By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Fear and worry make me think twice about exploring strange lands, when the coronavirus kicked in this year, killing even the strong, good, and young.
Where can I visit that is safe? Countries that have tamed COVID-19 and reopened have banned travelers from the United States. The U.S. passport, once a gateway to the world, is now not welcome. Some countries, which didn’t require Americans to apply for visas to visit before COVID, now require them. Who can blame them? Many Americans are still not taking the virus seriously, not wearing masks and not social distancing—behaviors leading to spikes in infections.
You can’t even visit our neighbor to the north, Canada. What about Mexico? Don’t they love American tourists and our money? “Travelers may experience significant delays and face the possibility of being returned to the United States or quarantined in Mexico,” states the website for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.
The two-week quarantine requirement in several countries for tourists would be a huge hurdle for me. By the time I fulfill the quarantine, my vacation time is gone.
Being isolated in a foreign country is similar to being locked in a prison. Food is delivered to your room. And don’t expect a steak. You get sandwiches, meal after meal, according to my former high school classmate, who was locked down inside the Diamond Princess Cruise in February for weeks after 700 people got infected.
What were once our favorite getaways, cruises are now being cast as being trapped in hell holes, leaving passengers with miserable experiences. What’s the point of traveling when you have to deal with unexpected traumas and risks?
The other night, my husband dreamed about flying on a plane. Yes, we can dream about it, but seriously, do I really want to get on the plane now and fly to Michigan for instance? No and yes. I love to travel, though.
I do feel terrible for airlines, seeing their fortunes tumble and thousands of jobs being lost. It could last for a while. COVID has made several industries rethink how and what they can do to improve sanitary conditions and air circulation.
But the real difficulty on the plane is, you cannot practice social distancing at all. If an airline sells only 60% of its seats, can it survive or make any profit? Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska Airlines do not sell its middle seats, but it’s still not wide enough for six feet of social distancing in the economy section.
I have traveled a lot in the past 22 years, and witnessed sloppiness on the plane.
My friends have shared stories of blankets and pillow cases not cleaned, and garbage left from the previous passenger in business class. Now, airlines are working hard to change their cleaning process.
It is also troubling that some passengers defy the mask policy, and some flight attendants don’t say anything about it. Alaska Air announced on Aug. 5 that masks would be mandatory, effective on Aug. 12.
My brother has been flying back and forth between Texas and California to see his grandchildren. To him, it’s not an issue. He feels comfortable flying. His advice is not to use the plane’s toilet. He went to the airport’s restroom before he boarded the plane.
“I wear my mask on the plane all the time,” he said. It can work for a short flight. What if I have to fly a long flight to Asia and Europe? Never mind, Europe doesn’t want any American tourists. Only one Asian country welcomes us with open arms, Cambodia.
My niece and her husband flew to Australia via a transfer in Singapore on Mar. 10, the day before its government imposed quarantine requirements for tourists. On the transfer flights from Singapore to Australia and vice versa, the plane was mostly empty.
She said the flight was fine, and everyone wore masks. She brought wipes and sanitizers to clean her plane seat before she sat on it. During meals, people took off their masks, that was OK too, she said, as she and her husband came home safe.
It’s not just the trip to your destination and all the safety measures you need. What about safety issues during your trip, the return flight, and after the trip?
It’s a tough lesson not only for travelers, but for the families at home. My son and daughter-in-law traveled to the Middle East in late February in the middle of the pandemic. He agonized over whether he should go or cancel his trip. He decided to go. However, he never stopped worrying about the status of COVID during the trip, while I was stressed at home constantly for their safety. They feared that they might not be able to return home as infection rates soared all over the world, so they ended up canceling the last and possibly the best part of their trip, Egypt.
Changing their flight itinerary cost a pretty penny. My husband and I begged them to do so and even offered to pay for the penalty. All of us were so relieved when they were finally home and earlier than expected.
Immediately, they self-quarantined for 14 days. My son sneaked in to work only after everyone had left the office. He wouldn’t allow us to hug him even though I hadn’t seen him for weeks. Travelers were careful to avoid other people after returning home in case they were asymptomatic. So there are multiple emotional tolls for travelers during the pandemic.
There might be some alternatives if you are fed up with being locked down. It is hard for families with little kids to be homebound during the summer. Travel domestically around Washington state or in the United States. RV sales have gone up. You can even rent a camper to travel around the state. Even in the United States, as many as 30 states, including Washington, are high-risk areas for COVID-19. Is it worthwhile for a trip if you have to do so much more preparation?
My friend, who just drove to Lake Chelan from Seattle, said she brought many things along for her five-day trip, including sanitizers, wipes, and food. She didn’t want the hassle of going into stores to buy food all the time. Although she said the hotel was cleaned, she had probably cleaned much of the room before she and her husband used it. A recent New York Times story on travel suggested folks bring their own pillows. A good idea.
Ultimately, it’s unwise to travel during a global health crisis, no matter how much I want to. Friends who have booked trips this year before the pandemic have all had to cancel.
I am not restless despite trips not being on my radar this year. Instead, I reminisce about all the cherished memories of previous trips. I feel immense gratitude and contentment that I have already visited 44 countries, plus territories and islands all over the world.
“Please don’t complain that you stay home everyday,” my best friend WhatsApped me recently. How did she read my mind? “Be grateful that you are safe at home and not in a hospital,” she said.
There is an option, my husband joked, “Travel through YouTube.” For this year, maybe!
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.
Alaska makes changes on masks, safety, and social distancing.
What safety measures have Alaska implemented to deal with the pandemic?
We’ve thought through every single stage of the travel experience, from booking to boarding and beyond, and have implemented nearly 100 ways to keep guests safe when they fly with us.
Drawing on the expertise of the University of Washington Medical Center’s medical and infectious disease experts, Next-Level Care is our commitment to keeping you healthy and safe. Flyers must sign-off on a health agreement at check-in to acknowledge and attest to their willingness to adhere to the mask requirement. Other layers of safety include physical distancing onboard with blocked middle seats on mainline flights through Oct. 31; enhanced cleaning of our planes between every flight; hospital-grade HEPA air filters; an air filtration system that brings fresh, outside air into the cabin every three minutes; reduced onboard service to reduce interactions; and hand-sanitizing wipes for guests onboard.
The Seattle Times had a story about passengers not wearing masks on your airline and flight attendants let them. What’s your response?
Effective Aug. 12, all Alaska passengers will be required to wear a fabric mask or face covering over their nose and mouth (except for children under the age of two)—with no exceptions. If it’s not worn, the offending passenger will not be allowed to fly on an Alaska flight.
If a passenger is unable to wear a mask or face covering for any reason, Alaska regretfully will be unable to provide them with travel. The heightened policy at Alaska will remain in effect as long as public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasizes the necessity of wearing masks and face coverings in public places. In late June, Alaska empowered its flight attendants to issue a final notice to any guest—in the form of a yellow card handed to them—who repeatedly disregards or disobeys the requirement to wear a mask or face covering. If the guest does not comply during the flight after receiving the yellow card, his or her travel with Alaska will be suspended immediately upon landing.
What’s your social distancing policy on the flight?
We’re blocking middle seats on our mainline flights and limiting the number of guests on our flights. Gate agents may reassign seats to create more space between guests or to seat families together.