For the past 19 months, the task of making travel plans has been riddled with uncertainty, as COVID-19 infection has waxed and waned in various places around the world. Even with more than 57% of the U.S. population being fully vaccinated, fluctuating travel restrictions and case counts around the globe can render travel plans tentative, at best.
The pandemic has also given rise to other obstacles indirectly, such as increasing travel costs, staffing shortages at airports, an unprecedented number of unruly airplane passengers, and the need to locate and schedule requisite testing to enter your destination and to return to the U.S.
Understandably, all this has led to some common anxieties among travelers, especially heading into the busy holiday season when many will be trying to reconnect with family members they couldn’t visit last year.
A new survey conducted by travel organizer app TripIt from Concur sought to determine what factors are weighing most heavily on American travelers’ minds at this point in the pandemic. In July, participants were asked, “Which of the following aspects of travel, if any, will concern you the most the next time you travel?” and were able to select up to three items.
Over one-third (39%) of respondents said that the aspect of their next trip that worried them most was “overcrowding and long lines.” The other selections ranked as follows:
—Staying up-to-date on travel restrictions: 36%.
—Unruly passengers: 29%.
—Dealing with airport logistics: 23%.
—Understanding vaccine/infection rates: 19%.
—Uncertainty regarding vaccination rules: 18%.
—Knowing how to cancel or rebook: 17%.
—Scheduling a COVID-19 test: 13%.
—I will not be concerned: 18%.
Overcrowding has become a serious issue for the sector in 2021, as people who’d been pent-up at home the previous year began making up for the vacations they’d missed in 2020. The dramatic increase in the number of workers who transitioned to remote positions during the pandemic also fueled a rise in bleisure (business and leisure) travel, as they found they could work from anywhere and balance free time with office hours.
In certain instances, 2021 travel figures have surpassed not just those seen in 2020, but also 2019 levels. The Fourth of July holiday saw more than 2.14 million people screened through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints, 103% of the number screened on the Thursday of the same holiday weekend in 2019.
With Americans continuing to seek outdoor and socially distanced trip locations, U.S. national parks have hosted a record number of visitors in 2021, so much so that reservation systems have been implemented and concerns have arisen about the parks’ ability to maintain the integrity of their protected lands.
With the end-of-year holidays coming up, overcrowding and long lines are likely to remain an ongoing reality at airports — and in some destinations that used to be considered remote or isolated.
In its report, NerdWallet presented some key advice for surviving long lines and overcrowding on your next trip.
—Apply for TSA PreCheck: It’ll get you through TSA airport security checkpoints at lightning speed. The TSA reported that 96% of PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in August 2021. You’ll have to apply online, conduct a short in-person interview and pay an $85 application fee for a five-year membership.
—Pack light: If you’re able to fit everything you need in just your carry-on bag and one personal item, you’ll be able to skip the lines, hassle and fees at the baggage counter.
—Rely on your smartphone: Many hospitality companies have implemented apps to take care of hotel check-in and check-out, to serve as your room key and more. At the airport, you can avoid the check-in counter if you’re able to bring up your boarding pass on your phone. And, amid your travels, most restaurants now have an order-ahead option available on their websites, so you won’t have to stand in line waiting to order.