Confidence In Return To Travel: We Do It By Doing It

United Airlines held a virtual conference for corporate and business customers this week. Panels include gaining traveler confidence as they come back, and what to expect. What to expect?

We already know what to expect though: more cleaning and less service, masks, and full flights. The first time back is a little weird at first, but it’s not something that really lingers. You get over the strangeness of it all by doing it. One trip back and you’re an expert at it again.

What does go a long way is a welcome and kind confidence from employees. It makes you feel like they’ve been there, they’re fine, and they know this is all going to be ok.

Early in the pandemic my aunt and uncle in Sydney made several 8 hour car trips to visit their son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter who live at the Northern end of New South Wales. The most convenient airport is across the state border into Queensland, and state borders were shut.

Once they were allowed to cross they returned to flying, and my uncle shared the story of walking into the Qantas and being asked if it was his “first time back.” The agent didn’t have a tablet that prompted her to know that it was, so she didn’t have the detail to offer that Delta’s agent did for Ed Pizzarello. But she asked, smiled, and said she was excited for him to be back. She projected that confidence that said everything would be just fine.

When I first started flying a couple of weeks after 9/11, agents in City Ticket Offices for United were still visibly shaken. It’s understandable that cabin crew were as well. When flight attendants are nervously looking out the window, clearly worried over what happens next, passengers are too. We didn’t know if there was more to come.

I tried to reassure one woman in the galley of a United Airbus A319, offering that even if there was more out there that there are fewer than there had been two weeks earlier – she might not feel like it but that meant she was safer.

The truth is that we gained confidence in flying after 9/11 by flying and seeing that it worked out alright. We gain confidence in travel during the new normal by traveling. And hopefully we try to think of each other as people along the way, and show a little kindness, even as we try to social distance inside crowded airports and despite the end of blocked middle seats even on Delta and in Alaska’s extra legroom section.

To be sure, Hawaii and Puerto Rico travel is more complicated – you need to look up testing rules and there are forms. And international travel more complicated still: is the destination open to you with testing? vaccination? Is your connecting city open to you, in case your fight is cancelled, or would you have to spend the night in the airport waiting for the next flight? And what’s the Covid-19 situation on the ground, such that rules might change between the time you book and when you travel.

The biggest barrier to restoring travel with confidence is regime uncertainty. So get vaccinated, get started with lower 48 domestic travel if you’re an American, and things should be fine We do it by doing it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Even if you are vaccinated and having dinner in a restaurant with another vaccinated person, I think such confidence is misplaced. I believe the time to let your guard down is when most people (and not just 51%) are vaccinated and the number of cases are low. I would not depend on the government to decide or label it as phase ___ because these decisions are often political and goal posts are moved when there are too many cases, making it nearly impossible to meet the previous standard.

    Be safe, be patient. If we as a society doesn’t celebrate too early, the end of the pandemic will come. Spanish Flu of 1918 went away after people stayed home and wore masks.

  2. I hate the attitude in the last paragraph, “Just get vaccinated.” It’s stupid comments like this that prevent people from doing what their conscience tells them to do if they don’t want to get a vaccine.

  3. Clarification: The goal post are become more lax. For example, in one state, there are two metrics. Before, failure of one meant a change to the more stringent phase. Now the state has to fail both metrics. Also the number of cases per 100,000 has changed to be more lax.

  4. As someone who lived through 9/11 and was at ground zero please don’t try to use it to push your arguments. This is a pandemic not a terrorist attack and your invoking 9/11 as a travel blogger to push a return to travel when a lot of the country is still unvaccinated and cases are going up in some states is offensive. By the way we had 58,000+ new covid cases reported yesterday in the US.

  5. @Bill “As someone who lived through 9/11” I lost friends on 9/11. I grew up frequenting the World Trade Center. The memory of that event isn’t exclusively yours. It’s instructive for how people feel after a traumatic event. And this post isn’t ‘pushing’ anything, it’s talking about how we adjust.

    And yes there is still plenty of Covid-19 around. Thank goodness for biomedical advances, brilliant minds who gave us incredible effective vaccines to protect us.

  6. After 9/11 we were dependent on the government and airlines to do what was necessary to keep us safe but were individually powerless to protect ourselves from others.
    With the pandemic, the government supported the development of vaccines that we are free to use or not.
    Wings still provide lift and engines still provide thrust.
    Some of us have traveled less but never quit flying. Like riding a bike, you never forget how or lose the joy of the next trip.

  7. This message was brought to you by your high school drug dealer turned blogger.

    Vaccines kick in at an estimated 70% of the population; we’re at not even half of this. Vaccines don’t eliminate spread; they only reduce the risk of your own death. Plenty of fully vaccinated people are testing positive — much less so than unvaccinated ones. And vaccination escape is a constant peril.

    Get vaccinated and don’t travel unless necessary so you don’t inadvertently spread the virus around. It’s real simple, really. Unless, of course, you’re a narcissistic selfish sociopath drug dealer!

  8. @Jake – “Vaccines kick in at an estimated 70% of the population” vaccines protect the person that has been vaccinated.

    “we’re at not even half of this.” actually, the math says otherwise. 43.6% of the US population has received a vaccine dose, that’s more than half of your 70%. 69% of seniors have by the way, which is who we’re most worried about for bad outcomes.

    “Vaccines don’t eliminate spread; they only reduce the risk of your own death.” false, the CDC reports 90% effectiveness against asymptomatic infection from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, in other words they prevent spread.

  9. Always leave it to Bill to find something to be offended by to pearl clutch! As if he was the only one here touched by that event…. incredible!

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