Virgin Orbit’s first rocket launch over Pacific Ocean hits snag

Sir Richard Branson’s launch mission for a revolutionary satellite delivery system has been postponed due what his Virgin Orbit company calls “an abundance of caution” following a sensor fault.

The plan was to ignite the LauncherOne rocket engine in mid-air from a Boeing 747 for the first time. A test window started at 6pm UK time on Sunday 24 May at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

The company tweeted: ”Everything has been proceeding smoothly: team, aircraft, & rocket are in excellent shape. However, we have one sensor that is acting up.

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“Out of an abundance of caution, we are offloading fuel to address. This means we are scrubbed for today.

“Currently, it appears we’ve got a straightforward path to address this minor sensor issue and recycle quickly. The crew are already hard at work putting that plan into action.”

There is another window on Monday for the Jumbo jet and rocket combination to take off and climb to 35,000 feet (almost seven miles) over the Pacific.

Holidaymakers who once shuttled between the UK and Las Vegas, and businesspeople who stretched out from Heathrow to Los Angeles, will readily recognise the red-and-white Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl.

The 18-year-old Boeing 747 flew the Virgin Atlantic nest five years ago to a new home at Long Beach in California, the West Coast hub for space research.

The former Virgin Atlantic jet has the satellite launch rocket secured to the left wing. It uses a pod installed originally for hauling a fifth engine.

The Long Beach-based firm – part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin empire – aims dramatically to cut the cost of launching a satellite into earth orbit from a current price tag as high as $100m (£82m).

Using the 20th century technology of a Boeing passenger plane as a mother ship, Hart believes he can get the cost of a 21st-century launch down to less than the equivalent of £10m.

Ahead of the launch, The Independent was given exclusive access to the project – and Dan Hart, the president and CEO of Virgin Orbit.

“What’s happening in space is: just like your iPhones got smaller and smaller and more dense with electronics, satellites are doing the same thing. And what they need, now that they’re small, is a ride to orbit.” he said.

“Using our re-usable 747 to go off, and come back and do another mission opens up the door to a whole bunch of businesses, scientific experiments and government missions that otherwise wouldn’t be affordable.

“We’re taking quite a nice step down in price: $12m [£9.9m] is actually quite a bit less than it used to be.”

Typically satellites in geo-stationary orbit – fixed above the same point on the earth’s surface – are more than 20,000 miles from the planet. So saving the odd seven miles by hitching a ride on a Jumbo jet might seem insignificant.

But, said Dan Hart, breaking away from ground level is the hardest part: “We don’t have to fight our way through all that thick nitrogen and oxygen and humidity down at sea level, and secondly not only do we have eight miles but we go to nearly Mach 1 when we release.

“So the rocket has altitude and velocity, and rockets love altitude and velocity.”

Distant dreams: as a Virgin Atlantic jet, the Boeing 747 flew frequently between the UK and US (Virgin Orbit)

The Virgin Orbit system is also far more flexible than ground-based launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida and the Ariane Spaceport in Guyane, South America. Weather delays can be virtually eliminated.

The test firing of the two-stage rocket aims to provide proof of concept – though the company warns success is far from guaranteed: “Thousands of components all need to function as planned while controlling high energy and flying at incredibly fast speeds.

“The vehicle’s structures must be robust enough to tolerate travelling at up to 18,000 mph without disintegrating; the temperatures and pressures of its propellants can’t be too high or too low; every internal valve must click open and closed in perfect synchronicity.

“There’s a long list of factors that need to line up in order to make it all the way.”

The pressure is on and the odds are only 50:50. Maiden flights for previous space flight systems have typically ended in failure about half the time.

It comes at the start of a busy week for privately funded space ventures.

On Wednesday, Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm aims to take two Nasa astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, to the International Space Station.

Their mission is the first crewed launch from US territory for nine years.

The pair will lift off from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Fort Lauderdale in a Crew Dragon capsule on top of a SpaceX Falcon rocket.

Nasa said: “Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station.”

The rocket maker said: “Falcon 9 is the world’s first orbital class reusable rocket. Reusability allows SpaceX to refly the most expensive parts of the rocket, which in turn drives down the cost of space access.

The launch is schedule for 8.33pm on 27 May.

While Virgin Orbit is in a very different business from manned space flight, Dan Hart believes exploration and exploitation of the cosmos is beneficial for humanity.

“There’s understanding of the world that we need to gain. Space is making it easier for us to communicate.

“There are still about three billion people who don’t have those kinds of capabilities, so there’s work to be done to get those people access to the internet,” he said.

“There’s an enormous amount that space can do to make life on earth better, to make us a more efficient species and to improve the world in general.”

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Covid 19 coronavirus: How to ease your kids back into school

After eight weeks of pillow forts, pyjama days and daytime movies, going back to school is a shock to the system – for children and parents. The kids are learning to pack a school bag again and the adults are re-learning the art of putting together a daily lunchbox. Everyone is adjusting to the familiar and unmissed madness of the morning rush.

As we’ve heard one billion times now, these are unprecedented times. So take a breath, slow down and give yourself a break. Here are five tips on how to take this one step at a time.

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1. Go easy on yourself

As Tom Papa says, you’re doing great! Mornings when you’re hustling a kid out the door are always busy, rushed and stressful. Saying no to playing with your kid after two months of leisurely mornings sucks, so take it easy on both of you – don’t worry about the toothpaste on their chin or the mismatched socks. It doesn’t matter if the lunchbox is full of packaged food while you get back into the swing of things. Fed and dressed is enough for this week.

2. Don’t project your worries on to them

Feeling anxious? That’s catchy. Negative emotions are just as contagious as positive ones, so if you’re feeling a bit weird about your kid returning to school, keep a lid on it. They may be champing at the bit to see their friends again and there’s no need to dampen that enthusiasm. Children are well attuned to adult emotions, so resolve to keep your anxiety away from them.

If your child is experiencing feelings of worry around being in crowds again – if they seem withdrawn, they’re not sleeping well, if they have physical manifestations such as tummy aches or they’re old enough to express their concerns vocally – talk to them with empathy and honesty. It’s vital to acknowledge that their feelings are valid – this has been one of the strangest times of all of our lives – and that’s discombobulating for the best of us.

3. Ease back into the routine

It’s such a cliche but it’s true. Kids thrive on routine. Structure is safe and reassuring and helps them to understand the boundaries. But routine went out the window at midnight on March 25, when suddenly we were all up in each other’s grills, 24/7. How do you enforce getting dressed when you’re not leaving the house all day? What’s the use of set meal times when you’re staring into the fridge twice an hour?

Now we’re heading out into this new world, routine must return – but slowly. Perhaps this week you focus on getting back to reasonable bedtimes and next week you enforce daily bed-making. There’s no need to rush it.

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Royal Caribbean Makes Additional Comment on Future of Buffets

The buffet—as much a staple on cruise ships as anything—will live on in a different form, at least on Royal Caribbean vessels.

A week after Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, intimated that buffets would likely not exist when Royal Caribbean returns to the sea, CruiseRadio.net reports something of an evolution on that stance.

Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited, appeared on Coffee Chat, a weekly talk with travel advisors with host and Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support and Service Vicki Freed, and said buffets will change but not go away entirely.

“(Where) everybody reaches in and everybody touches the same tongs, you’re not going to see (that) on land or sea,” Fain said. “(But) it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a buffet. You might have it where all of that is served to you by other people. And there (are) other possibilities. But the point is that it will evolve.”

By way of example, Fain said to consider the Midnight Buffet.

“I don’t think anyone says, ‘Where’s the midnight buffet?’” he said. “You haven’t seen the midnight buffet for years and that was long before we had COVID-19. Tastes change and people change, and cruise lines change to accommodate.”

Fain told TravelWeekly, sister publication to TravelPulse.com, that cruisers will adapt, much as air travelers did in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“If you remember after (that), all of a sudden you had to do a strip search at the airport. You couldn’t take a bottle of water on the plane,” he said. “A lot of people said, ‘Nobody’s ever going to fly. Who’s going to want to go on an airplane?’ Airplane travel didn’t end. In fact, it grew. But it evolved. So it isn’t the same when you go today. You do go through security checks, and you do go through identity checks and frankly, we’ve become accustomed to it and the technology has helped make it easier.”

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Safest countries to visit once travel bans are lifted – but will they let you in?

Holidays are not necessarily at the top of most people’s priority lists at present, but many are still taking the time to plan and dream about their next holiday abroad. While current Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice states that travelling abroad is not permitted unless it is “essential”, Ryanair’s recent plans to begin flights as early as July has sparked hope for some Britons looking for a holiday. But like many other airlines, plans to restart operations cannot go ahead until FCO advice changes.

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Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Friday that from June 8 the UK Government will be enforcing 14-day quarantine rules for travellers flying in from abroad, further darkening the outlook of the travel and tourism sector.

Other countries such as Spain, New Zealand and China are also imposing such quarantine measures, with some already in place. 

The new rules could put an end to weekend breaks in Andalusia, and cheap, week-long package deals in Benidorm as customers face the reality of having to book off potentially weeks to accommodate for a short break.

But for those looking ahead to the distant future of travel, these are the locations that may well be the safest.

Travel risk expert Lloyd Figgins spoke exclusively to Express.co.uk about the safest places to visit once lockdown has been lifted, and the risks to consider when you travel.

Mr Figgins is Chairman of the Travel Risk & Incident Prevention (TRIP), which is an independent think-tank dedicated to improving knowledge, education and awareness of travel risk management.

He’s also the author of The Travel Survival Guide and often provides commentary in the media.

“We need to look at infection rates of the countries you’re travelling to,” he began.

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He continued: “But not just infection rates. You need to have a look at the health system of the country that you’re visiting and what strain that may also be under due to infection rates.

“When we look at those countries who have not necessarily been impacted in the same ways, you would be looking at places like Singapore, you would be looking at Australia, you would be looking at New Zealand where they’ve had much lower infection rates.

“And certainly lower fatality rates.”

Mr Figgins warned that those countries with lower case rates may be unwilling to allow Britons to visit so soon.

He added: “The problem with those countries is that they want to keep their citizens as safe as possible so they’re unlikely to let people from infected countries or badly impacted countries travel to their shores.

“And that is the problem that we have.”

But the travel risk expert was also hopeful, explaining that there were some “badly impacted countries” that would be opening to tourists soon.

He added: “However, we are seeing some of those countries that were badly impacted opening up.

“Italy will be opening its borders very shortly. We are seeing Greece is opening some of its tourist attractions.

“Where you have these economies that are reliant on tourism, they are very keen to get the sights and resorts open as quickly as possible.

“But the one thing that we must bring into this equation is that everybody has their own individual risk appetite. You will always get your early adopters who will jump on the first aircraft they can when they’re allowed to, but for a lot of people consumer confidence in travel is very, very low at the moment.

“I think it’s imperative the industry takes these small steps in order to try and get that consumer confidence back.”

The TRIP Group was established in 2017 and now has more than 500 member organisations worldwide including Corporations, NGOs, Government Departments, Higher Education and Travel & Tourism.

Lloyds Figgins’ book, The Travel Survival Guide, is available to buy on Amazon

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These must-have luggage items will protect future passengers – but don’t get caught out

Flights may be grounded around the world right now as individual countries pursue varying levels of lockdown, however, there is some hope ahead as airports and airlines begin to put forward ideas for resuming travel while ensuring passengers stay safe. Experts have suggested precautions travellers can take themselves, as well as the airlines.

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Having been trapped in lockdown for nine weeks now, many Britons are eager to jet off as soon as possible, according to data from Skyscanner.

The travel experts found that more than a quarter of the nation remain confident in air travel, saying they will travel “more than ever”.

Meanwhile, operators such as Wizz Air have already resumed some flights, and Irish-carrier Ryanair says it plans to resume 40 percent of operations by July.

However, future fliers should consider packing some vital items in their luggage before they board.

Myles Quee, Travel Expert at Send My Bag spoke exclusively with Express.co.uk to shed some light on how travellers can take health and hygiene into their own hands.

“Handwashing is the most effective method for stopping the spread of the disease. In airports there are potential hazards of passing the infection by handling or touching surfaces that have come into contact with someone carrying the virus – it can live on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours,” he warned.

However, when seated on a long flight, hand washing may not be as easy as it is at home.

Luckily, Myles has a solution.

“Passengers need to be extra vigilant and well-armed with hand sanitiser to ensure their hands are washed regularly and thoroughly.

“Provided the bottle is below 100ml, it can also be boarded on the plane in your hand luggage.”

Though large bottles of hand sanitiser can be packed in hold luggage, which may be helpful for travellers jetting off on long-haul holidays, they are not allowed through security.

“Airlines have strict rules on the amount of liquids allowed in hand luggage. Where possible you should carry liquids in your checked-in luggage,” adds Myles.

“You can carry smaller bottles of liquid up to 100ml provided the containers can collectively be stored in a single, transparent, sealed plastic bag, which holds no more than a litre and measures approximately 20cm by 20cm.

“Only one such bag can be carried on board per person, and the bag must be shown to airport security.

“Containers larger than 100ml are not permitted even if only partly full. The exception to these rules are essential medicine or baby food or milk.

“However, airport staff might need to investigate the liquid in the containers at the security point.”

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Some airlines may also have their own specific rules pertaining to hand luggage, as Myles points out: “Always check the airline’s luggage restrictions before leaving for the airport, and make sure hand luggage complies.”

Along with hand sanitiser, many airlines are now making face masks mandatory for both passengers and crew.

“Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO, has already announced that they will be compulsory for the airline’s crew and passengers as it plans to restore up to 40 percent of its flight schedule from July,” continues Myles.

“Along with temperature checks on arrival and departure, face masks have been shown to be among the most effective measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in air travel.

“The virus is spread as droplets in the air, and the likelihood of transmission between an infected person to other passengers can be reduced with a face mask.

“However, they are not foolproof as they can be contaminated by other people’s coughs and sneezes, or when putting them on or removing them.

“Some have also speculated that they create a false sense of security, causing the person wearing it to become less alert to other possible transmission risks.”

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Alongside Ryanair, Wizz Air has also released a new safety video which instructs passengers to wear a face-covering at the airport and onboard.

Wizz Air has also revealed that it will be handing over disinfecting wipes to passengers as they board, giving them the opportunity to personally sanitise their seat area.

“Household cleaning wipes can also help to reduce the chance of transmission, but must be used in one direction as wiping them back and forth could just spread germs more widely,” warns Myles.

He suggests packing your own supply when travelling with airlines who may not offer them for free.

He adds: “Tissues will also be important for travellers to cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing. Once used the tissues should be quickly disposed of, so handkerchiefs are not recommended as an alternative.”

Most airlines currently flying are not offering their usual food service, although British Airways, for example, is offering pre-packaged food on its repatriation flights.

Despite the sealed snacks, Myles warns that customers should take some extra precautions.

“Food hygiene is also essential to containing the spread of the virus,” he says.

“Bringing your own straw means you won’t have to worry about coming into contact with a glass which you can’t reliably prove is completely clean.”

The future of air travel remains largely uncertain, though main transport hubs, including Heathrow Airport, are working hard to trial out efficient methods for ensuring the health and hygiene of travellers and staff.

Passengers arriving at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 will be automatically screened for raised temperatures through thermal imaging cameras in a trial programme.

However, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye has added that a “globalised standard” is key to help revive the aviation industry.

He suggests that in order to stimulate air traffic, only “low risk” passengers should be allowed to fly.

“Unless we get people flying again we can’t get the UK economy moving again because the UK’s exports, and also because they come in through a supply chain, come on passenger planes through Heathrow,” Mr Holland-Kaye said on BBC News.

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Google Maps: Street View spots strange sign from above – what does it mean?

Google Maps Street View is used by people across the planet to go from their front door to their favourite cafe. Some people even use the tool to navigate around foreign countries when they go abroad. But for some people who can’t travel abroad, the tool is used for other purposes.

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Some people like to browse the world from the comfort of their sofas.

From the Pyramids to the Great Wall of China, the tool allows people to view some of the world’s greatest sights.

It also enables people to feel as though they’re walking the streets of another country or city from their living room.

But sometimes the tool is used by people to spot strange occurrences.

More recently, people have started posting bizarre and hilarious sightings that they find on the tool.

And one sighting in particular which was spotted by an unsuspecting user is very odd indeed.

The scene unfolded in Willowridge in Toronto, Canada.

From Google Maps’ satellite, the scene looks perfectly normal – a few cars, some trees and some roads.

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There is even a cluster of houses nearby.

But as you zoom in, it becomes more clear that someone has painted a huge sign on some concrete next to a river.

It becomes clear that the sign is an emoji shrugging made out of punctuation such as dashes, brackets and speech marks.

The emoji is sometimes used by people on social media.

The strange sight was spotted by a Reddit user who captioned it: “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”.

The post was quickly inundated with masses of comments from intrigued users.

One user explained what it meant: “It’s the Japanese Katakana character ツ (pronounced ‘tsu’).”

Another said: “I’m still sad I don’t know how to [do] the middle smiley face.”

Another simply replied: “Bless you.”

Another user commented the name of the artist who painted the strange sign by a narrow river.

The painting by the artist Trevor Wheatley captioned the painting on Instagram: “Painting with Stuey from @bizarrebeyondbelief.”

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Jet2 extends the cancellation of all flights and holidays until July 1

Jet2 extends the cancellation period of all flights and holidays to July 1 in light of ‘ongoing travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic’

  • Travel firm previously said flights and holidays would recommence on June 17 
  • But it pushed back the date, saying health and safety was its ‘absolute priority’
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Jet2 has extended the cancellation period of all of its flights and holidays until July 1.

The tour operator, which is Britain’s second-biggest holiday company, had previously said that its flights and holidays would recommence on June 17.

But today, the firm said that in view of the ongoing travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it was pushing this date back by two weeks, adding that ‘the health and safety of our customers is our absolute priority’.

Jet2 has extended the cancellation period of all of its flights and holidays until July 1 

A spokesperson for Jet2 said: ‘Like all other airlines and tour operators, the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have impacted us.

‘With aircraft grounded, our focus has been on looking after customers whose flights and holidays have been affected, and we are very proud to have been recognised as the best airline and best tour operator in the UK for how we have been treating customers in response to the pandemic, according to a major investigative survey by MoneySavingExpert.com.

‘Our teams have been working around the clock to look after customers and independent travel agents, and we can assure everyone affected by today’s announcement that they will receive the same level of service.

‘Customers who were due to travel before July 1 do not need to contact us. We are continuing to proactively contact customers to discuss their options, one of which is rebooking their holiday to a later date.

‘We know just how important holidays are to our customers, and how much they give customers something to look forward to, particularly after a difficult time such as this. If a customer has a booking that is due to depart on or after July 1, the booking is subject to our normal terms and conditions.

‘We have said throughout that the sun will shine again and when it does, we will be there to take customers away on their well-deserved holidays.

‘As well as taking them away for their much-needed holidays, customers can be assured that we will be implementing measures, in consultation with the relevant authorities, to ensure the safety and well-being of everybody on board. We will announce further details on this in due course.’

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) continues to warn Britons against all non-essential travel abroad 

Yesterday, it was revealed that British travellers are backing the idea of travel ‘corridors’ and ‘bubbles’, with searches for holidays to Italy and France rocketing this week.

Ministers are mulling coronavirus ‘air bridges’ to allow travellers to move between countries without the need for quarantine once the outbreak is under control. And Italy, Spain and Greece have all made headlines with announcements around the re-introduction of tourism.

Skyscanner revealed that in response, searches from the UK for holidays in July in Italy are up 103 per cent this week compared to last week and for trips to France by 128 per cent. Overall searches for international travel in July have increased by 37 per cent in the past two weeks.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said a ‘blanket’ 14-day quarantine rule for arrivals in the UK would be introduced from next month.

But he disclosed that there are ‘active discussions’ going on over what countries could be exempted from the regime in future, referring to the idea of ‘air bridges’ – usually used to refer to military flights over enemy territory.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) continues to warn Britons against all non-essential travel abroad. 

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Road trips won't be the same this summer. Here's what you should plan for


Summer road trips will feel very different this year, with fewer cars on the road as the country begins to reopen slowly following restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.

a view of a city street filled with lots of traffic: Cash tolls will return on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway on Tuesday May 19th at 6:30 AM. Cash tolls were suspended on March 24th as a precaution against the spread of Covid-19 and all tolls were collected either by E-ZPass or by the temporary toll-by-mail process. Toll collectors will be wearing gloves, face masks, and plastic face shields and drivers who intend to pay with cash are encouraged to wear face masks as they travel through the toll lanes.

Ahead of Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer travel season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying home as much as possible.

The CDC advises people to not travel if they’re sick, are in a higher-risk group for the coronavirus or live with someone who is. Higher-risk groups include people 65 and older and those with chronic health conditions.

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But many Americans are considering road trips as a minimal-contact vacation option as opposed to the close quarters of traveling by plane. Those who do make summer travel driving plans may encounter checkpoints at state lines, quarantine orders, closed welcome centers and rest areas, and fewer open hotels and restaurants.

Social distancing guidelines remain in place, and travelers may be required to wear a face mask when they stop for gas, groceries or other supplies.

“I don’t think this is going to be like any other kind of summer,” said Joseph Allen, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. “Everything is going to be very different.”

The good news? Travelers will benefit from the lowest gas prices in 17 years, according to AAA. The national average is $1.87, about a dollar lower than a year ago. AAA says to expect prices to rise above $2 over the summer as states reopen and demand increases.

Summer road trippers will need to do more planning and preparation than they might otherwise. Hotel reservations should be made in advance, directly with the hotel. Motorists should plan on eating take-out food or bringing their own. They should check ahead to see which welcome centers and rest stops may be closed.

AAA has an interactive map that shows state-by-state restrictions that may affect road trippers. However, information is changing quickly, spokesman Jim Stratton said, so travelers should check multiple sources to see what they should expect at their destination and along the way.

The National Governors Association also has a state-by-state interactive map that shows coronavirus-related state restrictions and conditions travelers should know.

Checkpoints and quarantines

Rhode Island and Florida require drivers entering the state to check in. 

Roadside checkpoints on interstates are set up to check for potential coronavirus cases. Drivers are diverted from the interstate to a rest area or weigh station, where they fill out a form provided by state police. Commercial trucks are allowed to bypass the screening.

Since March, Florida has required drivers from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to quarantine for 14 days, or the duration of their stay in the state, whichever is shorter. The restriction does not apply to airline employees, military personnel, commercial drivers or health care workers.

Travelers to Rhode Island must quarantine on arrival unless traveling for business. All cars with out-of-state plates are required to stop.

Texas ended roadside checkpoints at the Louisiana border in late April.

While most states may not have border checkpoints, some still require a 14-day quarantine for visitors.

Border crossings

The U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico land borders have been closed to nonessential travel since late March and will remain closed until June 22, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.

Welcome centers and rest areas

Some welcome centers and rest areas are closed, and travelers should check each state’s transportation department website for the most up-to-date information.

Masks and social distancing

Several states require people to wear face coverings in public: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island. Many others recommend it.  

Social distancing guidelines remain in effect across the country, discouraging large gatherings and encouraging people to stay six feet apart.

Cashless tolls

State and regional tolling authorities across the country have closed their cash toll collection. If you don’t have a transponder such as E-ZPass, expect to be billed by mail. That includes the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the New York Thruway, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Ohio Turnpike toll collectors still take cash, but have been provided with nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. The Indiana Toll Road has advised drivers paying with cash to expect delays at toll plazas due to reduced staffing.

The Florida Turnpike has stopped taking cash tolls. Those who do not have a SunPass account will receive an invoice by mail. The Florida Department of Transportation is temporarily waiving the $2.50 invoice administrative fee.

The Maryland Transportation Authority has switched to all-electronic tolling at its bridges and tunnels. Delaware’s toll roads and bridges have also gone cashless.


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Greece Opening to Foreign Travelers in June

Government officials in Greece announced Wednesday the country would open to foreign visitors on June 15.

According to BBC.com, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis revealed travelers arriving at popular destinations across the country would be subjected to coronavirus testing and government-mandated health protocols.

Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis said Greece would provide a list before the end of May consisting of approved countries it would allow visitors from based on “epidemiological criteria” from health and safety experts.

Theoharis said the plan is to allow travelers from approved countries to arrive only through Athens International Airport starting on June 15 before expanding the order to all of Greece’s other airports on July 1.

When it comes to determining which countries will be allowed to send visitors, Theoharis revealed the ongoing coronavirus numbers would impact the decision. Tourists arriving will not be subjected to a mandatory quarantine.

In the case of a potential viral outbreak in a region, the government is designating a doctor for each hotel and adding special quarantine areas and testing facilities on islands. The country has been on lockdown since March but has been heralded for its success containing the virus.

With an estimated 33 million visitors arriving in Greece last year, tourism has been devastated by the pandemic, and officials are excited to bring back an industry worth around 20 percent of the nation’s GDP.

Several countries in the European Union are also beginning to remove travel restrictions in time for the summer holidays, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Ireland.

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90 excruciating seconds at the Transport Select Committee

“Minister, we haven’t got much time, so some pithy answers please, rather than vacuous, long-winded ones.”

The speaker was Karl McCartney, the Conservative MP for Lincoln. He was addressing his parliamentary colleague, Kelly Tolhurst.

Ms Tolhurst is the aviation minister, and she was answering questions during Wednesday’s hearing of the Transport Select Committee.

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MPs on the committee are taking evidence about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the travel industry.

As you will know, one of the key topics is the impending quarantine for anyone arriving in the UK.

The government will bring in 14 days of mandatory self-isolation early in June. It says: “Now that domestic transmission within the UK is coming under control, and other countries begin to lift lockdown measures, it is the right time to prepare new measures at the border.”

Whether by accident or design, the quarantine policy has potential to cause even more damage than the immense harm already wrought upon the UK travel industry by the coronavirus pandemic.

Almost no one is going to want to travel to Britain with the prospect of spending the next two weeks unable to venture outside. That includes those of us who are desperate for a holiday abroad but cannot contemplate 14 days of self-isolation at the end of it.

We all hope that the spread of Covid-19 will remain under control. It is a safe bet that other countries will be lifting lockdown measures for many months. So I predict the justification for quarantine will prevail for the rest of the year.

Given the imminent deployment of an unprecedented measure with the potential to destroy every UK airline and holiday company, it was unsurprising that MPs wanted answers from the minister about quarantine: when it will start, how it will work and – crucially – what needs to change for the travel-crushing measure to be lifted.

I have watched the excruciating 90-second exchange between Mr McCartney and his fellow Tory several times.

“Are you going to reconsider the 14-day period?” he asks.

“So obviously that’s something that is being led by the Home Office, so obviously these things are under review,” replied the minister.

“So that’s a ‘no’,” he concludes – and asks about arrivals to the UK who would be exempt from the need to go home and stay there.

“So obviously in relation to the exemptions, the exemption lists are being looked and finalised, and obviously – ”

“Yes or no,” demanded Mr McCartney.

“Well, I haven’t – we haven’t – got the full lists, that’s work that’s been ongoing, around what would be on the exemption lists and ultimately, as the DfT I’ve been very focused on making sure that …”

As the unfortunate minister wittered on, the exchange became even more heated before Mr McCartney handed back to the chair.

Kelly Tolhurst deserves sympathy. The MPs on the transport committee know that, collectively, many tens of thousands of their constituents depend on travel for their livelihoods.

Many more of their voters are booked to go on holiday as early as 12 June, the date Tui plans to re-start departures. And yet they have no way of knowing whether a condition of their annual holiday will be sitting inside for a fortnight on returning home.

All that you, me and the mystified MPs know about the quarantine policy we glean from briefings and counter-briefings by No 10 and the Department for Transport.

In an all-too-public forum, the hapless junior minister was obliged to to defend a quarantine policy that her department and almost anyone connected with travel thinks, in the words of Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, is both intensely destructive and “absolutely bonkers” (a fellow airline chief executive used a rather stronger term in private).

No wonder Kelly Tolhurst’s bluster exasperated her fellow MPs with vacuous, long-winded answers. At a time when everyone needs clarity, all she could honestly offer was meaningless prevarication. But it wasn’t her fault.

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