That Is The Question, by Rich Paschall
(with apologies to William Shakespeare)
From March of 2020 right up to the present day, the global pandemic has been devastating to the travel industry. This has been particularly true for the airlines. As knowledge of the risks posed by COVID-19 spread faster than the coronavirus itself, flights were grounded and planes were put into storage. People were afraid to fly.
Adding to the general fear were the restrictions by governments on air travel around the world. This left air carriers bleeding cash. Most airlines were doing quite well as 2020 rolled in. Leisure travel, as well as business travel, was big business. The recent successes were wiped out in a stunning reversal.
According to figures from the International Airline Transportation Association (IATA), “the combined $201 billion in net losses over the pandemic-blighted period eclipses close to nine years of industry earnings,” as stated in Bloomberg recently. Loss estimates for 2021 keep getting pushed upwards. Worse yet for air carriers is the continued projection of losses for 2022.
When we were sent home from our airline jobs in mid-March 2020, the hope was that it would not be for long. Furloughs, aka lay-offs, for April and May, were handed out with the belief that things would begin to turn around in a couple months. The airline was reduced to a fraction of its former flight schedule. Passenger loads were 8 to 10 percent of capacity and much of the fleet was grounded. Early projections, based more on wishful thinking than anything else, were that the airline would be at about 50 percent by the end of 2020. That did not happen.
Meanwhile, many airlines are forced to pay for facilities and equipment that get little or no use. IATA, a trade association of 290 airlines, that is almost everyone, believes the airlines will reach about 40 percent of pre-pandemic passenger traffic by the end of this year and 61 percent next year. Is that just more wishful thinking? How long can the world’s airlines stay in business while losing money at a rapid pace?
While there has been some recovery on domestic and regional routes, international travel is still lagging. Do people even want to travel given the present circumstances? According to IATA Director General Willie Walsh, “People have not lost their desire to travel as we see in solid domestic market resilience. But they are being held back from international travel by restrictions, uncertainty, and complexity.”
Many countries will not let in travelers from certain other countries. The European Union has recommended to their member countries to restrict Americans to essential travel only. In fact, four European countries will not let us in and the list is likely to grow. Cross Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, and Bulgaria off your vacation list. Some countries have vaccination requirements and some have quarantine rules. The entire world knows COVID-19 and its variants are on the rise here in the US and 45 percent of the population are not vaccinated, despite the availability of the vaccine.
The US government has its own list of advisories and restrictions. Are some of those based on politics rather than science? The list of restricted European countries is about to be changed, but will that bring more tourists here?
You may think that I would be out of my mind to consider any world travel now. We are not particularly welcome in places I would like to visit, and if I go I might not be able to come back
In order to fly to Germany then travel to France, I must get a negative COVID-19 test with 72 hours of my flight. Rapid testing is becoming a big business. It might be free in your neighborhood and cost a fortune at an airport. This has to be done even though I am vaccinated. I must also have a Health pass for France. You can apply online with your proof of vaccination. Without your COVID test and Health Pass, do not even think of starting out.
Many businesses in France will require a look at your Health Pass. If you want to eat in a restaurant, you must show your pass. Do not attempt to pull any “I am an American and I have rights:” nonsense. Les gendarmes would be glad to show you their accommodations.
In order to return home, I will need a negative COVID test within 72 hours before getting on a plane in Frankfurt. My passport and proof of vaccination will be good too. Rapid COVID testing is big business in other countries as well as the US.
You can be assured that most airlines clean and sanitize planes in ways they never did before this global pandemic. They realize that any COVID outbreak pegged to one of their flights would be disastrous to a business already ravaged by the pandemic. Every bit of the business that deals with the public has been reevaluated, from cleaning to contactless check-in and baggage handling. You can tag your own bag and drop it on the conveyor yourself. Of course, you could do that before on some airlines.
I did not travel last year. The pandemic kept me home. I was reluctant to travel this year. I had to weigh this very carefully. I have airline vouchers that I will not be able to use after this year. I can fly at a very low cost. I know my way around Frankfurt airport and how to go on to Strasbourg. My vaccinated friends will meet me there and I will stay with them. They work in the tour business and know the safest places to go. The trip will cost me next to nothing, but only if I go this year. I have a hotel voucher for a Frankfurt airport hotel I may use for one night before returning.
It does not escape my mind that this may be the last time I will be able to travel on my own. It gets harder with each passing year. My friend in France has been married since my last visit, and his wife is expecting their first child. The sun is setting on our many adventures and I must get there before the sun goes down. I will capture the sunset for you and bring it in the coming weeks.
“COVID-19 Travel Guidance for U.S. Citizens,” US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs.