Travel in the Time of Covid, Part 2

by Jack Hojnar

It’s not easy writing about travel right now, particularly airline travel. Seems as though the conversation can turn quickly toward the efficacy of wearing masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 versus the belief that the virus is something less nefarious than is presented in news outlets.

And so this opinion piece is simply that: an opinion. An opinion and insight into life on the road, from airline travel to hotel stays to car rentals to dining out. It is, again, an opinion.

Rules

I follow rules. When I drive in my home state of Illinois, I don’t like to get speeding tickets. In parts of Illinois, the highway speed limit can vary as one travels throughout the state. That’s how rules sometimes go.

Same is true for travel with different airlines, with different hotels, with different rideshare companies and much can depend upon the state you're visiting.

Recently I flew from Chicago to Denver via Southwest. In all cases, masks were required. Everywhere I went, masks were required. Most places had plexiglass barriers separating patrons from the workers, at check-in desks of hotels, for example.

Since I am a rules follower - and a planner - I made sure to know well in advance of my travel date the rules and restrictions of every state.

Simple: know the rules.

Here’s a site to consider. Covid-19 travel restrictions state by state

Flights

I have only flown Southwest and there’s a slew of reasons behind the choice (much has to do with my rewards).

The open middle seat is one big reason that I DO appreciate Southwest more than other airlines. Taking the politics out of the equation, and imagine for a moment we are not in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, who WOULDN’T want the middle seat open? I choose to have a flight with a carrier that has a middle seat open policy because of the safety AND the additional space.

My personal experience has been that airports are empty. While airline travel increased since it’s low point in April, it’s still not at the levels it was at this same time last year. By comparison, approximately 800,000 travelers passed through TSA checkpoints this past Sunday; one year ago, 2.5 million passed through TSA checkpoints.

Again, from my traveling experience, I’ll gladly take a less-crowded airport regardless of the state of Covid-19.

And finally, I’ve found that nearly everyone stays to themselves while traveling via air, though it’s really not much different than pre-Covid. The most challenging thing for me to manage? Most airport bars and restaurants are closed essentially wiping out a chance to relax before a flight. You are mostly relegated to sitting at your gate and waiting.

Which leads to the last point: because of so few travelers, there are no lines anywhere which means you can leave a bit later than usual for the airport and not feel rushed. Consider for a moment that you will likely be wearing a mask from the time you leave your home to the time you arrive at your destination. So if you can shave some minutes because there’s fewer travelers and shorter TSA lines, why not enjoy the time savings?

Hotels

There are a few universal changes I’ve noticed at nearly every hotel (and I’ve had 10 trips since March 2020):

  • Coffee is rarely public. At many hotels, breakfast is now no longer included (buffets are basically done for the time being); and I’ve noticed coffee is stored behind the front desk. Self-serve seems to be temporarily suspended. Consider contacting your hotel for such details before booking.
  • If you were accustomed to having your bed made and fresh towels supplied during multiple-day stays, that process appears finished. So if you want a ton of towels, for example, I’ve found every staff to be accommodating if you simply ask for more towels at check-in.
  • Many hotels now smell like disinfected hospital wards. If that type of smell bothers you, beware.
  • Hotel bars and social settings are gone. That was an adjustment for me as I found those places great for networking or watching a ball game in a social environment.

Getting Places

I have used rideshare. I have rented cars. I preferred rideshare (pre-Covid). I now prefer renting cars because it eliminates the variable of health that I don't want to or need to manage.

In the case of rideshare, every rider seems to follow their respective state and corporate rules. Plan ahead so that you are aware of the rules.

When I rent a car I follow a practice I followed pre-Covid: I used disinfectant wipes to clean up the car. I was never quite sure who rode in the car prior to me and so it’s a thing I still do today. Not everyone is quite as neurotic.

Dining Out

This is really tricky to discuss and will likely change as the cold temperatures move across this country.

From my experience, nearly every place I visited this summer (my last trip being two weeks ago to Colorado) had outdoor dining. So I never needed to consider the rules of indoor dining.

However, I know that will change. And once again, check with state and local authorities to fully understand the rules governing restaurants. If you know the specifics of your trip, you can call the restaurant too.

Trip Payments

This should be obvious as I work for a company that provides travel protection services to credit card issuers…

Always use a credit card for travel and before you book anything, contact your bank to determine the specific travel protection coverages associated with your credit card.

Let's Wrap This Up...

As I mentioned at the top of this article, I follow rules and that guiding principle seems to make all of my travel experiences easier.

Having a middle seat open is wonderful, long before Covid-19 hit.

And getting out of the house is a good thing and for right now, in following the rules, appears to be safe as well.

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