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

Jul 17, 2020

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Editor’s note: This article originally published on May 8, 2020. It has been updated with new information and details.


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 that brought the number of daily passengers screened by the TSA in the U.S. down to as few as 87,534, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of people passing through security checkpoints. That increase started in earnest in May and has now reached over 750,000 passengers screened per day a few times in July. It’s still well below the more than 2.5 million passengers screened on those same dates in 2019, but for better or worse, hundreds of thousands of those in the U.S. are again taking to the skies, the roads and beyond.

Related: Here’s what it’s like to fly in the U.S. right now

But while travel has been rallying since it came nearly to a halt in April, the country’s battle with coronavirus hasn’t really followed a linear path toward recovery. So, while travelers are finding ways to venture out, the decision to do so is complicated. This is not only because of a growing number of quarantines and state-by-state travel restrictions but also because there are some valid and very real risks: In many places around the country, COVID-19 cases are surging.

While I’ve masked up and flown to Florida twice this summer (including to a major theme park reopening and for a resort hotel weekend with the kiddo), I’ve purchased an RV for our next few escapes from home for my whole family. But whether traveling by train, planes or the wide-open road, we’re seeing a common — and unfortunate — trend across social media: travel shaming.

Related: One-third of the country preparing to travel this summer

Sadly, I think this shaming has been and will continue to be a problem for the travel industry and the individual traveler for many months to come.

The Traveler versus The Shamer

At some point, a sizable portion of the U.S. will weigh the risks and decide they’re comfortable traveling again. Many already have. At the same time, there will be a significant portion of the population not willing to risk travel for a variety of very valid reasons. But within this latter group, there are some who will speak out loudly against those who venture out. We’re seeing that already.

Some might decide that a destination or type of trip is “irresponsible” and worthy of shame — others might decide that any type of travel for any reason is contemptible.

Instagram or Facebook posts of travelers, even those who are taking every reasonable precaution, will be filled with disdain and ridicule in the comments section. Many travelers are actually opting to not post about their adventures online at all for fear of ridicule and retaliation. Direct communications to travelers are vitriol from a subset of those who aren’t traveling.

I fear the keyboard warriors will continue to be relentless in their attacks on those they deem are undertaking risky behavior, even if that behavior isn’t all that different than the ones the keyboard warriors embark on themselves.

We’ve already seen multiple indications that the era of the traveler versus the shamer is here. And as the coronavirus pandemic stretches longer and becomes more complex, the journey with travel shaming does, too.

Related: How to reduce the risk on your summer vacations

Why Shaming isn’t productive

Sure, there’s plenty of irresponsible behavior occurring as I type. As a resident of Georgia, I saw life quickly head back to normal as the state relaxed restrictions to start reopening the economy. Now, case counts are higher than ever, while mask-wearing is still practiced by only a fraction of locals. 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. It just creates a larger divide.

While education can be valuable, shaming doesn’t serve any purpose.

  • You stand almost no chance of changing anyone’s mind through online shaming. Having a private, respectful conversation with a family member, friend or loved one is one thing, but calling out a stranger or acquaintance online isn’t going to move the needle in the direction you desire.
  • A hateful comment to someone who has already traveled will likely induce defensiveness, potentially making them that much more determined to travel.
  • There are legitimate reasons people still have to travel and ways to significantly reduce the risk when you do get out, regardless of the reason. What you see online is often not the whole story, and shaming could belittle and dehumanize the traveler who needs to be on the road, or is traveling in a very thoughtful manner.
  • 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. On the flip side, also keep in mind that some people’s jobs depend on others deciding to travel. While home is the safest place for many, everyone staying put indefinitely causes a new host of separate problems.

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.

Related: Do you need a coronavirus test to fly?

Bottom Line

None of us know when things will be “back to normal” — though it’s looking like that probably won’t be anytime in 2020. And deciding to pause personal travel until there’s a vaccine, highly-effective treatment or much fewer cases of COVID-19 is a very reasonable choice.

But we’re months into this pandemic, and deciding to take all reasonable precautions and get a change of scenery can also be a very important decision.

There won’t 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 assessing their risk tolerance and making plans to get back on the road.

While urging caution and thoughtfulness is (of course) advised, travel shaming serves no purpose other than to further divide us.

Featured image courtesy Shutterstock.

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