Don’t Let This Ruin Your Day: 7 Reasons We Won’t See Normal Again Any Time Soon

It’s been really hard to watch travel slow to a crawl. I’ve loved travel, aviation, and loyalty marketing for decades. I was a frequent flyer between the coasts back and forth from one parent to the other before I was five, so flying has been a part of my life for as long as I’ve understood the world around me.

It’s been hard to hear from readers working in the industry who worry about their jobs. It’s been hard to talk to leaders in the industry powerless to move the needle for their businesses, unable to fix things no matter how accomplished they are in their careers.

And it’s hard to watch publications that cover this industry struggle as well, as advertising dollars dry up and people who earn commissions on travel not have any commissions because there is no travel. (I have an award booking service but currently there’s nobody booking awards.)

I work from home anyway. I went remote with my job based in the DC area back in 2014, and I love being home when I can be to spend time with my young daughter. In the near-term I’m fine. Ad dollars may dry up for this blog, but I also have a job which is where I get my health care. I don’t have a payroll to meet in travel, because there are no employees of this blog, just me. So far it’s just been about, do I get my hair cut this week? And why can’t I get any toilet paper at the grocery store?

As thing continue though they’re going to change. They’re already changing for people in industries that serve the public directly, and for people who are working from home for the first time (instead of eliminating home-based reservations agents maybe American should move to strictly home-based?).

I still see people who aren’t taking this seriously. There’s a lot more talk of aysmptomatic transmission than there used to be. It was thought for some time much transmission happened from people with merely mild symptoms rather than prior to developing symptoms. That makes it much harder to slow progression and points towards widespread and repeated testing for everyone. In mild good news a survey of experts finds slightly more than half believe we’ll see 300,000 or fewer deaths in the U.S. in 2020, which is better than 1.2 million or more (compared to generally fewer than 60,000 flu deaths per year).

In the travel world at least that’s largely changed. Just a week ago American Airlines appeared to be giving this pandemic mere lip service. That’s changed quickly. (Delta wasn’t much more on the ball, it was only United publicly sounding an alarm.)

It seems necessary to be walking through some of the reasons that – even if things go well – we may not be seeing ‘normal’ again any time soon, if at all.

Let’s assume that social distancing works, and even that we can get the virus somehow under control in the next 10-14 weeks. Maybe more people are naturally immune than we think, or its spread is affected by temperature and we’re heading into a warmer period. Regardless let’s say the U.S. looks more like South Korea does today with a smaller number of new infections (though over the past several days the rate of change downward seems to have stopped).

Things aren’t going to go back to normal, not right away. This is speculative, and I’m certainly a lay person, but here are some major areas of concern:

  • There are reasons to think we won’t be able so maintain sustained social distancing. People have been cooped up for a few days.. What happens after it’s been a couple of weeks? Six weeks? Ten weeks?

  • When a large number of people get the virus and recover, those people are likely to want to go out again and go to work again – they’ll figure they’ve already had it, are probably immune (there are still risks of a different strain, how long immunity lasts, how universal it is, but certainly many people will assume immunity). So they start going out, how much harder will it be for everyone that hasn’t had it yet to stay distanced?

  • Once we’ve gotten control of the virus we’re going to need to ensure there’s not a re-occurrence. Even if that’s not possible, we’re going to need to try. That means restricting travel in and out of places where it’s under control. And it means strict testing regimes. China is encouraging travel but testing everyone coming into the country which is costly and time-consuming. There will be huge controls on travel.

  • Not everywhere in the U.S. will be affected by the virus equally, and not everywhere will recover at the same pace. There will be restrictions inside the U.S. not just restrictions on foreign travel.

  • The virus comes back (probably) and to the extent we reduce the number of infections this year it’ll be more widespread and more lethal than it would have been otherwise – because it’s attacking more people whose bodies haven’t had experience fighting it off. We could be doing this all over again. We’re supposedly buying time for a vaccine but best case that’s usually assumed to be 12 months off, and if we benefit from climate we may also see a resurgence again in fall and winter, i.e. before there’s a vaccine.

  • Travel is largely shut down. That was a first, most visible consequence of our response to the virus. Restaurants are being closed, laying off people. So are bars, bowling alleys, gyms, and nearly every other public gathering place. We’re going to have high unemployment because the government is – as an explicit strategy – turning off the economy. The government can’t just turn it back on like a light switch. There are coordinating aspects to the economy. Businesses that can still open will decide when the time is right based on an estimate of demand. Some won’t open back up at all (so far about 40% of small and mid-sized businesses in China that closed have not re-opened.) Once they re-open they don’t just send an email to all former employees and tell everyone to show up at a certain time. Employees move on, businesses look for different employees. Job searches and hiring processes take time – months.

  • We’ll have been through a lot of social change. Norms changed during the Great Depression and they changed during World War II. They also changed after 9/11, if only in terms of deferring to the growth of the security state. We’re likely to see a lot of changing norms over things like social distancing, a shift to contactless payments, but also getting much more used to things like quarantines, curfews, and temperature checks entering buildings. Do we start to accept having our movements tracked not just by the NSA but by public health agencies as well? (Eugene Volokh isn’t worried.)

My point is, from where we are right now, it appears that things aren’t on the verge of going back to full normal in just a couple of months – and what we think of as full normal might even change.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Thank you. This is exactly what I’ve been telling everyone who thinks that everything will be fine by the end of spring (assuming we hit peak cases by then). The only possible solution which you omitted is a treatment discovery (not a vaccine) for those who have symptoms. There are labs all over the world right now working on such a treatment. A treatment will change everything. Lacking a treatment, we’re stuck for many months — and that is not sustainable sociologically/economically.

  2. Disagree with a lot of the points here. The shut down is not to draw out time for a vaccine. Its to let the current people infected (which will likely keep growing over the next week) pass through the health care system and not continue infecting other people as well as allow the system to manage that workload. And there will be re-occurrences for the next year. At some point, the risk of opening everything up again (so the economy doesn’t collapse) will outweigh the health risks albeit certain regions and demographics (elderly) will still have restrictions. Same as what China and Korea did.

    In two years, this will be a memory just like what people did on and after 9/11.

  3. I’m of the opinion we need Chinese style lockdown for a few weeks. Many in US society seem too dumb or selfish to take the warnings seriously. At least until we get testing capacity up and healthcare ramped up that we can handle the situation better. Otherwise its going to be worse than Italy in parts of the US.

  4. unfortunately living with the virus is likely a new normal. Hopefully there will be better treatments and/or vaccines but those seldom occur overnight. And maybe the death rates and rates of severe cases will drop down closer to flu levels.

    And things will change. Some people will go back to normal habits but others will learn new hobbies, realize other habits weren’t necessary and weren’t miss while staying at home, etc. Some people won’t ever invest in the market as happens with every recession/depression, others will realize they don’t miss sports or travel.

    Some people won’t be able to retire due to market losses, others will realize life is short and fragile and may retire earlier even with a lower standard of living to enjoy it while they can.

    Many won’t change but for others it will be life changing. In my case I’m still working every day. I’m testing a way to do some stuff from home but most of my work requires dealing with sensitive data and doing that from home isn’t possible.

    Sympathies to those dealing with the virus and all of the medical people and people busting their butts in grocery stores, warehouses, etc. to try and keep the country functional.

  5. I can’t believe that someone as smart as you doesn’t understand the toilet paper- “Con Don is so full of shit that our country ran out of toilet paper”.

    All kidding aside, as a doctor who has done a lot of reading and listening about this and is on the front lines in the Bay Area we are in a race to “flatten the curve” as Anthony Fauci and others say. We need to make sure that our healthcare system does not get overwhelmed as in Italy so we all need to take this very seriously unless we want one of our loved ones to be the one who doesn’t get the ventilator when they need it. This may well transition into an endemic virus that we see every year once those that could not fight it off die. For those it will be another cold or flu. Please tell the younger folks that they too are ending up in ICUs which may leave them with destroyed lungs the rest of their lives if they survive, and it isn’t just an “OK Boomer” disease. It is my hope the rest of the country is smart enough to follow the lead of China, Italy, and the Bay Area. American Exceptionalism isn’t gonna get us out of this one any more than it did in 1918 (read about St Louis in 1918 if interested).

  6. And we tend to forget that it isn’t only the covid/treatment/ventilator issue – or the fact that if we don’t provide PPE for medical people and the docs get sick, and our government can’t seem to figure out how to do massive testing b/c they can’t get chemicals and swabs (never mind a system that can’t do adequate std tracking so how are they supposed to do contact tracing even if we do get testing?)!!!! – the effect is on everyone who needs medical attention – break a bone, be in an accident, need chemo or any less critical but still important health issue. Will there be medics available to treat you, will there places in the hospital (and safe ones)
    Time to start thinking as a community not just about yourself people.

  7. “I still see people who aren’t taking this seriously.”

    Yes, the ones able to think for themselves. Just to clarify, the economic fallout is serious, but may not be happening if the majority hadn’t fallen for arguably, the greatest hoax ever perpetrated.

  8. There are many reasons why people die that have nothing to do with viruses (let alone the tens of thousands per year that actually do die from the regular flu). Yes special caution should be used now, but quite frankly people should have always maintained proper hygiene. Places, airports, shops, and airplanes should have been cleaned thoroughly always. Shame on the companies that ignored that.

    There will be sick people, there will be deaths. Those things happen regardless. How may people die each year from car accidents, heart disease, diabetes, gun shots/crimes, and natural causes? Unfortunately now, people are beyond panicked and hysterical that industries will collapse, peoples lives will be ruined not by a virus, but by lack of employment, lack of community, and people turning against each other. The downfall in humanity that we are seeing by the panic and hysteria will kill far more people than the virus ever will. My opinion.

    Continuing to talk about how bad it will be for months on end will certainly ensure that people do not take that trip, companies do not hire or invest and civilizations will collapse. We have to try and go on and need things to look forward to. Constantly saying how things will never be the same will keep things changed forever. For me, I’d rather have hope and see that things can be back to almost normal at some point hopefully soon.

  9. Yes, people die from lots of things but they DON’T INFECT OTHERS WITHOUT KNOWING IT and cause illness and death for 3 or ? more for every sick person (imagine if someone who has a heart attack could cause a heart attack in 3 or more people who breath their air)
    Denial is powerful – BUT SO IS AN ILLNESS THAT NO ONE IN THE WORLD HAS ANY IMMUNITY TO AND SPREADS IN THE AIR.
    The comments by chad and others make me despair.

  10. @James N – keep getting your info from Faux News! Too bad you can’t listen to mouth breathers like Trish Regan anymore. But hey, even chumps like Tucker Carlson even seem to get it a bit now.

  11. @James N, sounds like Faux News may be a bit too lib’ul for you – maybe time to move over to OAN

  12. Since it’s apparent you perfectly represent the majority I referenced in my original post, I understand why you’re incapable of making a valid argument.

  13. @James N – what’s your number of infections before it’s no longer a (unspoken but implied) “Liberal hoax”? 50,000? 100,000? 500,000? Inquiring minds want to know.

  14. It just kills me how people have to bring politics into everything. For the record I am a Liberal Lefty, a Democrat, and quite a fan of socialism. I would not dare watch faux news (other than to get a laugh) and despise the occupant of the white house. Yet I have an opinion that may differ with other Liberals. Imagine that, people with their own independent opinions…

  15. Ok Chad well that definitely makes you an outlier then.

    So same question – what’s your number before maybe you agree with what most people seem to think these days?

  16. My whole point is that continuing to say how things are so bad, really bad, will get worse, much worse, your world will end, travel will never come back, everyone will die, everything must stay closed, it’s doom and gloom, it will never return, it’s so bad, it’s horrible and will get worse, we will collapse, the world is ending….none of that is getting anyone anywhere. All that does is make even more desperation, depression, panic, and hysteria. If things will get worse so be it. But do we really need to have a continuous stream of prophets of doom/gloom/global destruction/end of times? How does continuing to say how bad things are and will go so much worse and will never recover and the world is ending help anyone?

    I’m not saying that things won’t get worse, but do we really need to have people constantly predicting the end of civilization? I’m seeing the end of humanity with the panic buying and people turning on people already. Why? When the world is ending is there any reason to be civil? With the prophets of doom constantly blasting the horrific predictions in to people’s ears on a near 24/7 basis, people see no reason to be civil.

    Call me an optimist but I am truly hoping that things will actually return to some level of normalcy. It appears that there are far more doom predictors shouting out loudly now. Shall I say, I have the audacity of hope…

  17. I don’t think there are that many “end of times” posts going around (other than a few wack jobs).

    What doesn’t help though are the “this is a hoax”-type posts (like James N above) that almost always are coming from the Deep Right. Those are the types of people who are frolicking on Clearwater Beach, openly celebrating going to a crowed restaurant (like the OK clown Gov), proclaiming it on Faux News up until a week ago, etc.

    Stay at home and chill for a few weeks people. Do your part. Order takeout to support your local businesses. Change from a gym routine to an outdoors routine (I have, it’s a PITA but gets the job done). US needs to be more South Korea, less Italy behavior-wise.

  18. Actually all we seem to get is the ‘end of times’ ‘life will never be the same’ ‘you will be different’ ‘airlines are going to collapse’ – It’s a constant stream of all bad news of how bad it is and how much significantly worse it will become.

    For the record, I personally have NEVER said this is a hoax (idiots will say that). I personally do take it seriously and was fully prepared to isolate for a while and have been doing that. People do not need to be told over and over and over and over again of how bad things are and how much worse they will be and how devastated industries will be and how flights may never happen again and just on and on. Does it really hurt to have some level hopeful positive thinking? Right now, any type of hopeful positive thinking is getting jumped on by (whatever political group) and getting dismantled immediately. It seems like people are really getting off on wanting to make sure everyone is getting to desperation levels of panic and hysteria. I am simply choosing not to. I AM a firmly Left Liberal but as I said earlier, that has zero to do with any of my thinking.

    The prophets of doom are everywhere and nearly every single article is geared that way.

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