Throughout the pandemic, even as most of us stay home, there have still been people flying. There are politicians headed back to DC to vote and lobbyists heading there looking for some quick money for their clients (Congressman Jim Moran famously said after 9/11, “It’s an open grab bag, so let’s grab.”). There are researchers and medical personnel traveling. There are parents who split custody keeping their court-ordered obligations to bring children to an ex-spouse. And people heading to funerals, or to see loved ones during their last moments.
And there are people like this reader Howard who have continued to travel for leisure, taking advantage of cheap travel deals.
I’m on a Delta plane now, it’s 60% full actually. These aren’t all doctors and ‘first responders’ (whatever that phrase means in the context of a viral infection?)
Lots of people sitting next to each other.
Me, I was on a long weekend for fun in the Midwest.
And you know what? I’m flying again on Tuesday for a 6 day road trip.
And after that? I’m flying again a few days later.
Nothing has changed that much about it. No one asks for immunity cards, no one is checking temperatures – and it’s the same herd mentality of get on, sit down, shut up and fly in the air.
See, I’m doing it *every* week.
There’s clearly been a minimum floor for people passing through airports, as TSA screening data reveals. Here is March and April passenger screenings compared to a year prior. Remember of course that this includes employees being screened, it isn’t just passengers.
If we zero in on just April 2020, and set 80,000 as a floor so that we can see smaller changes, it appears that we hit bottom in mid-April and have been recovering to the level of people passing through airport security at the beginning of the month. Those numbers are still around 95% off what they would have been.
Carmen, who had to travel from San Diego to Austin and turn back around the same day, shared her photos from the Austin airport. She points out that only one concession – Salt Lick Barbecue – was open here in my home town.
Austin-Bergstrom Departures Lobby, credit: Carmen
Austin-Bergstrom Shuttered Concessions, credit: Carmen
Austin-Bergstrom Empty Concourse, credit: Carmen
However as some states begin to open their economies we’ll begin to see a little more travel again. Indeed we’re already beginning to, though it’s barely noticeable unless you shrink the time series and condense the passenger numbers on the left axis of the graph.
Hopefully we will not see travel out of places suffering from coronavirus outbreaks, at least to places that aren’t currently experiencing outbreaks or that have their transmission under control. That risk – reintroducing the virus – is one reason the lack of border controls on states within the U.S. presents a challenge.
What we need to bring back travel is scaled up health care system capacity, scaled up testing, and improved treatments. We’re on the way with better treatment, if only because researchers and doctors are beginning to understand the virus better. Remdesivir is expected to get approval as a treatment in Japan next month.
Vaccines are still far off, but we do not need a vaccine to travel domestically, we just need to control the virus, not be overwhelmed by the virus, and be able to improve patient treatments. And some countries that have reached this point will open up their borders to travelers, too, and we’ll be able to travel again when we can be confident we aren’t traveling with the virus or likely falling victim to it somewhere we’d have challenges with treatment (medical evacuation coverage becomes more top of mind than ever).