Travel after COVID-19 Part 1:The Airlines

This is a first in a series of articles looking at how the travel industry will change as a result of a global pandemic. Today I’ll discuss how Air Travel will look different going forward. Be sure to check back for my updates on the impact we’ll see on Hotels & Resorts, and the Cruise Industry.

At the beginning of March 2020, the travel industry around the world changed forever as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic.  As a Travel Advisor, I have spent the last few weeks canceling and rebooking my client’s trips.  These were special anniversary trips, family vacations, life celebrations, girl’s trips, and destination weddings, trips my clients had saved and planned years in advance.   It has been heartbreaking to watch my client’s dream trips be halted by a virus that has decimated the world and my favorite vacation spots.  While some of my clients were able to reschedule, some will not be able to travel due to health concerns, lost jobs, or other unexpected results of the Pandemic.  

For the last two weeks I have been on multiple webinars with airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and tour company executives as we discuss what the future of travel will look like.  We all agree there will be pent up demand, but the reality is as of this writing many countries still have their borders closed.  Whether you will travel in the future is a personal decision and my job as an advisor is to give you the facts and advice.   For some staying closer to home may be the option you are most comfortable.  

Currently, we are still at an unprecedented Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory.  This is the highest level the State Department will issue and is usually reserved for a handful of countries (eg: Iran, North Korea) where travel is considered extremely dangerous.  This is the current advisory level for ALL International travel from the US and while not a restriction on travel, it does mean that should you choose to travel anyway, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get  back home should conditions change.  We can’t know when the advisory will be lowered and air travel will begin to increase, but it’s important to understand what airlines are doing now to protect travelers and what you can do to ensure any plans you do make for the future leave you in the best position should things change.

American, United, Delta and other airlines have implemented new procedures which include cleaning high touch surfaces after each flight. These areas include lavatory sinks, faucets, seatbacks and tray tables.  Did you know that most newer aircraft these days are equipped with hospital-grade HEPA filtration systems?  Approximately 50% of the cabin air is going through this filtration system and that means the air you are breathing during your flight is probably cleaner than that of your local supermarket. 

Airlines will stop serving meals (including first-class) and refreshments based on the length of flight but will continue a modified food and beverage service for International flights.  Airlines are also stating that they will spread passengers throughout the plane to allow for social distancing, with some even saying they will
block the middle seats to promote social distancing.  It appears the most thorough cleaning is taking place with the overnight fogging and on international flights.  If you are concerned about airplane cleanliness, I would recommend flying on the first flight in the morning. 

In addition, airlines will allow you to make changes without a change fee, should you need to change your travel dates.  You will still need to pay any fare difference and in most cases will have 2 years from the original issue date of your ticket to travel.

This is a huge policy change and favorable for consumers.   After September 11th, online booking either directly through an airline or via aggregators like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz became the way we all made airline reservations.  Part of this was the result of many travel agencies shuttering their brick and mortar locations and diversifying into areas beyond air travel.  During the recent stay at home orders, those who booked their flights with an online website were advised not to call them.  Why?  They do not have the staff to answer phone calls, so they were ill-equipped to handle a major disruption. 

On the contrary, my clients were able to reach out directly to me and in most cases, I called them first.  Using a travel advisor, you will have an advocate who has an established relationship with the airlines.  During the initial travel stoppage, Expedia was telling their clients they could only get a voucher. I was able to advise mine to wait for the flights to cancel or a major schedule change that would result in the option for a refund rather than accept a voucher for future travel.

As we’re all finding out, a world-wide pandemic means things we used to take for granted can change, and often do on a daily basis.  My job is to help you navigate through these uncharted waters.  Be sure to check back for my next update on the changes coming to the Hotel and Resort industry.

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