Many people expect planes to be empty when they travel this month. They are most likely going to be greatly disappointed. The airlines are trying to do everything they can to allow for social distancing on flights by blocking middle seats when possible. United will warn you when the flight is over 70% full and allow you to change your flight. American Airlines will also allow you to change flights if the flights are full. Delta is blocking middle seats but only until June 30. Even with the decline of over 85% of passengers in the last several months, the airlines have reduced the number of flights proportionately by over 80%. However, experts say that planes must be almost full to be profitable. Thus, many travelers report to us that they are surprised to find full flights on many legs of their trip. They are very disappointed as they feel that keeping the middle seats empty was part of the social distancing requirement the airlines made weeks ago to entice people back on planes. Unfortunately, those were only temporary rules that are evolving daily. The reality is that airlines have to be profitable to survive. If you remove all middle seats from being sold every flight will lose money without doubling or tripling the cost of airline tickets. The bottom line is that if you expect an empty middle seat next to you when you fly you will probably be very disappointed. I don’t like it but unless the government requires empty middle seats I don’t see it happening.
The Good news: Airlines are allowing you to take alternate flights if your flight is full. Bad news: The next empty flight may be two weeks away– As I mentioned most airlines will allow you to change flights if your flight is full and you want more space for social distancing on your flights. The problem is that you might have to wait up to two weeks to find a flight that is less full. That was the exact scenario shared with me yesterday by Sue, one of our readers. She said it was nice to have the option as she saw the plane fill up. However, is it really much of an option if your trip has to be delayed by two weeks in order to find an empty middle seat? And to add even more salt in the wound that flight that is empty that you rebooked on may fill up in the next two weeks so you are back in the same position you started from. The bottom line is that if you are not comfortable having someone fly in the middle seat beside you it appears that you most likely will not be able to fly again unless the rules change.
Now is the time to outlaw reclining seats on flights – For years I have been calling for the elimination of reclining airplane seats. Now with the COVID-19 virus and the cramped space inside aircrafts I think it is the perfect time for airlines to finally do the right thing and eliminate the ability for passengers to recline their seats. One of our readers shared that on a recent flight the passenger in the row in front reclined his seat and the fresh air from the vent hit the top of his head and blew right onto the passenger behind him. Obviously, this is not good for anyone in the current COVID -19 world.
Good news! I have been pointing to the day the Disney World opens as the day travel comes alive again – The travel industry has been slowly inching forward in the last couple of weeks. Since April I have been pointing to the day that Disney World opens as the day that travel will really start to come alive again. Circle your calendar for July 11 as that is the re-opening date for Disney World. I do not think travel will explode but that this will be the date that we start making slow and steady progress for the travel industry to life as we knew it before COVID-19.
It looks like the vacation travel recovery is starting with the car this summer before people jump into airplanes – My son Matt and his wife just returned from a week’s vacation driving to Nashville, Tennessee. He said the roads were almost like normal and restaurants actually had some waiting lines. Now that many states have lifted tight stay-at-home restrictions people are spreading their wings. With record low gas prices and the security of traveling with your family in the car, my guess is that vacation travel will rebound first by driving starting this month.
More people will rent a car and drive to a business meeting than fly in the months of June and July – This was my prediction made almost two months ago about business travel. I am predicting that for business travelers who are traveling within a roughly 650-mile radius they will simply rent a car from National Car Rental and take to the open road instead of flying. In the next 90 days, there will be a rediscovery of driving similar to the 1950s and 1960s like we have never seen before. People will re-discover many of the small highways, diners, motels, ghost towns, and beautiful vistas reminiscent of Route 66 that snaked from Chicago to LA in the glory days of Americana history. People will drive day trips instead of flying to cities like from Omaha to Chicago (467 mi.); Denver (541 mi.); Minneapolis (377 mi.); St. Louis (432 mi.) and Dallas (657 mi.). But I do expect that once things turn back to normal and school starts in August that people will be back in airplanes and crammed into middle seats once more.
Look to find your best hotel deals at airport hotels and those giant convention center hotels – With social distancing orders currently in place, those giant convention center hotels in cities are basically hit the hardest and will be very empty without meetings and conventions. My guess is they will be offering some amazing hotel rates this summer to fill any room they can. Also because many large corporations continue to freeze air travel for their employees in the coming weeks my guess is that airport hotels will also be hungry for your vacation dollar.