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Long Island travel experts offer tips on navigating coronavirus issues

Travelers at a TSA security checkpoint at Denver

Travelers at a TSA security checkpoint at Denver International Airport in Denver.  Credit: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

Newsday is opening this story to all readers so Long Islanders have access to important information about the coronavirus outbreak. All readers can learn the latest news at newsday.com/LiveUpdates.

The coronavirus is causing some travelers to reconsider upcoming planned trips or hesitate to book new journeys. “It’s very difficult to make a decision about should you stay or should you go,” said Denise Watford, a sales agent with Sweeter Travel and Events in Baldwin. Here is some advice from Long Island travel agents to help with decision-making:

If I cancel an upcoming spring break trip to Italy, will I get my money back?

“That depends on the terms and conditions when you booked,” said Liz Harnos, co-owner of Burr Travel in Northport. Rome and southern Italy are still open for tourism, and travelers may face penalties if they cancel those trips, she said Wednesday. “A lot of people are losing some money. If they are going to lose money, most people are just losing a portion. It depends on how close to the trip they are.”

That said, the airlines, hotels and tour operators are trying to accommodate people, Harnos said. Some are allowing people to rebook their trips for the fall, or within the next year, and waiving penalties. “They’re really trying to work with people. This is all we've been doing for two weeks.”

What about trips to other European destinations?

For the most part, it’s really been Italy that has made clients back out, Harnos said. As for other European countries, it depends on the customer. “I had somebody about to book Spain and they ended up booking Canada instead,” she said.

Other people are waiting to see how things progress before they book for future travel. “People are hesitating and saying, ‘We think it’s going to be fine in a month,’” Harnos noted.

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Should I avoid crowded places, like a cruise ship?

When the cruise ship was quarantined in Japan, it gave travelers pause, Harnos said, but people are still going on their cruises. “People are saying, ‘It’ll be the cleanest it’s ever been,’” Harnos said, because of increased measures ships may be implementing.

What about a Disney World trip?

Travelers haven’t been as concerned with domestic travel, said Matthew Kondrup, owner of Matty K Travel Group in Wantagh. “Are we getting phone calls? Of course,” Kondrup said. But bookings to Disney, for instance, haven’t slowed, he said.

Will travel insurance or credit card insurance cover my trip?

“On Jan. 22, the coronavirus was designated a known event by most travel insurance providers,” said Kimberly Schwind, of AAA. If you purchased trip insurance on or after that date your policy would not cover it, she said. That’s because the CDC and World Health Organization designated COVID-19 as an epidemic and most travel insurance policies exclude losses for that reason. “Travel insurance is not really covering this,” agreed Sheila Yellin, president of Courtyard Travel in Great Neck. If you're booking a future trip and considering travel insurance, you should dive into the policies and read the fine print. It should have the reasons for trip cancellations and interruptions. As for insurance that might be offered through a credit card, credit card holders need to investigate that with their individual companies. “They all have different stipulations,” Watford said.

Are there other ways I can protect my investment?

On the positive side, many airlines are temporarily allowing people who book future flights to be protected from fees for rebooking or cancellations. “You can rebook just as if there were a severe snowstorm,” said Watford, of Sweeter Travel and Events. “This is a new thing that’s amazing,” Harnos said. “They want people to still book. They don’t want travel to freeze.” Amtrak is also allowing modifications without penalty. Be sure to ask for specific rules when booking domestically and internationally, Kondrup advised.

Let’s say I go on my planned trip. Can my employer or my child’s school force me or my family members to quarantine for two weeks? Can I get stuck in another country if there’s a sudden travel ban?

“People are concerned about what if they can’t return, or that they’re going to be quarantined somewhere. That’s the concern way more than getting sick,” Harnos said. The situation worldwide is changing rapidly, and travelers should ask their employers what their rule is, agents said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                — AP contributed to this story.

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