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Readers have travel questions. Chris has answers.

Readers have travel questions. Chris has answers.


Every month, my email box fills with several queries and comments about travel. And with the travel world changing faster than I’m able to chronicle these days, my mailbox is overflowing.

In this post, I’ll share those emails that might help out others with similar concerns or reactions. Take a read and let me know if you have a question of your own, or if you’d like to see this Q&A continue as a regular feature. Here’s a link to my email.


I can’t wear a face mask, but I need to fly. 

Hi there Chris: Hope you are doing well. I can’t wear a face mask due to breathing problems and claustrophobia. I need to travel to Atlanta and want to go on Delta. Will they let me on the plane? I can’t get their customer service on the phone; they hang up before answering, saying they are too busy. Thanks. – Charlotte 



My first response to Charlotte was this: My guess is probably not. In addition to the airline requirement, you will also be required to wear a mask to enter the airport.  I tweeted your question to @Delta. Let’s see if we get a response.

Delta’s Twitter handle did not respond, so I reached out to Delta’s PR department for some guidance. Based on that, here’s what I told Charlotte: If I were you, I would carry a doctor’s note regarding your condition, although it does not sound like it is required. But you never know. Delta PR said: “People with medical conditions will be exempt from wearing a mask. … If you have a doctor’s note that’s always helpful, but if the passenger communicates the issue, it shouldn’t be a problem.”



Charlotte later told me that she’s able to wear a plastic face shield instead of a cloth mask. She contacted LAX airport, which told her that she would be allowed into the airport with a shield only.

When can I fly to …

I have been getting tons of questions like this one, with hopeful travelers trying to determine whether their big trip is going to happen this year. My answer is pretty much the same each time.

Hi Chris: I am hearing conflicting reports on resumption of air travel with Ecuador and particularly when flights with Galápagos may resume. Can you provide any status or info on projected resumption. Thanks. – Mike.

Hi Mike: It’s hard to tell right now, but I really don’t think there will be much international travel by Americans until next year. Sorry I can’t offer more precise information on exact timing since rules and regulations change almost daily.


International travel is going to be a long shot as long as the United States is a pandemic hot spot, and as long as the U.S. government maintains its unprecedented DO NOT TRAVEL warning for Americans. In addition, many countries around the world are not allowing visitors at all, and those that do require two-week quarantines for all arrivals.

I need to make an essential trip

Dear Chris: I keep reading your weekly airline routes updates [posted on SFGATE every Saturday morning] with interest as I’m one of those jittery travelers who need to visit my very old and recently gravely ill parents in Hungary. I made a reservation back in April for a flight from San Francisco to Budapest on Lufthansa, but it keeps changing and the latest news was that Lufthansa doesn’t have permission to fly from SFO before June 24.  Where do you get your updates on these European flights? Is there a site you could recommend to check? Everything seems to be slipping, and if it wasn’t the last time for me to see my dear parents I would not risk my own health for such a trip. Thank you for your articles on the world of travel in these strange times! Best, Katalin.

Hi Katalin: Sorry to hear about your parents. The latest news we have is that Lufthansa flights from SFO will start again on June 16 (three times weekly to Munich), but that was last week, and, of course, it is subject to change. We use a variety of sources for our routes updates, primarily relying on airline and airport contacts, as well as the very helpful Routesonline.com. Sorry I can’t be of more help, but things are changing almost every day. I suggest checking in with your airline regularly, and making certain it has your correct contact information in the event of a schedule change.

I want my airline refund

Hello Chris: I have read several of your recent posts about airlines and refunds during the pandemic. Thank you for your reporting. You should know that customers are still not being treated fairly and justly by United Airlines. Here’s a copy of my email to United, copying CEO Oscar Munoz: This is the third time that I am requesting a FULL refund, not partial refund, for a flight that was impossible to take due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Please refund the full $730.11 to me and stop keeping $300.00 of it as a cancellation fee. (That is nearly a 42% cancellation fee.)  I only received $430.11 of my money back. [I have redacted the rest of the email.] – Jenn.

Hi Jenn: Good work here asserting your rights. If United canceled your flight, it owes you a full refund. Period. If, despite your communications as provided here, you have not received a full refund, I suggest you simply dispute the charge with your credit card company for services not rendered. I hope you get your money back!



British Airways 787s at SFO have been cargo only, but recently began flying a few passengers.  Photo: British Airways

British Airways 787s at SFO have been cargo only, but recently began flying a few passengers. 


What’s that plane I see flying overhead? 

Hi Chris! Hope you’re doing well. I saw an article on SFGATE the other day that said nonstop flights from SFO to Europe might resume in June for the first time since April. Have all flights to Europe really been canceled? My husband and I often take our kids to the Bay Trail in Millbrae where you can see the planes landing. We’ve seen British Airways jets landing or taking off many times over the past few weeks. It looks like a 787 from what we can tell. Are these cargo flights? Or special charters? When I look on ba.com, it shows all flights between SFO and London Heathrow are canceled. – Mike.

Hi Mike: Up until recently, the BA flights at SFO have been cargo only. No passengers. It’s a similar story with several other airlines such as United, which is running some freight-only flights to Asia. However, many of these flights, including British Airways flights to London, have recently started flying a small number of passengers again.

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I am shocked

Chris, I am shocked that you wrote an article like “What will travel look like over the next year” during a pandemic when so many people are suffering especially in our industry and even more shocked that the American Society of Travel Agents would send it out to members! You have no idea what the future holds for travel, the virus or the vaccine and yet you make up this trash to further upset people who are suffering greatly. What the hell is wrong with you? Have you no compassion for others? Why do you add insult to injury? Shut your mouth and get a grip on yourself. You know nothing for sure. This crap is only in your mind and does not need to be shared. We are seeing new bookings on flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, Alaska and Canada. Your information is wrong and fake news. So please keep your crap to yourself. The world does not need mean spirited and negative people like yourself. Get yourself some help. – Debbie

No reply necessary.

Can I fly to Edinburgh?

Chris – As an annual traveler to Edinburgh for festival month, August, I was saddened with the cancellation of all the festivals this year. I feel they definitely did the right thing, however, I’m still hopeful to be able to fly through Heathrow to the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Do you have a feel, and I won’t hold you to it, if the travel restrictions could be lifted by mid-August? If I go I’d be happy to send you my travel experiences for however  you wish to use them. Thanks … you do a super job covering the world for we travelers. — Mac

Hi Mac: I wish I had a good crystal ball, but it’s so murky and fast changing that it’s tough to prognosticate. But right now, I don’t really think there is going to be much international travel for the rest of this year, unfortunately. It’s just too risky for travelers and for countries trying to control the virus. By the way, I loved the Edinburgh Fringe Festival way back on my first backpacking trip through Europe in 1983! What a fun time!

Can I get a refund from an international carrier? 

Good Morning, Mr. McGinnis! I was wondering if you could assist me with the policies for airlines outside of the U.S., regarding airline ticket refunds, during this Covid-19 pandemic?  As you can see in the e-mail below, Maya Island Air in Belize is only offering a one year credit for the airline ticket I purchased for travel this month.  Is there any way I can have them refund my money instead?  Any assistance you can offer would be greatly appreciated. – Wendy

Hi Wendy: Since Maya Air canceled your flight, I would politely ask for a refund instead of a credit and if that fails, dispute this charge with your credit card company. US DOT rules requiring refunds for cancelations do not apply to flights operating outside the United States, and I’m not sure what Belize has on the books for this type of situation. However, credit card companies should be able to assist. Good luck!



Flight board at SFO's international terminal on Thursday, June 4, 2020 Photo: Tim Jue

Flight board at SFO’s international terminal on Thursday, June 4, 2020

Flight board at SFO’s international terminal on Thursday, June 4, 2020


I don’t want to pay the credit card fee for travel amenities I can’t use

One issue travelers should be aware of is a recent bad experience with Chase over their annual fee on the United Explorer card. I have recently contacted Chase because I was just charged $95 annual fee. I called the 800 number on the card and politely asked for a refund on the fee because I would be unable to take advantage of any travel benefits of the card [such as free checked bags, early boarding, lounge passes]. She abruptly stated that my only option was to close the account. I was flabbergasted … I have heard over the years about people calling to ask for a waiver of the annual fee, being granted no questions asked. I always paid the fee. Now in these hard times I am amazed that a company as pervasive as Chase would be that inflexible over a $95 fee. Especially for someone who paid bills on time. I called a second time and was told the same thing. As a good customer, I will remember this long after the end of our hard times. Best to you … hope you are safe and well. –Maureen.

Hi Maureen: Thanks for the heads up. That’s a good point. I agree that credit card companies should work with good customers to waive or at least discount fees for services they can’t use due to travel restrictions.



Only water or coffee? 

Chris: Recently while flying on Alaska Airlines from San Francisco to Los Angeles with my daughter we were offered water or coffee only. A flight is a time when I let my kids indulge in a Coke or Sprite (and I might get a beer) but the flight attendant said they don’t offer drink service since it’s such a short flight. This was the first time I’ve ever heard of this (outside of blaming turbulence). I was told “only water or orange juice” on another flight this past weekend on Delta. It seems like either it’s yet another airline cost cutter or the flight attendants are making their lives easier. … Do you happen to know what’s going on with drink service on these “short” routes? – Rich

Hi Rich: I reached out to Alaska Airlines for some answers. Here’s what a spokesperson said: “In September, Alaska implemented what we call ‘pub service’ for flights between 220-350 miles in which we offer water, juice or coffee as beverage options. We made this change to ensure that our flight attendants can effectively service all our guests in a limited period of time safely.”

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Chris McGinnis is SFGATE’s senior travel correspondent. You can reach him via email or follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t miss a shred of important travel news by signing up for his FREE biweekly email updates!

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