Young, Confident and Flying, Virus Be Damned

As people self-quarantine, work from home and generally wall themselves off from the outside world, Joe DeSimone is preparing to travel the globe.

In the last few weeks, the 30-year-old game design instructor from Austin, Texas, has booked two flights — to London and Toronto — and has getaways to Nashville and Los Angeles in the works.

He’s one of a number of young people who have watched airline ticket prices plunge in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, and have seen it as their golden opportunity to travel.

“The way I see it,” Mr. DeSimone said, “either things will normalize and prices will return to a rate that makes it difficult for me to travel, or the world is going to end and I might as well enjoy it while it lasts.”

Raj Mahal, 32, runs PlanMoreTrips, an online travel planning app he launched in January. For the last month, as the number of coronavirus cases ticked up, activity on his site declined. But then, nearly overnight, he saw a 20 percent jump in bookings — largely from people flying out of tech hubs like San Francisco, Seattle and New York — to warmer locations like Hawaii, Australia and South America.

Curious about the trend, he emailed customers to ask them why they were booking. He learned that many were employees of large tech companies like Uber, Twitter, Amazon and Google, who had been given instructions to work remotely.

“A bunch of them were saying, well, the coronavirus is here in my city, so we may as well go somewhere else,” Mr. Mahal said. “We’ve even seen co-workers booking together. They figure if we have to work from home, we might as well go rent a house in Hawaii.”

To tap into this new market, Mr. Mahal made a “coronavirus flight alert,” a program that aggregates cheap flights and emails users suggested itineraries.

“If you’re comfortable with the risk, the prices are like the cheapest they’ve been in 10 years,” Mr. Mahal said. “Flights are cheap, lodging is cheap, there are no tourists.”

Traveling during the pandemic flies in the face of expert advice and government advisories. Travelers who are infected, even if they are not showing symptoms, may transport and spread the virus to a new location, or contaminate an airplane, cab or Airbnb. While they may be healthy enough to survive the virus, they could be putting others at risk.

They could also get infected during their travels, and have to be hospitalized during a trip, or get quarantined somewhere far from home.

But for people like Mr. DeSimone, the risks can feel very abstract, while the deals are quite concrete. “As far as I can tell, the mortality rate is like sub one percent for people who aren’t elderly,” said Mr. DeSimone, who added that he’s willing to risk infection for his cheap international trips. “Odds are, if I get sick, it will be like a bad flu.”

On Wednesday, he saw a round-trip flight from Austin to Los Angeles for $50.

“I spend more than 50 bucks on cigarettes and coffee in a weekend,” he said, “so like, why not?”

Some argue that these travelers may be a shot in the arm for the travel industry, buying tickets at a time where carriers are flying near empty planes and filling Airbnbs and hotels as people stop taking trips.

For his part, Mr. Mahal is going skiing at Mount Hood near Portland, Ore., next week and has “speculated” on trips to Croatia and Amsterdam. “The cancellation policies are more flexible now,” he added, “so you can book now and potentially cancel later.”

For some cash-strapped young people, who grew up during the recession and may have difficulty paying hundreds of dollars for a flight, the moment feels like an opportunity.

Kelly McPhee, 31, a bartender who works two jobs in Chicago, said the recent drop in prices will allow her to take a vacation for the first time in two years.

Recently, her friends began planning a trip to Phoenix, Ariz., for spring training, but at $500 round trip, it was way out of her budget.

“And then this coronavirus thing happened and I saw people on Twitter saying that if you need to book a ticket do it now because no one wants to travel anymore,” she said. “I looked online and I was like — oh my gosh! — it’s only $150 now.”

She’s not worried about the virus, she said, “partly because I’m young, and partly because we’ve gone through this before. Ebola. Swine flu. Y2K. It just seems like the next thing.”

(While it’s true that people over 60 and those with underlying medical conditions are more at risk, the United States doesn’t have great numbers on the mortality rate among young people. But statistics from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which analyzed 45,000 coronavirus patients in China, put the mortality rate for people ages 10 to 39 at 0.2 percent. But because of a lack of testing, and because milder cases may not have been reported, we can’t be sure these numbers are correct.)

Would Ms. McPhee still be flying even now that spring training is now canceled because of the virus?

Yes, she said. With all the recent commotion, she’s “looking forward to having a few days off work,” staying off social media, and the opportunity to finally “decompress.”

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