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Could Omicron COVID-19 variant put travel plans 'in the air' for Montanans?

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Posted at 4:53 PM, Nov 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-29 18:57:08-05

BILLINGS — Air travel is now restricted to some South African countries as a new COVID-19 variant has been discovered and it's prompting some to think twice about their holiday travel plans or at least prepare for interruptions.

At the Billings Airport, there’s a hustle and bustle around the middle of the day Monday as crowds button up their flights back home after the Thanksgiving holiday. Now some are looking ahead to Christmas travel.

Arizona resident Jay Strangis flew into Billings Monday for a weeklong goose hunting trip with friends. When asked if he’s concerned about the newest COVID-19 variant he says, he’s not. Not yet anyway.

“In my opinion, it's smart to keep an eye on it,” he said. “I feel pretty comfortable traveling.”

New information coming from health experts and scientists shows the omicron variant could be more transmissible than Delta even if you are vaccinated. Still, as Stangis points out, it hasn’t yet arrived in the United States quite yet.

“It’s not something that's the United States has been very exposed to yet. So, I don't feel much discomfort about that or worry about that,” he said.

Still, COVID-19 continues to impact the travel industry. Airlines are continuing to cancel or delay flights for a variety of reasons, from staffing shortages to weather and because of the impacts of COVID-19.

So, insurance experts are also cautioning travelers to arm themselves with added protection before they fly — in terms of getting insurance.

Most of us might not opt for the added insurance on a flight, but Omar Kaywan with Goose Insurance says, it could make all the difference if your travel plans are upended from COVID.

“Watching thousands of people on TV who are stranded on airports and they're scrambling to get home. It should tell us that you know maybe it's a good thing to consider insurance and actually purchase travel insurance right now.”

He says, with Goose Insurance, an app, it can take seconds to sign up.

“You can do it literally as you're waiting to board the plane,” said Kaywan. “The app travels with you no matter where you go, and you have a map of local hospitals. So as soon as you confirm your trip, and you've booked and paid for your airfare your insurance is right there.”

Kaywan says Thanksgiving weekend presented a mostly uneventful holiday for travelers with no major cancellations or delays across the country. However, with omicron now a potential threat for air travel for those living in the United States, passengers could be looking at a moment’s notice before restrictions are put in place.

Those with the Billings airport say they’re watching what other countries will start to close their borders too because of Omicron —especially with the variant now circulating in Europe and Canada.

Given most international markets just opened up or were in the process of opening up, Kevin Ploehn with the airport says their impact locally will likely be minimal at best.

Strangis says his family plans to travel to Florida for Christmas and he’s hoping nothing stands in the way of that. “You know, people are masked, and I am vaccinated. So, I feel pretty good about it."

He doesn’t want to miss out on another family gathering due to the pandemic

“We have family spread out all over the country. So, we would spend another Christmas alone, you know if something like that popped up,” he said.

He added he did not opt for insurance for his Christmas flight plans but that’s because he feels airlines nowadays are much more accommodating when it comes to COVID-19 changes.

“Yeah, so I think there's a little more flexibility with the airlines,” he said.