What's coronavirus mean for people with a plane ticket?

Eagan-based Sun Country is cutting back or even eliminating some routes for the next two months.

Eagan-based Sun Country is cutting back or even eliminating some routes for the next two months. Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

As of Tuesday afternoon, Minnesota has three confirmed cases of coronavirus: one each in Ramsey County, Carver County, and Anoka County.

Does that mean you should panic? Hell no. Just follow the good advice we’ve learned over decades of flu seasons: wash your hands; avoid touching people, objects you don’t have to, and your own face when you can avoid it; and if do start getting ill, be prepared to stay home for a couple of weeks.

Should you be a panicking a little bit that your travel plans are probably about to change? Hell yes.

Last week, Eagan-based airline Sun Country announced it was reducing or cutting some of its routes over the next two months, telling Twin Cities Business uncertainty over the virus had depressed demand.

A representative with Sun Country says those represent just 2 percent of the airline's on-sale capacity, and passengers have the option to re-book or get a refund.

Other airlines are making major alterations in light of the outbreak. By Tuesday, nearly every major American airline was offering free changes and cancellations for all flights scheduled in March and April.

That’s especially good news if you were planning on taking Delta’s relatively new nonstop flight from Minneapolis to Seoul, which has been brought to a grinding halt.

Spirit describes its policy as “flexible.” If you’ve got to alter your plans due to coronavirus, you’re eligible to make a one-time free modification, or receive a reservation credit for the full value of the reservation, which can be used for up to six months. Guests are also “welcome”—arguably encouraged—to travel with extra antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer.

With Southwest, you can go ahead and apply whatever you paid for your flight to future travel up to a year from now, provided you canceled within 10 minutes of the scheduled departure.

Meanwhile, American Airlines is planning on reducing its trans-Pacific flight capacity by 55 percent.

Tracking these daily (or sometimes hourly) updates is the job of Kyle Potter, Minnesotan and editor-in-chief of Thrifty Traveler, and even he’s having trouble keeping up.

“I’ve done a lot of interviews on this in the last week, and every time, something is radically different,” he says.

Travel demand has just “fallen off a cliff,” Potter says, and prices have fallen with them. Just last week, he found a round-trip from Minneapolis to Hawaii for $360, and from Minneapolis to Tokyo for $330. Which, for the cheerfully nihilistic among us, does have a certain appeal.

Airline executives are comparing the atmosphere to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s not that people don’t have the money or the desire to travel. It’s just that they’re too scared.

“I can’t say I’m really itching to book anything right now,” he admits.

Instead he's helping individual travelers use vouchers and waivers from their airlines and get as much money back as they can. He’s also telling people to pay attention to what health experts are saying.

The soundest advice comes from someone with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the World Health Organization, not Southwest or Delta.

In the meantime, if you have nothing to do but sit and stew, this comprehensive dashboard by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering might make you feel a little bit better. It provides a bounty of real-time data on coronavirus. As of mid-afternoon on Tuesday, just over 116,500 cases had been confirmed worldwide, just short of 4,100 people had died, and nearly 64,400 had completely recovered.

Also: Unlike what we normally see with the flu, kids, weirdly, have been pretty much fine. As of Tuesday, China had reported literally zero cases of children dying of COVID-19.

That said, this virus strain is a much bigger risk if you happen to be an older person or immunocompromised. So take that into account, wash your hands, and wait for updates.