid to promote tourism to less developed countries or, even ones with bigger economies.

With that being said, the cost of visas could fall in price as countries will suffer from the lack of tourism and migration brought by the pandemic. Visa requirements for some countries could potentially disappear depending on the relationship between countries and they might stop requiring tourists or migrants to use them all together, particularly if they have a shortage of skilled workers in certain fields.

One thing we are seeing at the moment is a lot of workers and students’ having their longer term working or student visas to countries like the U.S.A frozen until the pandemic has passed. This has massive implications for people working and studying abroad, as for some, this is a free extension of your visa which does not happen all that often. However, whilst some might be celebrating the extension of their visas, this will not apply to everyone, and for those tied in with job or housing contracts and agreements, this could have consequences.

Technology may also advance faster as a result of the effects of the current pandemic. Newer inventions like eVisas will likely become more and more commonplace as the technology will cut costs and save time on processing visas for future arrivals. We could see the introduction of brand new technology which replaces visas all together if the pandemic lasts long enough!

Could we see people travelling less?

Whilst we still are very much in the grips of the crisis that has been caused by COVID-19, it is likely much will have to change in the world of international travel to deal with similar events happening somewhat inevitably, in the future. Whilst there is still much cause for speculation and it remains a possibility that nothing discussed in this article may yet come to pass or change for long at all, enough has already happened for many people to consider how they travel as it is.

With this in mind, it remains a possibility that people could end up travelling less in the future whether they want to or not. The reduction in flight numbers and seats could prompt many people around the world to either stay home or seek out alternative methods of travel in order to get away, and this could have serious effects on industries outside travel and tourism if migration begins to decline across the world.

It remains to be seen just how long the world will continue to feel the presence of COVID-19 but the possibility of similar events or, events of an entirely different nature impacting international travel will not go away. It also remains to be seen whether or not humanity is capable of adapting quickly enough to events like these in order to minimize the impact they have on our way of life.

If you have any further visa and travel-related queries such as how to travel safely or want some inspiration for visiting countries that have not been affected by COVID-19, you can find more useful and interesting articles in our resources. For any other questions or queries; feel free to chat with us using our messenger service.