The Next Challenge is Making Domestic Flights Even Safer | TravelResearchOnline

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The Next Challenge is Making Domestic Flights Even Safer

Passengers are tired of seeing ads and press releases that praise airline ventilation systems for being so effective. Ventilation systems won’t help if there are infected persons, who aren’t showing symptoms, on the flight along with others who are unvaccinated and untested. All will be at risk if they share armrests, bathrooms, access the same luggage compartments, and eat and drink unmasked. Also, no one knows how long vaccinated fliers will be protected, especially against new virus strains. That’s why the CDC urges fliers not to fly until they’re vaccinated, and has started to mention booster shots. There is evidence that clients agree with this advice.

In a recent survey of nearly 2,800 clients, Travel Leaders Network, a North American consortium of travel advisers, found that those who are vaccinated are 20 percent more likely than their unvaccinated peers to have a vacation booked.” (New York Times)

 

 

Some wonder why the CDC has endorsed vaccines as being highly effective, while discouraging people from flying unless the flights are necessary. The answer is simple: When the CDC advises against flying, despite just ruling that vaccines make flying safe, they’re concerned about unvaxed passengers on the plane infecting other unvaccinated fliers and—more importantly—spreading infections from place to place.

The CDC’s concerns about flying relate mainly to domestic flights. Most international flights already require vaccinations or recent negative tests for everyone. Every day, it seems, more nations join the list of places where only vaccinated or people who have recently tested negative are welcome. On the way home, the CDC requires that everyone is tested (even if they are vaccinated) in the nation from which they’re leaving.

Nearly all the nations that have come close to eradicating COVID-19 have done it by stopping the disease’s spread. That’s why Australia, whose infection and death rates have approached zero since mid-January, will still not permit its residents to enter or leave the country, except for special circumstances. The Aussies have nearly stopped the coronavirus with brute force. Less than 3% of the residents are vaccinated vs. 30% of Americans who have had at least one shot.

In Australia, before the infection rates dropped so low after a 2020 Christmas surge, the health regs prevented residents from driving, flying, or taking trains or buses from one city to another. Sydney (Queensland) and Perth (Western Australia) were among the places that were out-of-bounds. Brisbane was locked down tightly for three days because of a single case of COVID-19. Epidemiologists traced nearly all instances of COVID-19 infections to Aussies returning from abroad.

Australia and the United States are about the same size. Prohibiting Sydney residents from flying to Perth is no different than preventing New Yorkers from flying to Los Angeles. Limiting the spread by restricting travel has permitted Aussies: not having to wear masks in stores, most business other than international tourism reopening, and few acute medical equipment shortages.

In the US, we’re trying to gain a grip on the virus by vaccinating as many people as possible in the next six months, before kids return for a full year of school. The fear is that if we delay getting everyone vaccinated, even deadlier variants of the virus will emerge. We are second only to Israel in our vaccination rate. The Pfizer vaccine has now been tested successfully on children as young as 12, and vaccine trials will try to reduce the minimum vaccination age to three. A new variant of coronavirus, the B117 strain, has started attacking American children. Although this strain is still rare, it adds to health officials’ wanting to move up vaccinations for as many children as possible. As more adults are vaccinated, we will shortly be swimming in a sea of vaccines. If things work out well, we may be able to reach the goal of vaccinating middle school and high school students by fall. This will go a long way towards achieving herd immunity and safeguarding schools and children’s families.

Cruise lines have started to board US passengers in Israel, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and Greece; thus avoiding regulations set by the CDC. The host nations are requiring that all guests and crew members be vaccinated or test negative before the cruise begins. If guests opt for testing, they may also be required to test negative not only before embarking, but in every port, and before their flights home take off.

The one break in the chain occurs if passengers take domestic flights before or after their international flights. The domestic flights do not require vaccinations or testing, putting the entire system at risk. These flights can spread infections in airports and communities throughout the United States. Because no one knows how long the different brands of vaccines will remain effective, especially with people who suffer from other ailments, many vaccinated fliers will be wary of flights on which anyone is unvaccinated.

Suppose travelers can’t find domestic flights that require vaccinations or negative tests from everyone? Many of these fliers may—once again—shift their deposits to cruises that are further out or cancel them entirely. The result may be some travel advisors enduring another year of unpaid labor. The airlines will also suffer, since every canceled cruise or resort stay results in guests not buying flights.

We can’t afford to lose more fliers. TSA is only processing 65% of the number of fliers they approved each day in 2019. We can probably reverse this trend by vaccinating everyone on every flight, or requiring a negative COVID-19 test a few days before their flights takes off.

If the CDC/ FAA can require masks on all flights and tests on all returning international flights, they should be able to require vaccinations or tests for everyone flying in US airspace. Or the President can probably do this with an Executive Order.

Gillian Brockell wrote an article published in The Washington Post last week describing how the US Supreme Court has supported mandatory smallpox vaccinations for more than a century; in one case, ruling that ‘Public health can supersede individual rights.’

Requiring vaccinations on all flights is a win/win situation.

  • Domestic airlines’ bookings will likely rise dramatically, without the airlines being the bad guys: “Sorry, the feds made us do it.
  • Flight crews and ramp agents will not have to enforce the new requirements. The TSA will verify that everyone is vaccinated or tested before they can proceed to the gate areas.
  • Passengers (notably the 70% of already vaccinated seniors) will fly with less trepidation and be much less likely to cancel the reservations they made for flights, cruises, resorts, and hotels.
  • Cities and states will see their COVID-19 cases and deaths fall, and businesses prosper.
  • Other nations will be much more likely to welcome our travelers when they know that their flights only included vaccinated or tested fliers.

Naysayers will say this is another example of Big Government and the Nanny State. The fact remains that there are many more people supporting vaccinations and tests on all flights than people who will not fly if this kind of regulation becomes law. Look at the feedback the CDC received after they required returning international fliers to test. It generated far more praise than objections.

Also, realize that vaccinations and tests are not equivalent to each other. Vaccinations are much more reliable, and they cost less than repeated tests. However, until we can vaccinate everyone safely, testing is an acceptable stand-in.

While enormous challenges exist in getting everything working correctly by summer, we recently have overcome even more significant challenges. Laminate your vaccination card or latest test results. Until virtual vaccine passports are issued, it’s the best proof you’ve earned the privilege of flying in the United States and to other nations.

 

BREAKING NEWS

As this was being edited on Monday, April 5, two major events occurred. First, New York State announced that the eagerly awaited Digital Health Pass, that was developed by IBM, is now available to New York residents. “It is designed to enable the secure verification of health credentials, such as test results and vaccination records, without the need to share underlying medical and personal information. The technology is flexible and built to scale, allowing other states to join. The pass can also be printed and is complementary to other types of proof that patrons can use. The Excelsior Pass Wallet app is available for both Android and for IOS”

It will be used first to handle admissions to Madison Square Garden events and smaller arts, entertainment and event venues, and undoubtedly in top restaurants and bars as well. According to reports, this app was designed from the ground up to handle travel as well. There’s no reason it can’t begin to be used by airlines and cruise ships within a month or two with IBM techies smoothing the way.

Second, Norwegian Cruise Lines has just offered to have all of its ships (including those of Oceania and Regent) limited to “fully-vaccinated individuals,” if the CDC permits them to start cruising from American ports by July 4, 2021. If the offer is accepted, Royal Caribbean and Carnival are sure to follow. The NCL offer specifically states than children will have to be vaccinated too, and the offer does not extend to anyone who just tests negative:

“We look forward to the day when we can safely welcome onboard our ships minors who have not yet been eligible to be vaccinated, when the public health environment allows us to modify our protocols accordingly,” the company said.

Given their huge investment in megaships, NCL probably anticipates that at least older children will be able to get vaccinated by summer. If all cruise lines and international flights require vaccinations, domestic flights will have to follow their lead. They will permit, however, people who test negative to fly—at least for a few months.

 


Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have cruised on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships. He writes a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s read by more than 80,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the founder of Cruises & Cameras Travel Services, LLC. He has been recognized as a “2021 Top Travel Specialist” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and a “Travel Expert Select “by the Signature Travel Network. His specialties are luxury small-ship cruises and COVID-19 safety measures, and has a doctorate in Educational Research with minors in Marketing and Quantitative Business Analysis. He’s also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he managed qualitative and quantitative research in the private & public sectors. He’s a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has written 13 books and hundreds of articles. His email address is steve@sruisesandcameras.com.

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