Travel today means crowds of first-time travelers, the older and slower passengers, and the inexperienced — just like the old holiday travel days.
Over the years I’ve written more than one post about the difficulties of holiday air travel — the crowds, airport amateurs, the extra hassles, and more. Holiday travel has oversized carry-on bags packed with gifts. Today, we have mandatory mask rules. Both keep flight attendants busy.
Now, after almost a year of almost no air travel, Americans are flying again. We’ve all been reminded how wonderful it is to be able to get on a plane and be with friends or family. Whether it’s for business (still rare) or pleasure, the next several months at least may feel like one long holiday travel season. And all memories may not be joyful.
Crowds are back. So are airport amateurs, and planes are full.
Even if the number of people traveling isn’t at pre-pandemic levels, the number of flights, along with airport staffing, has been greatly reduced. Which means lines. And efforts to maintain some sort of social distancing make those lines seem longer and worse.
TSA pre-check and Global Entry expire.
During the worst of the pandemic so far, many people’s TSA pre-check and Global Entry expired — often without notice. It happened to me after I mailed in my Global Entry application and fee in January 2020. While it was still being processed the airport offices shut down. I remember reading Global Entry and thus pre-check would be extended — mine stopped working on a weekend in Hawaii.
My clients and a family member all report similar stories. None of them were notified their memberships had expired. (In some cases Global Entry is renewed without an interview; in many others you have to go in to talk to a human. Fortunately, at SFO in 2021, appointments became available on shorter notice than the several months it used to take. I got mine back.
Everyone’s an airport amateur again.
If you think people have forgotten how to drive, try dealing with TSA and airport security lines. There were some issues like belts and cellphones even in the pre-check lines I’ve been in. And the one regular line I was in after my Global Entry expired — at Maui’s Kahului Airport — would have been funny if many of us weren’t worried about missing flights.
Long lines are everywhere.
Remember those long lines at places like Starbucks for early morning flights? Well, now there are lines for food everywhere at airports. Many airport lounges and concessions haven’t reopened, and most airlines aren’t serving the same buy-on-board options they had in the past, if they are serving anything. (It’s a good idea to pack food if you can.)
The nervous travelers seem to be everywhere.
Just like holiday travel, today people may be excited about flying places. However, they’re also often nervous and stressed. If you’ve traveled in the past during a time when it’s predominantly business travelers, while there are plenty of entitled folks on the road, they’re generally professional and know the drill. Add children, families, and occasional travelers to the mix and things change.
Mandatory masks have replaced oversized carry-on luggage.
We may not have the holiday issue of excess carry-on baggage as travelers try to bring presents and/or just avoid fees, but that’s been replaced with the politicalization of masks as a potential onboard trigger for arguments. Even if you’re not directly affected, it can be unpleasant to watch. And a real problem for flight attendants.
How long will these changes last? It is anyone’s guess.
How long will this last? We don’t know. Now, when children return to school, crowds may go down, and airlines and airports may get their schedules and staffing better aligned with demand. On the other hand, we don’t know for sure if other COVID surges may happen. And, while I’d love to see the mask issue become less political, I’m not optimistic on that front. Plus, right now I just don’t know what the CDC and DOT will recommend.
So, the short version: pack patience. And a sense of humor. Both will serve you well and prepare you for today’s normal travel. It is just like it was back in the November and December 2019 holiday travel times!
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Janice Hough is a California-based travel agent a travel blogger and a part-time comedy writer. A frequent flier herself, she’s been doing battle with airlines, hotels, and other travel companies for over three decades. Besides writing for Travelers United, Janice has a humor blog at Leftcoastsportsbabe.com (Warning, the political and sports humor therein does not represent the views of anyone but herself.)