With a COVID-19 vaccine not expected until 2021 and the list of reopening countries continuing to grow, the inevitability of resuming travel during a still-fluctuating pandemic is slowly becoming a reality for many road warriors. Whether attending a key event or returning to a top market, business travelers have joined the surge of summer vacationers whose confidence in travel safety remains largely unchanged.
Thanks in part to new sanitation measures being undertaken by suppliers, the travel experience is arguably the most health-oriented it has ever been, even if this means a travel journey that looks different than it did just six months ago. Direct Travel’s own Bethany Courchene, Group & Incentive Meeting Planner, recently traveled for the first time since the new restrictions were implemented and her on-the-ground traveler report reveals what you can expect on your next trip.
Social Distancing Norms
From the airport to the hotel, expect social distancing in most interactions and spaces. Bethany noted frequent signage and reminders throughout her trip, including floor markers for lines at the airport, clearly marked entry and exit ways at most locations to regulate the flow of traffic, and outdoor information placards at stops like parks and attractions. Seating was also reduced in some areas, such as at restaurants and the hotel pool, to further encourage social distancing.
As a result of less people currently traveling, social distancing occurred fairly naturally in most scenarios Bethany encountered. Although many airlines are no longer blocking middle seats, Bethany noted that her flights were only moderately occupied, and passengers were allowed to move to alternate seats to accommodate social distancing. When disembarking from American Airlines, passengers were encouraged via cabin announcements to remain seated until the row in front of them had moved through the aisle.
Widespread Adoption of Masks
Masks continue to be the most effective tool at stopping the everyday spread of COVID-19, and the travel industry has led the way since masks were first required on domestic flights in late April. Throughout her trip, Bethany estimated approximately 98 percent of travelers were wearing masks. She also did not witness any passengers on any of her four flights without some form of face covering. Similar to the signage promoting social distancing, mask reminders were prominent throughout Bethany’s travel journey, including at the airport and at the hotel.
In addition to masks, other forms of personal protections equipment (PPE) were also common. TSA agents, flight attendants, and employees at the car rental office all donned gloves as well as masks. For those without gloves, hand sanitation stations can be found in many public spaces. In Bethany’s case, she noted hand sanitizer available at all of the airports she visited and in most of the retail stores.
Mobile & Touchless Experiences
Of course, the best way to reduce the need for gloves or sanitizer is to eliminate unnecessary touch altogether. Thanks to advancements in mobile technology, many travel processes have been streamlined to eliminate touchpoints. Bethany checked-in for her flights and stayed up-to-date with changes via the American Airlines mobile app. She also received instant travel alerts from Direct Travel as her travel management company (TMC).
Don’t expect the focus on touchless experience to end after you leave the airport. When picking up her rental car from National Car Rental, Bethany was able to do so without having to directly interact with any employees. At the resort, a seal on the guest door indicated the room had been certified clean according to the hotel’s standards. Other touchless experiences included dining out, with many restaurants using QR codes and online menus to reduce both touchpoints and unnecessary waste.
For Bethany, traveling again “felt good to have a sense of normalcy.” For you as a traveler (or if you’re a travel manager, your travelers), you may already feel comfortable with getting back on the road. If so, we recommend consulting our traveler checklist to prepare you or your travelers for upcoming trips.
Some travelers may need additional time or information before they are comfortable resuming travel. This may be dependent on where they are based, where they are traveling, or their own state of health and wellness. In any case, we encourage you to work with Direct Travel as your TMC to evaluate your company’s travel policies and strengthen your corporate travel program to ensure the safety and confidence of your travelers.