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Sanitagging. Travel Bubble. Mothballing. What Do These Coronavirus Travel Terms Mean?

By Lyndsey Matthews and Katherine LaGrave

05.11.20

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In the future, your luggage will need to be “sanitagged” at the airport. But what does that even mean?

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In the future, your luggage will need to be “sanitagged” at the airport. But what does that even mean?

Thought “babymoon” was bad? We decode 5 travel terms that you’ll be seeing more and more often in a world with COVID-19.

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The travel industry has long been fond of portmanteaus, or blending multiple words into one. Motel (motor + hotel) has been in use since the 1920s, but travel-related frankenwords have proliferated over the past few decades as glamping, babymoons, staycations, and bleisure travel have all become commonplace—whether you like it or not.

It comes as no surprise that even though coronavirus has brought the travel industry to a screeching halt, people continue to innovate and create terms to describe the new processes and ideas that are being rolled out around the world in response to the pandemic. For example, the new suitcase sanitizing and tagging process that is being considered at airports to keep bag handlers and passengers safe has already been dubbed “sanitagging.” 

We’ve put together a glossary of travel terms you’ll be seeing more often in a post-coronavirus world. While not all of them are catchy portmanteaus, it’ll help knowing them as we return to airports and hotels (hopefully) in the not so distant future.

Quarantine. Self-Isolation. Lockdown. Shelter in Place. What’s the Difference?

Sanitagging

In late April, aviation marketing firm SimpliFlying released a report titled, “The Rise of Sanitised Travel.” Among the 70 different elements of the passenger journey that the firm expects to change in air travel, the one that got the most attention was “sanitagging” at the airport—the process of sanitizing bags and giving them a tag once the process is complete.

SimpliFlying recommends three places that “sanitagging” should occur: upon checking in (to protect bag handlers), at security (for those with carry-on bags), and upon arrival at the destination (before they are placed on the conveyor belt). 

Implementing such systems will take cooperation between airlines, airports, and governments. But given that 8 out of 10 passengers checked their luggage in 2018, and that COVID-19 can live on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days (hello, suitcases), sanitagging is not such a terrible idea. Already, Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi has made public its plans to disinfect luggage, and Hong Kong International Airport is testing the efficacy of applying an antimicrobial coating to surfaces around terminals, including baggage claim. —Katherine LaGrave 

Travel bubble

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As some of the world’s countries ease up on their coronavirus restrictions, they’ve also floated the idea of a “travel bubble.” No, it’s not a transparent orb you roll around the world in à la Bubble Boy—rather, it’s an agreement between cooperating countries that allows for citizens to travel freely between the nations, in the hopes of kick-starting tourism and helping economies rebound.

On May 6, Estonian prime minister Jüri Ratas wrote on Twitter that he’d reached an agreement with the prime ministers of neighboring Latvia and Lithuania to open borders on May 15. “It’s a big step towards life as normal,” he wrote. (Anyone entering from outside these countries will still need to self-quarantine for 14 days.) With the move, the Baltic states would be the first to create such a bubble. The prime ministers of New Zealand and Australia—Jacinda Ardern and Scott Morrison, respectively—have also said they will enact a similar agreement when those countries loosen their restrictions. 

Though several U.S. states have agreed to coordinate “reopenings” to protect their regions, travel bubbles have proved more polarizing. Primarily, this is due to the fact that enforcing exits and entries at national borders is one thing, but setting up rules over who can and can’t cross state lines is likely to be challenged, due to certain clauses in the U.S. Constitution that guarantee equal treatment. —K.L.

Mothballed planes at an aircraft boneyard in Arizona.

Mothballing

The term “mothballing” isn’t new, but the term has been used more often in recent months as flight demand took a nosedive and airplanes were taken out of service and put into storage—or mothballed. You may also hear the term “boneyard,” too, which is referring to the remote desert airports where mothballed planes are often stored. The desert locations are ideal since the low humidity means the planes are less likely to rust and there’s generally more room to accommodate all sizes of jets. —Lyndsey Matthews

Immunity/health passport

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On April 24, the World Health Organization issued a brief denouncing the idea of immunity passports, writing: “At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate.’ People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission.” 

Still, countries around the world have continued the conversation: Both the U.S. and U.K. governments are currently in talks with tech companies to develop certificates people could use to show that they’ve had (and healed from) the virus. 

How it would work: Using an app, you’d take a photo of your face and a government-approved I.D. This would then be matched with information about an antibody and antigen test. At checkpoints, the app would generate a QR code based on your data, showing the gate-keeper (a receptionist or border patrol agent, say) whether or not you are clear to proceed.  

In Chile, the government is slated to start issuing immunity passports to those who have recovered from COVID-19. In Germany, government officials have asked the German Ethics Council to research how such a passport would affect its population, with health minister Jens Spahn noting, “The question of what it means for society when some people are hit by restrictions and others are not, that touches on the foundations of how society functions together.” Time, it seems, will tell. —K.L.

Nonessential travel

We included the definition of “nonessential travel” in our glossary of coronavirus terms like “lockdown” and “self-isolation,” but it’s worth revisiting this one again since we’ll be hearing it more as other countries and states begin to reopen in the coming weeks.

When Italy entered into Phase 2 of its lockdown on May 4, its citizens were allowed to travel more freely around their cities. But nonessential travel from abroad is still banned throughout the entire European Union through May 15—and could possibly be extended through June 15. That means, in order to travel to Italy and many other European countries, you’ll need to prove that you’re flying for an essential reason such as a medical worker responding to the crisis or another reason found to be necessary.

In the United States, nonessential travel hasn’t been defined as precisely, leaving it up to individual travelers to determine whether they have personal or business matters urgent enough that won’t allow them to stay at home. —L.M.

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