By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
In March 2020, a work opportunity for Sheena Kaup would have meant she and her family would move half a world away from Pune, India to Seattle. It was a prospect that not only excited her and her husband, but their then 4-year-old son, too.
Like millions of people across the world, Kaup’s travel plans had to remain grounded due to the COVID-19 pandemic and new waves caused by variants. Traveling from India to the United States for work or to attend an emergency meant getting government approvals and going through the hoops of tests and certificates.
“We felt it wasn’t safe for us to travel in an enclosed space at that time in the pandemic, especially with a child,” Kaup said.
When flights resumed in November 2021, travelers were still required to wear masks while aboard an aircraft. But now with two children in tow, making the 20+ hour flight with masks was not something that Kaup thought the family could manage.
“I had to wait for almost two years to make the trip here thanks to visa processing times and pandemic restrictions,” Kaup said.
Then in April 2022, a federal judge in Florida overturned a CDC mandate requiring masks on planes and other modes of transport. The news came as a breath of fresh air for millions of travelers like Kaup and her family. The very same month, the Kaup family boarded their flight to Seattle.
She now hopes that her children get a chance to see their grandparents who may be able to come over in the summer.
“Right now, people aren’t really masking up on flights but our parents have been vaccinated and that makes us feel like traveling is safe now,” Kaup said. “I hope they can come visit us.”
Obviously, the travel industry on the whole heaved a sigh of relief, too. A recent Recovery Trend Report from Expedia Group showed that 2022 Q1 global search volume was up 25% quarter-over-quarter. Travelers in North America led this cohort accounting for 30% of these searches. This signaled a strong recovery for the travel industry.
Despite a slight uptick in COVID infections and hospitalization rates rising to 4.5 hospitalizations per 100,000 at the end of April, it seems like travelers, especially those from North America, are more optimistic about being able to travel in the future. In fact, Expedia Group points out in their report that North American travelers are looking for travel dates further out in the year compared to their counterparts in Asia.
This caution among Asian travelers resonates among those who live in the city, too. Take Christopher M. for instance.
While he lives and works in Bellevue, he loves being by the ocean. Not surprisingly, his family and friends live in Hawaii.
Throughout the pandemic, he had to cut down on trips back home.
“It wasn’t too difficult to do that because I knew it was for the greater good,” Christopher said.
“I didn’t want to inadvertently spread anything on the island, so I avoided all travel. I stayed away from Hawaii through the entire pandemic, until I’d been vaccinated and boosted.” He added, “I also made sure that anyone I was going to visit was also vaccinated.”
It also helped that the people he has been visiting have been wearing masks throughout the pandemic and that he spends most of his time while on the island outdoors and away from crowds.
With travel restrictions relaxed, Christopher feels relatively safe on a plane.
“I’ve only been traveling to Hawaii so far. I feel relatively safe there knowing that my friends and family have been vaccinated and boosted,” he said. However, he admits that he will continue to wear a mask while on a plane.
Christopher reveals that he would love to continue exploring though Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia next, but he’s holding back for now.
“I’m not necessarily concerned for myself,” he said. “I’ve still got a bit of paranoia that I’ll inadvertently spread something to these island nations that have been more isolated from visitors in the last couple years.”
Janice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.