Is summer travel doomed this year?

By Physician Sense
Published June 12, 2020

Key Takeaways

Can we salvage summer travel? It depends on how you look at it and how much risk you’re willing to take. Somewhat safe recreation options remain, but for most of us, this will be a summer like no other. 

Travel data tell an interesting story, chiefly that wanderlust may be taking over. TSA tracks the total weekly throughput of passengers and airline staff. The total bottomed out the week of April 14, 2020 with a total of 87,534 passengers and staff nationwide. For comparison, the figure stood at 2,208,688 the same weekday the year prior. The numbers have crept steadily upward since then. This week, there were 386,969 passengers and crew, compared to 2,509,058 in 2019.

Airline industry turbulence

As a result, things have been rocky for the airline industry. Delta Airlines stock opened 2020 at $58.93 a share. As of writing this post, the stock opened trading at $26.50. This is after a recent rally earlier in the month driven by renewed interest in recreational travel. 

It appears Americans are anxious to get out again, and earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that airlines are slowly adding flights. American Airlines said in a news release that it will soon be flying at about 55% of its June 2019 capacity to meet increasing demand. 

But can you fly safely right now? Other than wearing a mask and/or faceshield, there’s little you can do to protect yourself from the passenger behind you hacking on your headrest, or from the toddler seated to your left, who moments ago just had their hands all over the floor. If you’re traveling by air, COVID-19 protection is largely in the hands of the airlines.

In the same news release, American Airlines says, “American mainline aircraft and most regional aircraft are equipped with onboard HEPA filters that provide a complete air change every 2-4 minutes, similar to the standard for hospitals.” Additionally, the airline is cleaning and disinfecting all seats, tray tables, seat buckles, and air vents, along with “electrostatic spraying every surface of the interior … which eliminates 99.999% of viruses and bacteria within 10 minutes and creates a protective layer for up to 7 days.”

Similarly, Delta has extended seating caps through September and has barred anybody from sitting in middle seats. The airline is requiring all customers and staff to wear masks, and is also rolling out electrostatic spraying. It says “many” of its flights use HEPA air filtration.

Where to go?

Assuming that you can fly safely, the next question is, where do you want to go? The New York Times reports that, right now, it appears popular destinations include Florida and the West. Social distancing requires space, both of which, in theory, you’ll find on a beach or in a national park. Keep in mind, the major destinations and popular resorts likely will be among the first to fill up. That said, you might need to search off the beaten path a bit. Here are some ideas for parks, and a few for U.S. resorts.

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