Am I ready to fly again?
That's the question millions of Americans must answer for themselves heading into the peak summer travel season following two months of shelter-in-place lock downs.
Air travel has been the hardest industry hit (other than restaurants) during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite touting new safety measures and cleaning guidelines, airlines have been mostly unsuccessful so far trying to convince customers that it is safe to fly again. The New York Times details the "bleak" outlook for airlines, near and long term. A trade group, Airlines for America, reports that air travel was down 98 percent in April from one year ago, with flights averaging 12 people per plane, according to The Atlantic.
When you do decide to jump on a plane, the whole experience will likely look and feel nothing like the recent past. Golfers who dream of chasing down five-star courses or traveling to faraway resorts will face more obstacles to get there.
"Going through an airport, the whole travel experience, will be as enjoyable as open-heart surgery," Paul Griffiths, chief executive officer of Dubai Airports, told Bloomberg.com.
The airport experience
In the short term, flying will likely feel more exhausting and stressful for travelers. Beyond the usual hassles of security checkpoints and lost luggage, you've got a whole new set of issues to deal with at airports. Maintaining proper social distancing six feet apart won't be easy in security lines, boarding the plane and ordering at a fast-food restaurant in the terminal. In Dubai, airport staff wear disposable gowns and face shields much like front-line workers.
The Bloomberg article points out that every other seat inside the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris has been blocked off to promote social distancing. At the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, the check-in counters, baggage-claim areas and boarding-pass and security checkpoints have all been redesigned for less human interaction. The Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has closed every other check-in desk and departure gate to mitigate mingling, and each flight gets its own belt at baggage claim.
Airlines are trying their best to mitigate people's fears.
Southwest Airlines has revealed the Southwest Promise, which includes cleaning aircraft between flights, limiting passengers and changing boarding to promote social distancing. Delta is making space for safer travel through June 30 by blocking middle seats, limiting the number of people to 60 percent capacity on each flight, boarding by rows from back to front and pausing automatic Medallion complimentary seat upgrades to process them at the gate. Delta requires passengers to bring their own masks and wear them as soon as they reach the check-in counter, while the staff and plane crew wear theirs.
Even with extra cleaning procedures already in place, if you're really adamant about safety, imagine trying to wipe everything down before you touch it ... your luggage upon arrival, airline seats, seats in the waiting area, elevator buttons and hand rails on shuttles.
Are airline ticket prices on the way up?
Currently, flying is fairly cheap and airlines are being more flexible and friendlier than ever to attract business. My wife recently booked tickets for trips to my daughter's lacrosse tournaments in Bend, Ore., and Denver, both in July. Although it's likely the tournaments will be canceled, the prices were the most affordable we've ever seen ... $118 direct flights on United for tickets usually costing $250+. The generous cancellation and refund policies made the purchase worth it. We also bought tickets to visit family in Washington state over Christmas. Delta's prices were half what they normally cost - $136 per person from San Jose to Seattle - and the dates could be changed free of charge from one year of purchase.
Industry experts warn, though, that the cost to fly will eventually jump as struggling airlines merge and cut routes, leaving less competition. Studying trends following 9/11 and the 2009 recession, the Dollar Flight Club predicts a 35% decrease in airfare prices in 2021, but a 27% increase through 2025, assuming that air travel resumes by May 31, according to Travelpulse.com.
American Airlines is the first to raise baggage fees. The $60 fee for a first checked bag on a transcontinental flight will jump to $75, according to this report. Considering some airlines are losing $30 million a day, more increases are likely.
More changes to the in-flight experience
More change could be coming, but it's all just speculation at this point. This nbcnews.com article noted that alcohol might no longer be served in-flight. Blankets and pillows might be a thing of the past, at least in the short term. Packing your own snacks and meals might be wise.
Paper menus and inflight magazines will also be a thing of the past, and even the inflight meals will look very different. Gone are the chicken or pasta choices: American Airlines said it will not provide alcohol or meals except on international routes. United will offer prepackaged and sealed drinks, and Delta encourages customers to bring their own food in order to "reduce physical touch points between customers and employees." First-class passengers will receive a packaged meal containing items such as a sandwich and fruit plate.
Forbes.com offers a "Touchless but Terrifying" look at the future of air travel, where cloud-based apps could play a bigger role in less human interaction. The articles touches on the worst fears of every traveler: International borders closing and flights being canceled without notice.
There have been reports of implementing health screenings in the form of temperature checks, either as passengers enter the airport or leave it, or both. Frontier Airlines has led the charge among U.S. carriers, requiring passengers to fill out a health form certifying neither they nor family members have shown COVID-19 symptoms 14 days prior to the flight. Passengers with a fever are not allowed to travel.
The bottom line is if you book a ticket in the near future, make sure you pack hand sanitizer - along with a bigger bottle of patience - in your carry-on, too.
Have you flown, or do you think it is safe to fly in the near future? Let us know in the comments below.