Carriers are changing schedules with minimal or no notice to...

Carriers are changing schedules with minimal or no notice to consumers these days, leaving some travelers in the lurch. Credit: TNS/Chris Day

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Just as airlines are trying to get back to normal, new fears might keep many travelers off the jetway.

Given the rampant spread of COVID-19 variants and a spate of summer operational problems at many of the nation’s airlines, the answer may range from a flat-out "no," to "maybe, if the circumstances are right."

With a little less than a month to go in the summer travel season of 2021, more than a few would-be flyers seem to be hesitating.

In a recent report, Southwest Airlines said it is seeing declines in passenger bookings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that "fully vaccinated people can travel domestically with little risk." But for unvaccinated people, it’s best to delay travel plans.

And if you decide to go, you may find that flight schedules can be less reliable than in the past, said Nick Ewen, senior editor of The Points Guy, a New York consumer travel advisory service.

As a help to the consumer during the pandemic, some airlines waived their fees for changing flights, he said. That led to more passenger changes and made it harder to forecast passenger loads, sometimes leading to abrupt flight changes.

Some airlines "may not notify [passengers] of dropping a leg [of a flight]," Ewen said. "You need to be your own advocate."

Industrywide, each carrier spent millions trying to allay the fears of consumers who worried they could contract COVID-19 either at 30,000 feet or while passing through an airport terminal.

Still, traveler must weigh their own risks. One way is to make a checklist prior to buying a ticket, said Dr. Eneida O. Roldan, chief executive officer of the FIU Health Care Network.

"The first line would be, ‘Am I vaccinated or not? What is my age group?" said Roldan. "Even if you are vaccinated you have to look at your medical condition."

Also, scope out your destination.

"You are responsible for understanding and following all airline and destination requirements related to travel, mask wearing, testing, or quarantine, which may differ from U.S. requirements," said Dr. Joanna L. Drowos at the Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University. "Failure to do so may mean that you are denied entry to your destination and need to return home."

And finally, ask yourself: is this trip necessary?

"There is some fatigue setting in among all of us," said Dr. Johannes Vieweg, dean of the College of Allopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern University.

"We all want to go on with our lives. Nothing in our current situation is black and white. You have to personally look at your own risk. Am I little bit older? Do I have cancer? Is the travel necessary? Is it really worth the risk?"

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