RETURN TO TRAVEL
Business Traveler|June/July 2021
Travelers and the industry both ask: Are we there yet?
LARK GOULD

Open up any newspaper, magazine or even a website such as businesstravelerusa.com these days and you will find no shortage of studies showing just how eager Americans are for getting back to travel. Terms such as revenge travel, seismic travel, remote travel, and solo travel are cropping up to describe the new climate for travel that is as changeable as the weather.

Yes, like the proverbial show, travel must go on. There are companies to rebuild, connections to re-bridge and a level of confidence to rediscover that will reassure all of us – no matter where we live or what our purpose – that the sun will come up tomorrow. You might call it post-pandemic perambulations or travel after COVID. And you might call it “The New Normal” in travel, at least for now.

As planes fill up, including occupying middle seats and serving passengers drinks, and as hotels and resorts are ratcheting up rates to meet rising occupancies, we look at what’s in store for travel in the coming weeks, months and even years. Are we looking at a new normal or a temporary one? A world draped in face masks, health passports and a lingering air of COVID paranoia and distrust? Or a Herculean vaccination effort that succeeds in creating herd immunity, beating the disease once and for all, allowing the world to get back to business?

The verdict is still not in, but so far at least the news has been good. Domestic flights are nearly 77 percent full, on average, according to trade group Airlines for America. Carriers are ramping up flights and routes – United recently announced it was closing in on 80 percent of its pre-pandemic route network – and international travel, however tentative that may be, is about to get a big boost from the European Union as borders open up, one by one, mostly to vaccinated travelers.

“Pre-pandemic, the issue was overcrowding at airports that were operating over their planned capacity,” says Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. “Airlines had done a fantastic job maximizing the load on flights, which is key to profitability. No flier likes a packed aircraft, but that’s not the way to operate a financially successful airline,” Taylor explains.

“Despite this, airlines have made great strides purchasing more comfortable aircraft with better in-flight entertainment and connectivity. Even the food has improved. Now, as we emerge from this pandemic, even with lighter loads, the traveling public has the greatest concern of infection onboard an aircraft. The ability to control who comes in and out of one’s personal space is key to controlling concern over infection,” Taylor says. “That’s hard to accomplish on an aircraft.”

Aviation industry expert and president of The Aviation Agency Bryan Del Monte is concerned about the short-term difficulties in travel after an era marred by an extreme lack of stability and predictability.

“Personally, I rarely flew during the pandemic, but when I did those flying were basically calm, patient and disciplined. Unfortunately I do not think it will last long, and the 1,300 percent spike in people being arrested and charged with felonious conduct onboard aircraft would seem to be strong evidence my hunch is correct,” he warns.

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