The Critical Points: Travel shaming is here — and it’s going to be a problem

May 8, 2020

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Each week in his column “The Critical Points,” TPG Loyalty and Engagement Editor Richard Kerr presents his opinion on a loyalty program, card product or recent news that he believes is overlooked, unsung or the result of groupthink taking mass opinion in a direction with which he doesn’t agree. His goal is not necessarily to convince you to agree with his position but rather to induce critical thought for each of the topics and positions he covers.

After a period of steep decline, we finally saw a tiny uptick in the number of passengers going through TSA security checkpoints over the last couple of weeks. 171,000 passed through on May 1 — roughly double the low point of 87,000 on April 14. Nevertheless, this still represents just 6% of passengers compared to the same date a year prior — a minuscule amount that clearly shows the lack of travel demand.

That said, it does feel like there’s an upswing in TPG readers wading into future travel bookings, and a few airlines have even noted an increase in searches for 2021.

To be clear … no, it isn’t time to travel yet. TPG CEO Brian Kelly made his thoughts clear this week, and all our editorial coverage — except for one, unavoidable airplane trip — has been focused on a time (not yet known) when travel is safe again. I have one speculative flight booked for October and no other travel plans.

Multiple posts across the TPG Facebook groups have readers asking for advice on future travel booking and, in a few cases, advice for an upcoming plane trip that is unavoidable. So far, when someone asks about future travel or makes it clear they must travel, we’re seeing a common — and unfortunate — trend. Within the first few comments, the inevitable travel-shaming starts.

Sadly, I think this shaming is going to be a problem to the travel industry and the traveler for months to come.

The Traveler vs. The Shamer

At some point in the future, a sizable portion of the U.S. will weigh the risks and decide they are comfortable traveling again. At the same time, there will be an equally-large portion of the population who are not willing to risk travel, and it’s this latter group that will carry a loud voice against those who venture on to planes and into hotels.

Instagram posts of travelers will be filled with disdain and ridicule. Those who do travel might avoid social media entirely when they are on the road for fear of abuse. Direct and private messages along with emails to travelers will be full of vitriol from those who aren’t traveling. I fear the keyboard warriors will be relentless in their attacks on those they deem are undertaking risky behavior. A simple scan of a headline — without reading the full text of an article — will spur the shamer into action.

We’ve already seen that the era of the traveler vs. the shamer is here. It’s just at an insignificant level that’s just a precursor to what’s coming.

Why Shaming Serves No Purpose

This isn’t meant to ignore the fact that there is plenty of irresponsible behavior occurring as I type. As a resident of Georgia, I’ve seen life quickly head back to normal over the last couple of weeks as the state relaxed restrictions to start reopening the economy. Is me shaming my fellow Georgians going to serve any purpose at this point? More specifically, is it going to change behaviors? In a word, no.

Shaming doesn’t serve any purpose at a time where I deem it risky to leave my house (much less travel). In the future, when we have more knowledge, control and measures in place, travel shaming will serve even less of a purpose:

  • You stand almost no chance of changing anyone’s mind through online shaming. Having a private, respectful conversation with a family member or loved one is one thing, but calling out a stranger or acquaintance online isn’t going to move the needle.
  • A hateful comment for someone who has already committed to travel will likely induce defensiveness, potentially making them that much more determined to travel.
  • There are legitimate reasons people still have to travel — even right now. You don’t know the whole story, and shaming may serve to belittle and dehumanize the traveler who needs to be on the road.
  • People are making impossible decisions that risk their health in order to maintain their income. Millions of Americans are facing that dilemma right now, and travel is likely necessary for some to keep their jobs.

There’s simply no way to understand or appreciate what a fellow human being is facing without being in their shoes, so resist the temptation to shame.

Bottom Line

Personally, I hope this time of the traveler vs. the shamer doesn’t come into full fruition — or at least it’s delayed until we have adequate testing, sufficient health screenings and the ability to social distance during travel. From the general sentiment I see in our TPG communities and the larger travel groups, I am not sure that all Americans possess that patience.

There will not be a day when an all-clear signal is given and travel can resume freely, since travel will never be a zero-risk game. Companies and individuals are already assessing their risk tolerance and even making plans to get back on the road. The rest of us will eventually have to do the same before we head back to the airport.

When this time comes, shaming may be yet another problem the travel industry and traveler have to overcome.

Featured image courtesy Shutterstock.

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