From all outward appearances, air travel appears to be back to normal after Covid-19.
Crowds have returned, according to TSA screening figures. And they will grow as the busy summer season approaches.
High tariffs are also back. Airfares climbed nearly 13% in February from a year ago, according to the government’s latest consumer price index.
And the complaints are piling up. The Department for Transport reports airline complaints in December topped 2,000, more than double the 914 in December last year. This is the last month for which figures are available.
But air travel is nothing but normal now. And most travelers don’t know what to expect when they leave for the airport, to the point that some might forego air travel altogether.
The Covid-19 is still there. Air travel hassles are worse than ever. And people are seriously wondering, with everything going on in the world, is it even safe to fly anywhere after Covid-19?
This may not be the case.
Is Covid-19 still a problem for air travellers?
Several European carriers have already lifted their mask requirements. The Department for Transport will likely relax its rules later this month. But with a dangerous and highly contagious XE omicron variant now spreading around the world, more and more people will be worried about their health – and rightly so.
Air travelers say the prospect of going mask-free on a plane is daunting.
“I will continue to wear a mask,” says Barbara Howell, a retired nurse from Carpinteria, California. She is immunocompromised and “easily” catches pneumonia, especially after air travel. And she is not at risk of another infection, even if the masks are no longer necessary.
“I have no problem if people comment,” she says. “It’s their problem, not mine.”
Gene SirLouis, a representative for the manufacturer from Washington, DC, plans to keep his mask on when flying.
“His do not sign of virtue,” he says. “Although you can say that anyone who throws an insult at someone wearing a mask may not have any virtue to report.
Studies on the risk of Covid for air travelers are inconclusive. A frequently cited 2020 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that you’re more likely to catch Covid on a commuter train or in an office building, classroom or supermarket. But there is always a risk, and with the latest variant of Covid being even more contagious, passengers are understandably worried.
Conclusion: Covid East still a problem for air travelers even as the pandemic heads for exits. So traveling after Covid-19 doesn’t necessarily mean Covid-19 won’t be a factor. You may want to pack a mask.
The real question is: is that enough to keep you from traveling this summer and beyond? For the most immunocompromised passengers, the answer will continue to be yes. But that’s not the only thing stopping people from flying.
Do you need to be vaccinated to fly?
Another common question is: do you need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 to fly? If you are traveling within the country, the answer is no.
If you are traveling internationally, many destinations will allow you entry without testing if you have been vaccinated. For example, if you are traveling from the United States to Turkey, you can go without a test – if you can prove that you have been vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, you must present a negative PCR test result received within the last 72 hours or a negative rapid antigen test taken within the last 48 hours, according to Turkish Airlines.
For now, the rules are a bit complicated. There are at least four distinct categories of passengers: vaccinated, unvaccinated, under 12, and transport workers such as sailors and truck drivers. Everyone can have their own vaccination rules when it comes to flying.
Post-pandemic air travel is a problem
No two ways about it, stealing is a problem – now more than ever. Covid-19 has changed the way airlines operate, and not necessarily for the better. They have cut flights, amenities and services.
A likely legacy of the pandemic is that we will lose an airline. Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines have proposed to merge in a $6.6 billion deal. Airlines say this would create an even more competitive ultra-low-cost carrier, offering better fares and service. If past airline mergers are any indication, it won’t happen.
But here and now, air travel is no picnic either. The operational challenges of late last year, which led to airline unions complaining that their members were at a “breaking point”, are still there. Reduced hours and staffing issues remain. It takes months to ramp up schedules and hires.
If you’re traveling during the relatively quiet time between Spring Break and Memorial Day, you probably won’t notice much of a qualitative difference in your flight. But once the busy summer travel season kicks off in June, you should probably expect some flashbacks to last summer. You remember last summer, don’t you? We’ve had storms, mass cancellations, IT issues, and staff issues. And then, of course, we had the highly contagious delta variant, which threw a spanner in the entire works.
Today, higher rates, crowds and reduced service are industry standards. But it is the attitude of the flight crews that arouses the most indignation. A cursory review of in-flight altercations over the past few months (mostly related to mask-wearing) suggests some crew members instigated the clashes. And that means you might not be flying in friendly skies the next time you board a flight, even if you can avoid a fight with a flight attendant. And that leads to many travelers looking for car keys to drive when they want to go somewhere, instead of hailing a ride to the airport.
Should we avoid flying this summer?
Despite all this hassle, it is clear that this will be the summer of air travel. A new survey from Concur’s TripIt predicts that 73% of Americans will be flying somewhere by June. And 60% will drive. (Some travelers will do both, so there is some overlap). With so many Americans planning to fly, what is the best course of action?
Here are three questions to help you make a decision:
How is your health?
We’re not off the hook on Covid yet, no matter what the CDC says. The number of cases will rise and fall, and people will continue to get sick. But an even bigger worry than getting sick on a plane will be getting infected on the ground. Health experts say you should look at the big picture. The flight may not kill you, but you could get very sick after landing. If you are immunocompromised or have not been vaccinated, it may not be the summer to travel.
How do you plan to fly?
There’s a difference between flying unmasked and unvaccinated in the back row of economy class — you know, where they line up for the toilets — and flying masked in first class. If you can create some social distance and escape the worst plane service, you’ll probably be fine. But if you’re flying in pilot class with other unmasked passengers, your risks increase. (It’s a great excuse to splurge for a business class ticket, but don’t forget to bring a comfortable mask.)
How much time do you have?
If you have to get somewhere fast or have to cross an ocean, you’ll feel like flying even though it’s torture. But for many Americans, driving remains an attractive option. If you have enough time to drive to your summer vacation destination, then this year could be the year to skip the flight and get your SUV tuned up.
After Covid-19, flying has not returned to normal. It just looks like that. The planes will be filled to capacity this summer and you will pay more than you have in years to get to your destination. In addition, the trip could be dangerous for your health.
Bottom line: When it comes to air travel after Covid-19, keep your expectations low. This way you won’t be disappointed.