Holiday travel? A tough choice in tough times


By Michael Panzarella, Staff Writer

Two hundred seventy eight days ago the United States saw their first ever COVID-19 case appear. Since then, the country has gone through more than ever imagined. From state-by-state shutdowns, cancellations of sports and concerts, almost everything in the country was closed for over three months. Over the past eight months the United States has seen over 8.4 million cases and 223,000 deaths.

As we start living with COVD-19, the last step in this process is traveling. From states to now even countries, traveling in a pandemic is one of the more difficult things to endure. Strict guidelines and measurements taking place at airports have made it clear: travel at your own risk. Some of the guidelines that are required when traveling are some you see at your local grocery store: Masks covering both your mouth and nose, staying socially distanced at six feet apart, temperature checks, and using contactless payments and reservation check-ins.

In a “new normal” that Americans have been living in with COVID-19, there are still many limitations when it comes to traveling. Traveling via airplane is emphasized to be for necessarily travel, not a luxury. Work, emergency family issues, are just a few reasons people should be hopping on planes. This isn’t the time to fly for family vacations, visiting friends for the weekend, or even going to events or sports that are still available in some states. However, that isn’t a reality Americans can live in. As the shutdowns opened up, it was natural for people to get out of the house and do something for their physical and mental health.

With the holiday seasons almost upon us, traveling is going to happen no matter what. Spikes in COVID-19 cases might have families considering staying home, but there will still be hundreds of thousands of people all across the nation traveling for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s this year.

“The coming holidays will bring unprecedented challenges,” said Mahmood Khan, a professor at Virginia Tech who directs the business school’s program in hospitality and tourism management. “Be prepared for the unexpected.”

Though this won’t be like a normal holiday season and traveling numbers will be down, the risks for those who still chose to travel will be high. Fewer people want to travel. Holiday-related journeys are “not a top priority” in 2020, according to Eugene Levin, the chief strategic officer for the analytics company SEMrush.

The risk will mainly come from the last minute traveling decisions. As flights now get booked and numbers for flights stay at the same average they’ve been in during the COVID-19 era, those numbers are expected to go up days before. In 2020, 63 percent of bookings happened within two days of stay, compared to 39 percent during the same period last year.

The numbers of travelers are expected to decrease, and so will prices. Pricing for airplane tickets during the holiday season can be compared to some in August, affordable. There will still be people taking advantage of these affordable prices. Prices for round trip travel are down 30 percent and hotel bookings for the holiday seasons so far across the country are down 10 percent.

Americans need to do their due diligence and prepare for their travels. Travelers must be prepared for enhanced health screenings at the airport and different arrangements for holiday activities and events. Some airline companies are even offering COVID-19 testing before flights. This will make sure flights are safer and people are more comfortable flying. The Centers of Disease of Control and Prevention (CDC) website also has up to date guidelines when traveling. As mentioned earlier, part of that is having masks ready, hand sanitizer, socially distancing, and most importantly not traveling when sick. If anyone has come in contact with someone who contracted COVID-19, they must be quarantined for at least 14 days before traveling.

The problems that align with holiday travel will be just that. What the CDC guidelines suggest doing will help for the majority of the flying problems during the pandemic. It will be the American people traveling that will have to hold themselves accountable while flying. If they get sick to cancel and stay put. The guidelines can only go so far, as the CDC says that the virus can be contacted from person-to-person, through the air, or even on surfaces.

In an interview this week on “Good Morning America,” Doctor Anthony Fauci, the head of the CDC, stated that: “We’ve really got to double down on fundamental public health measures that we talk about every day because they can make a difference.”

Fauci continued, “We really have to be careful this time that each individual family evaluates the risk-benefit … If you have vulnerable people, the elderly or people that have underlying conditions, you better consider whether you want to do that now or maybe just forestall it and wait.”

In the past week alone the United States saw their highest single day spike in COVID-19 cases across the country. States have gone back into lowering phases and shutting down indoor restaurants and bars. With this rapid incline not only in the U.S. but around the world, there could be continued shut downs again if cases continue to spike. With little less than a month before the holiday seasons commences, there are still many undetermined decisions when it comes to airline travel.

As many scientists predicted during the summer that a “second wave” of COVID cases would occur in the Fall, they’re right on the money. The traveling guidelines have made it possible to travel during this pandemic, but the question now remains if these guidelines will be enough to keep airline companies open with numbers on the rise.

Some major companies have suggested vaccines being ready by the end of 2020, some going into summer of 2021. All of that aside, traveling during this pandemic will be a risk. Some will be willing to take the risk, but the numbers show traveling may be down more than 50 percent. To those traveling, they will have to make important decisions as spikes in cases rise across the nation.