In a matter of weeks, travel essentially vanished this spring.
Between government lockdowns, safety concerns, and airlines shrinking into hibernation mode, coronavirus put travel on hold. Months later, the travel world is cautiously (and slowly) restarting. Domestic travel will be the priority, as travelers stay closer to home and many countries across the globe still ban international entry.
But even then, your next domestic trip won’t be exactly how you remember it. Here’s a look at just how much it’s changed.
Fewer Flights, More Connections
Airlines in the U.S. cut their flights back to the bone as demand to travel plummeted. They grounded hundreds of planes, slashed schedules, and even stopped flying to some cities outright.
And even as carriers start flying more to meet growing summer travel demand, your options will be far more limited than this time last year. Travel in the U.S. is still down by more than 80%. Until that changes, there’s no reason for airlines to fly nearly as much as they used to.
That means far fewer choices that might work best for your schedule. For example, Delta usually operates seven or eight flights a day from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) – departing every other hour throughout the day.
This month, you’ve got just two options: A morning flight and an evening flight. And the airline has stopped flying to the more centrally located Chicago-Midway (MDW) airport altogether – at least for now.
A year ago, there were 50-plus flights a day from the New York area to Washington, D.C. You could leave almost every half hour! Today, that has shrunk to just a dozen or so daily flights.
And while you could once easily find a nonstop flight to your favorite vacation spot, you might need to make a connection now. Airlines have cut back to the essentials, focusing on shuffling travelers in and out of their main hubs and consolidating flights wherever they can.
So the nonstop flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Charleston (CHS) or Savannah (SAV) have disappeared – you’ll have to make a pitstop in Atlanta (ATL) to get there for now. Nonstop flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Nashville (BNA) are gone, too. Whether you’re flying Delta, United, or American, you’d need to connect in Minneapolis, Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), or Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to get to Nashville from the West Coast.
An Uneven Reopening
Just because travel is starting back up again doesn’t mean the whole country is open for business.
Hawaii is still trying to shut out travelers from the mainland through at least June with a 14-day mandatory quarantine upon arrival. There’s even talk the island state will extend those restrictions through July.
And even the tourist hotspots that are eager to welcome travelers back aren’t throwing the doors wide open all at once. The Las Vegas Strip, for instance, is reopening in phases. Just a dozen or so casinos opened when Las Vegas began welcoming tourists earlier this month. More are set to open July 1.
Down in Florida, Walt Disney World is planning to re-open starting July 11 – once again, in stages. Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Park will be the first to open, followed by Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios a few days later. Surrounding resorts and hotels will slowly re-open, too.
Even U.S. National Parks are reopening in phases. Parks like Zion and Glacier National Park are already accepting visitors, but with some restrictions on shuttles and entry. Meanwhile, Yosemite remains largely closed to the public.
And it should go without saying that no matter where you go, social distancing and mandatory masks will be the new norm.
A New Emphasis on Safety
No matter where you go, going through the airport and getting on the plane will look and feel a lot different. And not just because they’re much emptier than you remember.
From the time you go through airport security until you get off the plane, there are major changes in store. For starters, TSA agents will no longer grab your boarding pass. They’ll simply have you place your paper pass or phone on the scanner, then have you hold it up for inspection. There’s even been talk of performing temperature checks at security checkpoints, but so far it’s just that – talk.
Frontier has taken it upon itself to test passengers’ temperatures, denying boarding to anyone hotter than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. And most major airlines now require passengers and crew alike to wear facemmasks – though whether they’ll actually enforce that requirement is an open question.
Carriers are cleaning their planes more than ever before, and many are even giving passengers small kits with hand sanitizer or wipes, too.
Don’t expect a full drink and snack service – those have been cut. Instead, the best you’ll get is a bundle with a few snacks and a bottle of water until airlines decide it’s safe (and financially prudent) to return to the old ways.
Empty Planes … For Now
Odds are, you’ll have much more space than you’re used to seeing on a plane.
Airlines have cut flights. More people are traveling than just a month ago. Still, planes are less than half full, on average. In some cases, that’s by design.
Delta has committed to blocking all middle seats on its flights through Sept. 30. Unlike other airlines, Delta is even capping ticket sales on each flight to ensure it can keep seats empty. Delta is also boarding planes from back to front to limit contact between passengers.
Meanwhile, American and United are merely informing travelers when their upcoming flight looks full.
But no matter who you fly with, you’re more likely than ever to get some extra space. And until travel numbers return to close to normal, that’s likely to be the case.
Slowly but surely, travel is starting to return – especially in the U.S. But your next domestic trip will likely be much different.