Summer travel is here, but maybe we should all stay home a little longer
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We waited out a pandemic for this?
As Americans ramp up travel after largely staying home in 2020, pressure points emerge each day. Air passenger rage incidents both multiply and worsen. Airports may be full, but airport concession employees and TSA security officers are in short supply, leading to long lines. Also in short supply: rental cars. And of course, airline ticket prices are rising.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s best to stay home a little longer.
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Unruly travelers can ruin the travel experience
In assessing the viability of travel in 2021, two recent incidents stand out – one domestic and one in Europe.
In a particularly disturbing case, a Southwest flight attendant suffered injuries to her face and lost two teeth after being assaulted by a passenger on a May 23rd flight from Sacramento to San Diego.
Related: FAA doubles down on fines
The day after the incident, the Federal Aviation Administration said it has received approximately 2,500 reports of unruly passenger behavior this year. About 1,900 of those cases involved travelers who refused to wear masks while flying. It was unclear whether the Southwest incident involved a no-masker.
The TSA has since extended a mask mandate in aircraft, buses, trains and airports through Sept. 13.
And while most passengers comply willingly, it’s no pleasure to be on a flight with angry people who feel compelled to decry measures intended to protect public health. Theoretically, if mask mandates are not extended past the Sept. 13 deadline, air travel may be less safe for those unvaccinated for COVID-19, but would involve fewer unpleasant confrontations.
International travel is still a gamble
Internationally, the problem is not no-maskers but rather the complexities of sometimes unforeseen government responses to the pandemic.
Over the weekend, British tourists scrambled to leave Portugal because the British government – reacting to the threat of a new COVID-19 variant — imposed a Tuesday deadline to return without having to quarantine upon arrival. This was a sudden reversal in a policy set just days earlier.
“The ongoing nightmare…forced some Brits to pay through the nose to come home from Portugal early to avoid having to self-isolate,” Daily Mail reported Monday.
Author Rick Steves, one of the best-known U.S. authorities on European travel, has thrown up his hands on 2021 transatlantic travel.
“Right now, I’m not that desperate to go to a Europe where you’ve got to wonder: ‘Can I cross that border? What about flights? Will there be a quarantine waiting for me anywhere?’,” Steves told The Seattle Times in a recent interview.
“Patience is not an American forte, and certainly not a Rick Steves forte — but I’m telling people: ‘Relax. This is what we expected,’” said Steves, a resident of Edmonds, Washington. ”It would be nice if we could be traveling again in late 2021, but I think early 2022 is realistic.”
Steves said the problem is that “Europe isn’t open until Europe is open.” In a truly open Europe, he said, “I go to the pubs in Ireland to sit at the bar and clink glasses with people who really believe strangers are just friends who’ve yet to meet.” Additionally, he said, some mom-and-pop businesses with insufficient resources to survive the pandemic, may have closed. Perhaps they can reopen in 2022.
Prices are rising and personnel shortages are prevalent
Travel app Hopper saw a 16% gain in domestic ticket prices from April through May. Domestic fares should peak in late June, Hopper said, before falling about 10% in September, then rising back up 10% in October. According to Hopper, domestic fares have risen 23% since March 1 in Charlotte, which is the second busiest hub for American Airlines. An average domestic round-trip fare is now $296, up from $240.
So far, the problem in Charlotte hasn’t only been higher fares, but also a shortage of workers at both concessions and the Transportation Security Administration. In a pre-Memorial Day media conference, airport and TSA officials urged people to apply for airport jobs. Plus, American Airlines and Delta have both asked employees to volunteer to help with airport operations.
Nevertheless, on Saturday, June 5, hundreds of travelers missed flights due to insufficient security staffing, an American Airlines official told Charlotte TV station WBTV.
The TV station reiterated the best travel advice anyone can give: Enroll in TSA PreCheck, which is almost a guarantee of shorter lines to clear security.
One more hazard of 2021 travel is the rental car shortage. In 2020, rental car companies sold off inventory; in 2021, new car production has been hampered by a semiconductor shortage. This means finding a rental has become harder — and often much more expensive.
The Bottom Line
It is well known that travel falls off when summer ends. This year, if the mask mandate ends as scheduled on Sept. 13, the number of onboard confrontations could also diminish. Additionally, it appears that Europe is opening, although slowly and inconsistently.
Given the multiple hiccups passengers may face while traveling this summer, patience may provide the best global solution. And perhaps booking in shoulder season instead of summer is the best strategy this year.
Featured image by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images.
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