Round trip to Tokyo for $173? Pandemic spawns once-in-a-lifetime airfare deals – if you’re ready to travel

Anyone who has checked the prices of flights online lately may be shocked at what they are seeing. 

Here are some sample Halloween weekend getaways from Google Flights, as seen on the site Monday, for flights leaving Thursday, Oct. 28, and returning Sunday, Nov. 1.

  • Los Angeles to Chicago: $125 round trip on United Airlines
  • Minneapolis to Orlando, Florida: $147 round trip on Sun Country Airlines
  • Cleveland to Miami: $150 round trip on American Airlines
  • Seattle to Denver: $107 round trip on Delta Air Lines

It’s not just those dates or that platform. Choose any.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some airfares appear so low that they look like the airlines might have posted them by mistake. Yet the screaming bargains can also be viewed as cruel irony: Relatively few customers will dare to take advantage of the low fares out of fear of contracting COVID-19 while traveling,a risk for which there seems to be no general agreement yet. 

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For those willing to take the chance, however, these may be once-in-a-lifetime deals.

Airlines’ normal pricing mechanisms have been thrown out of whack by the cratering of travel. Planes have been averaging about a third full in recent weeks and carriers collectively losing about $5 billion a month, according to their trade group, Airlines for America. Airlines have answered by drastically cutting prices in order to fill seats.

Even at those levels, many travelers aren’t biting, especially when some of the biggest discounts are to destinations that have strict quarantine requirements that are sure to ruin any vacation and basically puts them off-limits to all but returning residents.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have maintained one of the country’s strictest quarantine requirements – 14 days for anyone arriving from 35 states and territories that either have a positive test rate for COVID-19 higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or a testing positivity rate of 10% over a seven-day rolling average.

If you’d booked over the past few days, you could have flown from Atlanta to New York for as little as $71 round trip on United, leaving on Oct. 27 and returning Oct. 31, but Georgia is one of the states included among those requiring quarantine.

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Yeah, it’s cheap, but is flying safe? 

There’s also the matter of personal safety.

Experts say anyone who wants to travel shouldn’t just look for low fares but rather also try to discern whether the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is on the uptick in their destination. COVID-19 rates may be low now, but they could rise by the time of the trip. 

“Now we really have to start our research on a destination by looking at its public health landscape,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst for the Atmosphere Research Group. “You don’t want to buy a ticket to a place that may not be healthy.”

Would-be travelers also need to check out entry or testing requirements. One popular tourism state, Hawaii, will allow travelers to test for COVID-19 in lieu of a 14-day quarantine starting Thursday, but there are lots of rules and caveats.

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As for the trip itself, experts are divided. Harteveldt is among those who believe that passengers who take precautions by wearing a mask continuously and trying to distance from others should be fine. There has been no proof that the virus is easily transmitted on planes.

Two recent studies, however, raised issues about whether passengers can catch the virus on a plane. They were based on examples early in the pandemic and didn’t indicate whether passengers wore masks, as is now required by all major U.S. airlines.

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