Around the World: When resuming travel, know before you go
If you’re eager to get back on the road, you’ve probably been tracking travel industry news, ads and offerings, and noticing that they’ve picked up significantly of late.
Destinations near and far, urban and rural, mainstream and off the beaten path have kept travel devotees enthralled during the pandemic with videos and virtual tours that feature their most appealing attractions. Those online entertainments are designed to whet travelers’ appetites for adventure – and assure future bookings. Additionally, the airlines, hotels and resorts, special interest tour operators and travel packagers are posting tempting offers for present and future travel at irresistible discounted prices.
While the travel industry never came to a complete standstill during the height of the pandemic, the cancellation of most nonessential travel has caused such a severe drop in revenue that the even essential sectors of the industry have been seriously threatened, as has the job security of almost everyone working in it. The losses will take years to overcome, and the travel industry is scrambling to sustain itself.
Other than the cancellation of all cruising, air travel has been most heavily and consistently impacted. Airlines for America, the organization that represents domestic airlines, reports that some 3,000 airplanes – more than half the nation’s active aircraft – have been indefinitely parked.
And, TSA stats tracking the number of passengers going through airport security check points indicate a startling drop. On June 23, 2020, the number of travelers clearing airport security check points was 471,421, compared to the 2,506,510 passengers on the same date last year. The huge decline in traffic indicates economic losses not only to the airlines, but also to all business that supply and maintain airports, and to all businesses – the shops, bistros, hotels and entertainment centers -- that serve passengers in transit.
The airlines have attempted to raise revenue by selling future travel, and by selling all sorts of merchandise through their frequent flyer programs. As part of their enticement to purchase future travel and the huge range of products and services they’re marketing, they’re enhancing their offers with frequent flyer point add-ons.
These easily acquired frequent flyer points are valid for future travel and other products – but they actually diminish the value of frequent flyer points accrued through actual travel. Why? Because the number of frequent flyer bookings of specific routes and flights is already limited by the airline and having a greater number of easily earned frequent flyer points in circulation makes for greater competition for available flights. You may be buying frequent flyer points now, but you may find it difficult to spend them on travel in the future when ‘normal’ travel resumes and competition for frequent flyer reservations is extreme.
If you’re planning to take to the skies this summer, be prepared to find airport ambience and procedures considerably altered. For one thing, many of the businesses – including airline lounges – that provide airport amenities and services may no longer be there to accommodate your needs and desires. Don’t expect to find food stalls, gift and gadget shops, luxury brand boutiques and other purveyors open and at your service. Be prepared. Bring everything you need during flight with you from home.
On the upside, getting through the airport should be faster. The lines at check in and security are likely to be shorter due to reduced traffic. Procedures have been put in place to limit personal interaction with airline personnel. You are encouraged to check in online and get an e-ticket stored in your smart phone. If that’s not possible, you’re expected to use the airline’s self-service kiosks. If your check in requires interaction, you’ll be required to observe physical distancing and hygiene recommendations put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Whether your check in requires interaction with airline and/or security personnel, you are most likely going to be required to wear a face mask. Gloves are also essential, if not required. You’ll find hand sanitizing stations located throughout the airport and should use them frequently.
At security checks, TSA personnel will wear masks and gloves. The lines are organized to keep passengers six feet apart, with visual spacing on the floor. But, frankly, social distancing isn’t always that easily controlled. You scan your own documents – ID and ticket – rather than hand them to a TSA officer. Per usual, restrictions are applied to carryon items. Food items must be in clear plastic bags and you will be required to place them in a separate tray for visual inspection. Limits on liquids and gels are still 3.4 ounces, but you are allowed to carry on12 ounces of hand sanitizer. Loose items like keys, coins and cell phones must be placed inside carryon luggage rather than in individual bins. If items must be removed from luggage for inspection, you will be required to remove them and put them on the conveyor belt to go through the x-ray machine again.
As a way of preventing coronavirus from spreading, some airlines are using touchless infrared thermometers to check passengers’ temperatures. Anyone with a temperature of 99.6 degrees or higher will be prohibited from boarding and flying. The temperature tests are conducted randomly, but making them a regulation is being considered. Even though the reduced number of travelers will make check in and security check point lines shorter, the TSA advises that you arrive at airports with plenty of time for screening. Because, to be quite candid, during the pandemic and for the foreseeable future, the business of air travel is really, so to speak, up in the air.Copyright 2020 Jennifer Merin