HEBRON, Ky. — Travel is making a comeback — and fast!
As more Americans get vaccinated and restrictions lift, everyone from airlines to travel agents to hotels are seeing a rapid return to pre-pandemic levels. But some changes may be here to stay even when the COVID-19 virus is no longer a threat.
"It’s nice to get out of Texas for a little while," said Chris Burt, of Austin, who recently traveled through Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. "My wife's been here for a work conference. I had never been to Cincinnati, so I thought I’d come along."
"I feel safe, because I’m vaccinated," said Jonathan Bernstein as he picked up his luggage after the Independence Day holiday. "We were in Virginia for a wedding, and it was a nice event because we were able to get together in a larger crowd without masks and celebrate a nice occasion."
According to a CVG spokesperson, the airport is seeing about 80 percent of the business it saw at this time in 2019.
"There’s a lot of pent-up demand," said spokesperson Mindy Kershner. "That, and new airlines and new routes."
While air travel is returning to normal, AAAreports most Americans are choosing to get in the car this summer and fall. The motor club said 95 percent of travelers are driving right now.
"Road trips are the preferred method of travel still," said spokesperson Jenifer Moore. "There are a lot of people that want to go to the beach, so the eastern coast is very, very popular with our travelers here in the Tri-State area, as well as the national parks."
First, expect to wear a mask, depending on your mode of transportation. Federal mask mandates remain in effect for airports, aircraft, rail systems and buses until September 13.
To get ready for whatever type of trip you're planning, all experts recommend doing a bit of research on your destination.
The vast majority of restrictions have been rescinded in the United States. AAA maintains a searchable nationwide map of restrictions.
The US border with Canadaremains closed to tourists until at least July 21. But other countries vary widely.
CVG officials recommend checking directly with an airline about international destinations, as restrictions are changing quickly. But Delta currently has an interactive map highlighting each country's restrictions.
As of early July 2021, most of Europe is open to travelers who can prove full vaccination or a negative PCR test. Many South American and Caribbean countries are the same way, but some – like Antigua and St. Lucia – still require proof of a negative test even from fully vaccinated travelers.
Regardless of where you're headed and vaccination status, expect to show proof of a negative test to return to the States. The CDC says the test must happen no more than 3 days before your return.
Some things will last
Once you're at your destination, the changes you notice now may outlive the pandemic.
Hotel chain Hilton has announced some lasting changes to how it operates. They range from continued expansion of its Digital Key technology to allow contactless check-in and check-out, to redesigned lobbies for built-in distancing and making spaces more flexible.
Hilton adds it will focus on what it calls "transparency in cleaning," meaning more visibility in housekeeping. But it also means flexibility in when and what gets cleaned, based on guest preference.
A new report from the hospitality workers union Unite Here claims up to 39 percent of housekeeping jobs could be lost if pandemic-related changes become permanent.
Unite Here - Playing Dirty Report by WCPO 9 News on Scribd
"The hotel industry is trying to get back to full occupancy without ever bringing back its full workforce," said D. Taylor, the union's international president, in a news release. "Housekeeping jobs are the backbone of the service economy, and taking these jobs away means that many working families and especially communities of color might never recover."
WCPO reached out to Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG to ask about what changes may outlast the pandemic, but hadn't heard back as of July 7.
Feels good to be back
The Independence Day holiday weekend brought a big return to travel. In fact, TSA numbers show that it screened more passengers on both July 1 and July 2 of this year than it did on the same days in 2019.
AAA reports its travel agents have seen steady increases since January, and are now getting requests for help planning into 2022.
CVG has continued to add flights to existing airlines — and to bring new airlines onboard.
"A lot of airlines are getting creative with the destinations they're serving and adding leisure routes," said Kershner. "They're deciding where to put those aircraft, and we have a lot to offer."
For travelers like Jonathan Bernstein, it's all good news.
"We’ve kind of made the turn," he said. "I don’t think it’s over, but I think we’ve made much progress and we can start normalizing things again."
Once-popular direct flights, like the Delta flight to Paris, are expected to return in the fall.