Return to Travel — Part I

It has been awhile since I have posted anything here. No kidding, it’s hard to maintain a travel blog when the furthest distance I travel these days is from the kitchen to my home office. I suppose I could write about the traffic jam I encountered on the way to work the other day. I was heading up the steps to my office when two cats zipped past me with no regard for the speed limit, and then stopped right in front of me. No reason. They just stopped. You should have heard me curse. Tied up traffic for at least a minute.

All that is about to change soon. Not because the cats have learned better. They haven’t. They’re cats…being annoying is what they do. Change is coming because the country has slowly begun to re-open, including a return to tourist travel. COVID-19 isn’t going away, which means traveling will continue to bring new headaches so I thought I would share with you some of the changes I have run across. Each segment of the travel industry is adjusting in different ways and I’ll cover each in separate postings, starting with air.

To begin can I just say that there is nothing about flying I like? Nothing. Flying since COVID-19 has made the bad worse as airports and airlines do what they can to limit physical contact with travelers. Here are the biggest changes you’ll notice the next time you fly:

1.Touchless check-in. Instead of surrendering your ID and boarding pass to gate agents and TSA screeners, you’ll now hold them up for visual checks. Ticketing kiosks are still available, but it would be wise to check in online and print or download your boarding pass.

2. Food. Any food you plan to bring onboard the plane should be in a clear plastic bag and sent through the security scanner separate from your carryon bag. That has been the rule, but TSA rarely enforced it. Now they do, though passengers participating in TSA precheck continue to be exempt.

3. What’s that? TSA will no longer conduct manual searches of your carryon items if they see something suspicious. Instead you’ll be asked to step out of line, remove the questionable item, and then go to the back of the line to be rescreened. Are we having fun yet?

4. Hands up! TSA agent pat downs will still take place as needed but they’ll take longer. Agents will be changing gloves and sanitizing equipment between searches.

5. Wash your hands! It isn’t always practical to follow the CDC guidance to wash your hands frequently on an airplane. Because of that, TSA is relaxing their rule on liquids, allowing passengers to carry up to 12 oz of hand sanitizer in a clearly marked bottle or tube. You’ll need to pull this out of your carryon bag for separate screening along with the rest of your liquids.

6. Mask up! Be prepared to wear a mask from your arrival at the airport until you reach your destination. Airports are requiring travelers to wear masks until boarding. Once onboard, each airline has their own policy regarding masks. The big three, American, Delta, and United, require masks be worn for the duration of the flight. Southwest and Alaska Airlines allow passengers to remove masks as soon as they board.

7. Social Distancing. Airlines vary in their policy regarding social distancing onboard their planes. The big three are selling middle seats. Southwest and Alaska have decided to forego selling middle seats to allow for social distancing. Frontier is giving passengers the option to purchase social distancing by paying a nominal fee to keep the middle seat empty.

8. Hungry? Thirsty? Forget about it! Food and beverage service aboard airplanes is a thing of the past. Not that it was any treat before COVID-19. You can still bring your own food and non-alcoholic beverages aboard, but I expect die hard flyers who are used to having a cocktail or ten when they fly will have a hard time adjusting to this change. The exceptions will be long haul international flights, and possibly first class.

9. I gotta go! Passengers are no longer permitted to line up in the aisle while waiting for the bathroom. Some airlines won’t allow potty breaks at all while others are strictly limiting use of the facilities. The best advice…go before you go.

10. Watch for fees. Restaurants and other retail establishments have begun adding a COVID-19 handling fee to cover the additional costs they incur having to maintain the CDC’s recommended santization protocol. To date the airlines haven’t done that, but trust me when I tell you the airlines have never met an opportunity to tack on an extra fee that they haven’t liked. Not there is anything you can do about it…there isn’t.

Overall, I expect the experience of flying to be in flux at least through the end of this year. The main thing you can do to ensure a smooth trip is bring your face mask along with a healthy measure of patience. And be courteous to TSA and flight crew personnel. They are only doing their jobs and trying to keep you safe.

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