Travel getting back to normal — slowly
Yes, the U.S. travel scene is back to normal — or at least some semblance of pre-COVID.
But if you plan to travel the rest of the summer or this fall, you can expect some substantial differences — changes and gotchas for which you have to prepare.
The great slowdown
First of all, just about everything you want to do will take more time getting there, doing what you want to do, and returning home. Although specifics vary from one segment of the industry, you can see some common threads.
One of the main threads is lack of adequate personnel to staff up for the increasing demand. We see that across almost all sectors.
Airlines seem to be having a tough time coping with surging leisure travel demands. They blame much of the problem on the difficulty of hiring and training personnel fast enough, but they’ve also had inexplicable computer problems.
As a result, some are still taking reservations, then canceling flights they can’t operate. There’s no way to predict which airline and which flight might be affected, so you just need a Plan B for most trips.
TSA is also suffering from staff shortages, so whenever you plan a trip, check with your departure airport(s) for information on current conditions.
TSA Wait Times posts delays at three dozen airports at tsawaittimes.com. Many individual airports also report waits — Google “airport wait times” plus airport name.
Also, because of the surging demand, domestic fares remain much higher than many pundits predicted for the end of COVID, so be prepared for sticker shock.
You’ll probably see the biggest post-COVID change at hotels. Here, the top current target at most is traditional daily housekeeping, with major hotel chains cutting back or charging extra for housekeeping. A recent respected blogger’s report headline says, “Hilton Permanently Eliminates Daily Housekeeping” for all but three luxury sub-brands.
Another big ownership group — covering multiple brands — is making a big pitch for guests to pre-book big tips when they check in, and a few hotels have been reported as adding an undisclosed “mandatory” tip charge at check out.
These moves are surely in the wrong direction, trying to shift more employee classes into “tip income” categories rather than working to minimize the tipping hassle.
Look for these practices to spread. As I’ve often noted, “In the travel business, nothing catches on faster than a bad idea.” Check for unexpected charges before you commit to a reservation, especially for undisclosed mandatory fees.
Restaurants are understaffed
Restaurants around the country are having a tough time building staff following partial or complete shutdowns. Even at places where you don’t normally have to wait for a table, a quick phone call prior to a visit should help you avoid long and unexpected waits.
My mantra has long been, “There’s no restaurant in the world worth waiting more than 10 minutes for a table,” but that could likely be hard to follow this summer.
Foreign travel right now is a complete muddle. You’ll probably be fine planning visits to nearby Caribbean and island beach vacation centers, but that’s about it.
Canada will reopen to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents on Aug. 9. Australia seems out for another year.
As for Europe, some countries say they welcome vaccinated travelers, while others have re-opened and then shut down again. Another respected blogger urged, “If you’re planning on traveling to UK, abandon your plans.”
And even if you find an open destination, the CDC still hasn’t relaxed its requirement for a negative COVID test no more than three days before boarding a return flight — even for fully vaccinated travelers.
COVID isn’t dead
By now, you should realize that COVID-19 is not over. Renewed infection spikes will likely re-close some areas that have re-opened.
Unless you have an urgent requirement to travel, it may be best to travel domestically or visit a nearby beach for the rest of the year.
And even then, be prepared for more than the usual hassles. And continue to pay as little up front as possible.
Email Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his rail travel website at rail-guru.com.
© 2021 Ed Perkins. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.