There are many aspects of travel that are more intimidating than they were before the COVID pandemic. Standard travel processes have changed. We used to walk robotically through airline check-in, TSA, and rental car transactions. We approach these situations now with fresh eyes, unsure of how they’re different.
I’ve experienced the new processes in my recent travels. I flew from Pittsburgh to Miami, rented a car, drove to and stayed on Key Largo, and spent five days exploring the Florida Keys. I learned a lot about what to expect from travel in a world battling a pandemic. I am happy to share my experiences at the airport, car rental counter, exploring the Keys, and staying at a hotel.
I am happy to report this process has not changed. You can still check in at kiosks. Every other kiosk is shut down for distancing and they clean the machines more frequently. The only difference in checking your bag is that you and the ticketing agent are wearing masks. You will wear your mask the entire time you are in the airport.
The process was mostly the same but the experience was very different. Social distancing is enforced in the line to get through TSA. When you arrive at the agent booth, they still take your boarding pass and ID. You will lower your mask to show your whole face. No big surprises in the process. The experience was different because there was no line for TSA, even at Miami International Airport! We were able to walk right up to the agent with no wait. However, I still recommend arriving early. I arrived two hours before my flight home from Miami and found a seat at a restaurant. As I sat there, the crowds grew. I have a feeling there was a line at TSA at some point but I missed it because I arrived early.
I flew American Airlines. They enforce masking. You will wear your mask the entire flight. However, I did see other passengers remove their masks if they were sitting with friends or family. The flight attendants did not approach them.
There were no changes in this process. Social distancing was not enforced while waiting in line to retrieve the car. However, everyone was wearing a mask. The biggest note I have from this process is how many people were renting cars. We stood in line for an hour at Alamo. All of the car rental agencies had lines just as long. This is a result of lower staffing and increased domestic travel. It was also a matter of timing. The staff member I worked with told me the international flights arrive in Miami at 10:30 a.m. and they are always swamped at this time.
There was a drastic difference between visiting a small, family-owned business and a corporate chain business. There was also a difference between visiting a recreational business and a business that fills needs. Small and recreational businesses, like restaurants and bars, did not enforce masking or social distancing. In fact, people were uncomfortable if you wore a mask in these establishments. Corporate and need filling businesses, like grocery stores and gas stations, enforced masking and social distancing. You would not be assisted without a mask.
The world felt normal again when I visited parks and beaches. There is enough space for people to safely distance and not wear masks. The variety of activities available at most locations was enough to make for a whole day: swimming, grilling, and hiking. John Pennekamp State Park even offered snorkeling, diving, and an aquarium.
Procedures were different at the hotel as they are everywhere. Hotels must maintain a new level of cleanliness and it shows. I could see and smell how spotless my room was. The lobby required masking. Housekeeping would stop by the room to switch out towels, empty trash, etc., but they would not enter the room. The pool was limited to one family at a time. You would stop by the front desk to schedule your one-hour time slot.
If I could only use one word to describe my travel experience in this new world, the word would be smooth. If you’re hesitant to travel because you don’t know what to expect, let me tell you, things are different, but they are not worse. In some ways they are better. As long as you travel safely (maintain social distancing, wear your mask, wash your hands) there is no reason to put your travel life on hold.
Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Compass and VAX VacationAccess.