Based on that headline, things are looking up!
The travel and hospitality industries — airlines, restaurants, hotels, cruise lines — have taken the brunt of the economic hit during the pandemic. Estimates are that at least $500 billion of travel business has been lost in the U.S. alone.
With about 10 percent of the world’s population employed in some travel-related occupation, the global cost has been staggering, and many smaller operators, especially — tour companies, family-run restaurants, inns and the like — have struggled to survive or been forced to close down permanently.
Now, even with COVID cases still raging in many parts of the U.S. and the world, some 200 million Americans (out of 330 million) have received at least one dose of vaccine — and the travel industry is moving into high gear, ready to service the pent-up demand that may well reach tsunami proportions come summer.
A number of countries — including popular European destinations like Greece, Spain, and Croatia — are now (or soon will be) welcoming Americans and people of other nationalities who can demonstrate they have been vaccinated or are otherwise virus-free.
Airlines: A Mixed Bag
For flyers, the news hasn’t been all bad: for much of the past year, airline comfort levels and customer satisfaction levels have improved, as many airlines blocked off middle seats in order to mitigate spread of COVID infection, allowing more room for passengers to spread out — or at least flex their arms at the elbows without jabbing their fellow passengers.
But as of April 30, 2021 (today as I write this), that will no longer be the case; Delta, the last major U.S. airline to block seats, will now start to cram middle passengers in just as they did pre-pandemic. Welcome back to air travel!
For much of the past year, most airlines also offered more flexibility when buying tickets, waiving fees for customers who wanted to change itineraries after purchase. But again, as of the end of April 2021, the often pricey change fees — as well as completely non-refundable fares — are returning, mostly for those buying the cheapest tickets, usually labelled basic economy (emphasis on the basic).
The good news is that many airlines are dropping change fees permanently for their higher priced tickets, offering plenty of incentive to opt for regular economy seats if you think your itinerary may change. (Even more critical for baby boomers is the ability to choose your seat in advance by opting for regular economy or above — severely limiting your chances of ending up in airline hell, the last row of non-reclining seats next to the rear bathrooms.)
The bottom line, as always: Read the fine print before buying any airline ticket from now on, since policies do differ from one airline to the next. (Well, at least read the fine print about change fees — I don’t want you to go blind from squinting or mad from deciphering the lawyerese.)
Meanwhile, as airlines try to lure back still-reluctant passengers, some great bargain fares are out there for the plucking (see Scott’s Cheap Flights and Thrifty Traveler for many of the best), but, as they say, call now, they’re going fast.
U.S. Airport Security: Good News for Procrastinators
The great thing about bureaucracy is that by the time anyone actually finalizes anything, most people have forgotten what annoyed them in the first place about this regulation or that new rule.
Such may be the case with the “Real ID” rule that, until the pandemic made it unfeasible, was supposed to go into effect at U.S. airports in October 2021, requiring “enhanced” drivers’ licenses to get through security to board a domestic flight. Previously, any valid state driver’s license would get you past the gate, but eventually you’ll need a star in the corner of your license to demonstrate you’re less of a risk.
Though requirements differ by state, this usually means proving residence by taking a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles and producing documentation such as a passport or birth certificate, utility bills, insurance bills, and the like.
Carrying passports and various other forms of (often-obscure) ID to the airport are also acceptable under Real ID provisions, but many Americans still don’t have passports and wouldn’t think to carry one anyway when flying from, say, Minnesota to Texas, even if sometimes they do seem like separate countries.
Naturally, a great many people will put off this process till the last minute — if, indeed, they even know they have to do it — and it’s easy to envision mass chaos at the DMV or, even worse, at the airport, when the law finally goes into effect.
Fortunately for those of us prone to procrastination, Real ID — after originally being passed by Congress back in 2004 (around the time today’s freshly minted drivers were being born) and kicked down the road a few times since — has now been postponed yet again until May 3, 2023. So circle May 2, 2023, on your calendar, and call your local DMV!
Cruising — Good News? Who Knows?
As of April 30, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that ships can start leaving American ports by mid-July (assuming a fourth — or is it a fifth? — wave of the virus doesn’t sweep across the country).
That news has U.S. cruise lines singing rhapsodies because — while cruise ships have been sailing from some other foreign ports for months now — the U.S. has traditionally supplied 60 percent of the ports and half the cruisers worldwide. Megaship Monarch Royal Caribbean alone has lost billions of dollars in revenue over the past year. And for those who love cruising, there will probably be no holding back.
Still, safety measures will be in place and it remains to be seen how cruisers react to mask-wearing in the bars and casinos, social distancing in the theaters and elevators, and no or severely curtailed buffet lines. Or maybe everyone will just throw caution to the wind and depend on vaccine passports to get them through.
That’s right, you’ll probably need proof of vaccination to get on a ship, so don’t forget to carry that along with your regular passport.
My guess is that cruising will indeed be back this summer, though it won’t be quite the same as it used to be for a while yet.*
*All the more reason to order your copy of Cruising the World: From Gondolas to Megaships, by Dennis Cox and Clark Norton; order from www.denniscox.com. One year after publication, it’s practically an historical document!