Be Careful What You Wish For

It was during another early morning flight to who knows where.

It was after standing in line and being herded like cattle from place to place, with not even a smile from a harried gate agent.

It was after hearing one more fellow traveler marvel over unreasonable rules and exorbitant costs.

It was then that I snapped internally and said to myself, “I wish the airlines felt like they needed us as much as we need them.”

I got my wish.

The pandemic put a halt to my travel—to just about everyone’s travel, actually. I cancelled an overseas trip, a few business trips, and two family wedding trips, all within what would have been a normal 2-3 months. That meant I wouldn’t be on a plane, wouldn’t be dining at an interesting new restaurant, wouldn’t be spending money on souvenirs or great buys found while wandering the markets. While it was a loss for my enrichment, it was a financial loss for all those tourism and business destinations that depend on customers/travelers.

At the same time we were cancelling everything, it seemed that the red carpet had suddenly been rolled out for America’s travelers. Airlines courted us with promises of empty middle seats, no cancellation or change fees, and reduced ticket prices. It was so good, that I actually tried to go ahead a book a trip—only to be told that my state wasn’t allowed to fly into that particular part of the world.

The state of the travel industry was looking pretty dismal, all at a time when businesses could have used the advantages.

It’s not just the airlines, of course. Travel impact includes so much more, including hotels, restaurants, attractions, entertainment venues, Airbnb’s…shall I go on? These are all vital parts of the U.S. economy, and all have been hit hard by COVID-19.

A few examples:

  • A recent message from Hilton told me that they are extending my benefits, along with making adjustments to their policies. My points won’t expire for another year now, and my status is intact even though I’m technically not earning it right now.
  • It seems every other email I receive is from a restaurant offering me an incentive to go in—an incentive, by the way, that I’m reluctant to use given how much they need business right now.
  • And, all of my entertainment needs are, for the time being, met virtually.

Our October 2020 newsletter focused on some of the changes to tourism—you can read it here. True to the American spirit, just as things get bad, innovation occurs, and the travel industry is making adjustments and bringing in new ideas to attract us back.

There are signs that life as we travelers knew it may be returning. According to reports, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is now screening more than 1 million airline passengers in a day, and growing—not fully back, but better than the numbers they had in the Spring. Restaurants are opening up, figuring out summertime outdoor cafes easily enough, and now innovating around what to do in cold weather. Customers are making tentative gestures to actually walk in the door of the airport, the hotel lobby, the restaurant.

As we return, I’d like to make one suggestion: that we not forget we need each other.

When I do return to air travel (which I consider the big offender), it would be nice to have my business appreciated. Don’t reinstate the fees, and I’ll try not to ask for too many benefits. Don’t treat me like I’m part of a herd, and I promise to smile and follow all instructions.

When I do eat in a restaurant, recognize that I truly want you to stay in business. I’ll wear my mask up until the food is in front of me, and I’ll over-tip. I’ll even make allowances for you having only one server, and for running out of certain items—after all, it’s hard to know what to expect BOH these days. And even though all I may be able to get is a virtual ticket, I need to buy it to support the arts.

It goes both ways, and we need to work together to restore the tourism, travel, and entertainment industries.

I got my wish. The travel industry know they need customers to survive, and presumably will not go back to the old ways of high restrictions, high stress, and poor experiences.

If they can deliver on the supply side, the least I can do is deliver on the customer side, and be a good one.