Travel is getting back up to speed in the U.S. and abroad. Vacation travelers are making up for lost time with end-of-summer getaways and planning future holidays. Business travelers are visiting production facilities, making sales calls, and attending meetings. For domestic travel, the TSA calculates the checkpoint numbers to be approximately three-quarters of pre-pandemic (2019) daily totals. International travel lags domestic trends; however, most countries are opening their borders with qualifications. The Covington Travel team has also returned to the air and the road, so we want to share our experiences of what it is like to travel right now.
Rob Haislip, Vice President of Business Development, attended a BCD Affiliate meeting in Orlando. The in-person meeting had about 100 participants and there was no digital option. “Attendees had to sign a waiver, and everyone was very conscious about wearing masks and personal space. The vast majority, if not all, were vaccinated, so people were shaking hands as they networked, and everyone enjoyed meeting in person again. Staff shortages at restaurants, hotel check-in, and Uber drivers meant longer wait times, so an extra dose of patience is necessary and showing kindness toward the service industry personnel is appreciated.”
Karen Kilyk, Luxury Vacation Advisor, traveled on a personal trip from Hartford, Connecticut to Norfolk to visit an elderly friend. “It felt wonderful to be back in the air again. I think I was smiling the whole time – behind my mask. Delta announced multiple reminders that wearing a mask onboard is a federal law. They were kind but firm and there was no dissent. I wore an N95 mask as an extra measure to protect the friend I was visiting. I found the N95s harder to breathe through than standard paper masks, but they are so sealed, my glasses didn’t fog! All my flights were 100% full, but the Atlanta airport seemed to have about half of the normal passengers and not all the food vendors were open. No one took my temperature during the trip. I got a COVID test when I got home because I have an elderly parent.”
Beverly McLean, Director of Marketing, aka Travel Maestro, traveled to Italy for a ‘bleisure’ trip of escorting a small group (business) and attending a cooking school (leisure). “The biggest difference in what it is like to travel internationally right now is the additional documentation necessary. Every country has different requirements, and the airlines are responsible for verifying compliance, so it’s critical that you get it right or be denied boarding at the airport. Two requirements for returning to the U.S. are a negative COVID test within 72 hours, and a Passenger Attestation form. I got my test at a pharmacy in Assisi (€22) and had the results instantly, although some had to return later for their results. The Delta mobile app conveniently pushed the attestation form to me, so I submitted it digitally in advance. Otherwise, passengers had to download it from a QR code at the airport.
“Some hotels took my temperature and asked for my vaccination card, but not all. Italy accepts the CDC card in lieu of the European Green Card. Masks were required inside but optional outside. Trains were cleaned and sanitized daily. Rome seemed to have only about a third of the tourists it normally would in September. I even had the ‘bonus space’ of an empty seat beside me on the return flight.”
Barry Weisiger, Director of Operations, sits on an airline Influencer Board and flew to San Antonio for the group’s first in-person meeting since Feb 2020. “Flights were full, there was no complaining about masks, and the entire flying experience was very pleasant. Uber and Lyft were much more abundant than when I traveled to Florida in May, with waiting times only two to three minutes. My hotel, The Saint Anthony, was very clean but some amenities, such as a coffee pot in the room were not present. I had a meal at the airport and felt comfortable with the restaurant’s cleaning protocols. The tables and menus were wiped down with each use.”
Szea VanMerlin, Onsite Manager, attended the christening of AmaWaterways new riverboat, AmaLea, and sailed on the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel. “My international flight was three-quarters full, so I got a whole row to myself. The city of Amsterdam is over 90 percent vaccinated, so I felt very safe there, although masks are still required indoors. Throughout the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland I had to show my vaccine card at restaurants (even dining outside), shopping, and hotels. They accepted original CDC cards, photocopies, or digital versions.
“AmaWaterways only books ships to 75 percent capacity to increase passenger space ratios. Everything was kept exceptionally clean. Medical staff came onboard at the end of the cruise to do the COVID-19 testing required for U.S. re-entry and everyone had results by the end of the day. If you have your test done locally, PCR tests results take 24-48 hours and cost much more than the rapid-results Antigen tests. The U.S. accepts both PCR and Antigen tests.”
Jean Riekers, Vacation Advisor, stayed two nights at the Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia to inspect the resort prior to a Covington client group arrival soon. “The historic Chesapeake Bay resort is now owned by the Enchantment Group and is undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation. Four new luxury suites were added, and rooms were refreshed. The ‘living shoreline’ expansion, an oyster reef, and a new pedestrian wharf (completed in November) all aid the ecological health of Carter’s Creek and offer interactive waterfront experiences.
“Masks were not mandatory for guests inside, although all staff wore them. I enjoyed wonderful meals, a mixology class, complimentary kayaking and biking, an oyster roast, and the chef’s kitchen. The Tides Inn remains an iconic Virginia getaway where life feels back to normal.”
The vast majority of us who work in travel have a deep passion for it and we are so happy that we can safely get back to going places for work and pleasure. The last year and a half have been a dark period for our industry, but we are gratified that the future is brightening. If you have any questions or concerns about traveling, safety protocols, government regulations, or just want to voice an opinion, feel free to contact Covington. You can always count on us as your partner in travel.