How has business and leisure travel changed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic? Here are a few observations from a recent trip to Maryland.
The Grand Junction Regional Airport was nearly empty on a Monday morning with no lines at security. The Transportation Security Administration Pre-Check line no longer crossed over the regular line to get to the metal detector. The departure area was emptier and quieter. Almost everyone was wearing a mask if they weren’t eating or drinking.
Boarding was more efficient. Planes load far more quickly when loaded from back to front — as long as the process is monitored and enforced. Baggage limits were also enforced, speeding up boarding and ensuring overhead space wasn’t filled with oversized “carry-ons.” Although I was in a first class window seat, I boarded last since I only had an under-the-seat bag and day pack. De-planing was fast and easy.
Denver International Airport was fairly crowded, but there was lots of room to keep distanced in unused gate areas. Mask wearing was close to 100 percent, and airport staff enforced the requirement for those few people who were maskless and not eating or drinking.
If you have a lounge membership, keep in mind not all of them are open. Those lounges that are open limit seating and occupancy, so you could be denied entry or have to wait before you go in. Don’t try to use one-time passes — they’re not accepted. Food choices were limited to pre-packaged options, but the bar was open.
Boarding in Denver was fast and socially distanced. By not allowing over-sized carry-ons, bunching on the jetway and in the aisle was minimal. Boarding for all flights was back-to-front. I had a window seat in row 3, and waited until boarding was ending to go to my seat. As we entered the cabin, the crew handed out antiseptic wipes.
The crew on the flight from Denver to Baltimore served packaged sandwiches and snack boxes in first class along with a limited selection of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages. Those in economy received small snacks and limited soft drinks, but no meals or beverages for purchase. The safety briefing was limited since there was no demonstration of oxygen masks or life vests.
The concourse experience and boarding process were similar on the return flight from Baltimore to Denver. There was a lot of bunching on the jetway and in the aisle, so waiting to board until the end was an excellent idea. The CLEAR line for security at the Baltimore airport was empty. I was the only person, and there was a separate security screening area, so it was quick. Regular security was bunched up and looked to have about 30 minutes of waiting time.
Due to reduced capacity on the shared rental car buses, there was a 30-minute wait for my turn. The return to the airport had an even longer wait, so plan accordingly.
Rental cars are in short supply. When I arrived at the Hertz counter at the Baltimore airport, there were no cars in the gold, five-star or president’s circle areas. I was told many cars have been taken out of service or not replaced at the end of their planned life cycle. Moreover, many people rent one way, returning cars at vacation rather than business locations. Exiting the rental car area was a mess. Over 25 cars, people with issues at the exit and only one booth open. I was told many people were out with COVID-19 or quarantining after exposure.
Hotels claim they’re doing extra cleaning, but I recommend cleaning contact areas yourself. You might also need to clean the traffic areas of the floors — mine were not clean — and wear socks the entire time.
Only one traveling party is allowed in elevators, so plan on extra time. Getting a room on the top floor ensures you can access the elevator with less waiting time. Stairs offer another option.
Most hotel restaurants remain open for inside dining, but takeout or room service offer better choices. If you use the hotel restaurant, try to limit your dining to breakfast, be first in line and sit away from the traffic flow and kitchen. Getting a suite with some kitchen facilities — or at least a microwave and refrigerator — could be worth the extra cost.
Travel isn’t the same. It might never be quite the same. Airports, airlines, lounges, rental car outlets and hotels are trying to stay COVID safe, but they’re struggling. Bring your masks and patience, and you’ll get through the experience just fine.