No Thanksgiving travel, but looking at the travel volume for this, the busiest travel week of the year, shows just how far things have fallen. The Qantas CEO said “No vax, no fly”, so we dig into the emerging world of digital vaccine passports. And then I trace my travel genealogy, wondering if road warrior-ism is hereditary. All this and more – click here to download the podcast file, go over to the Subscribe section on the right to subscribe on your favorite site, or listen right here by clicking on the arrow below.
Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #170:
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you again from the TravelCommons studio in Chicago, Illinois. And again, no travel since the last episode. Not too surprising given the way things are going right now. Back in April, I’d jumped on one of those smokin’ American Airlines’ promotions to book flights to London for Thanksgiving. Which then — not surprisingly — got cancelled at the beginning of September. So I was back to what has been my typical Thanksgiving travel pattern for the past 10-15 years — staying at home to avoid the crowds on what is always the busiest travel week of the year. PK — pre-kids — Irene and I would always travel over the holidays, splitting Thanksgiving and Christmas between my family in Southern California and hers in Chicago. But post-kids — which is also PK, so I guess it should be AK — after kids — we started staying at home. And I’d figure out how to “ground” myself from business travel also. I found that the challenge of holiday travel wasn’t necessarily the crowds; it’s the make-up of the crowds; what some road warriors might call “clueless” travelers. I think “amateur” is certainly a more charitable and probably more accurate term. Even more so this year with so many road warriors out of practice after being off the road since March. Lots of those folks definitely in danger of losing their “professional” traveler status.
- I saw an interesting graph the other day comparing last year’s and this year’s day-by-day airport travel volumes over the Thanksgiving weekend. No surprises comparing the Wednesday travel volumes, what is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year. Last year’s Wednesday saw 2.6 million passengers, almost 2½ times busier than this year. I expected that. But what really caught my eye was that this year’s peak day — Sunday at about 1.2 million — was still a lot less than last year’s slowest day, Thanksgiving, at about 1.6 million. I didn’t travel last year at Thanksgiving, but did in 2018. Irene and I broke our no-travel rule and flew down to Santa Fe, NM on Thanksgiving Day. Back in episode #147, I said that Thanksgiving Day flight was one of the least stressful travel experiences I’d ever had — no traffic on the drive to ORD, no lines. The TSA agents were hanging around just looking for people to screen. And that day, there were around 25% more people in airports than this year’s busiest day. I shouldn’t be surprised, but all the pictures I saw in the news coverage made it look like airports were a lot more crowded.
- Our apartment is just south of one of the northern approaches to ORD. Flights from the east come in over the lake — seats A, B, and C get a great view of the city skyline while seats D, E, and F get to look down into Wrigley Field — then over the northwest side of the city, landing on one of the runways north of the terminal. I’ve always been impressed by the choreography of ORD. On a clear Friday afternoon, driving up the tollway that runs east of the airport, I’d see planes on parallel approaches landing simultaneously — one to the north of the terminal and one to the south — and looking up, see the lights of planes on approach behind them — 2, 3, 4…. Back in April, during Chicago’s lockdown, I’d sit out on the rooftop deck — because what else was I going to do? — and maybe see one plane coming in over the lake on that approach. But now I’m seeing more planes — sometimes 3, 4 in a row. Don’t know that they’re all carrying passengers — some could be temporary cargo carriers taking some of that e-commerce money, with boxes instead of seats under the overhead bins. But I can feel travel starting to pick up. It could be a tough winter, but I’m trying to look out over the horizon a bit; trying to look forward to spring.
- Bridge Music — Leviathan by Kirkoid (c) copyright 2011 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Kirkoid/31109
- TravelCommons contributor Allan Marko commented on my little lockdown game with my Google Mini — changing the voice to, say, an English accent and then asking about the weather in London. Allan wrote:
- I often change the Siri voice for a bit of variety. Currently “Australian Female” is providing my CarPlay directions. you can also ask Siri to “Play TravelCommons”…
- Which immediately got me digging into Siri’s settings, looking for the Voice options. I found I had a choice of American, Australian, British, Indian, Irish, and South African. Since I’d already used the first three with my Google Mini, it was between the last three. I chose Irish for now, but will probably switch to South African before the end of the month. Actually, Waze, the nav app, always impressed me with the number of voice and language options. Every once in a while, I switch Irene’s Waze over to Hungarian before she’s heading out somewhere. For some reason, I get more of a laugh out of it than she does.
- TravelCommons listener Dan Grabon and I have been trading notes as we’ve each slogged through Thoreau’s Walden. We both started it back in April, in the height of the lockdown. Everybody was deciding that, with nothing much else to do, it was a good time to pick up that classic you’ve always been meaning to get to. Dan started out with The Brothers Karamazov, which I thought was damned impressive. I first reached for Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, but then thought I needed something a bit more down-to-earth, something that wouldn’t need quite that level of interpretation and abstract thinking. And Walden, about Thoreau’s self-isolation in the woods outside of Concord, MA, seemed a better fit with the lockdown. Dan finished last month, at the beginning of November. I was 50 pages behind, so I didn’t finish ‘til Thanksgiving — it was tough cutting through the tryptophan fog, but I gutted it through. Dan said he was staying with Thoreau, moving onto Civil Disobedience before shelving the book. I pivoted to non-fiction, Why We Sleep, where a neuroscientist and sleep expert spends some 300+ pages saying “If you don’t sleep 8 hours, you’re killing yourself” which got me doing some mental math. Between jet lag from all the international flights and waking up at 4am to make 6am flights to LGA, I’ve probably dropped 5 years off my life. Though, given some dementia running through my family history, I might not have remembered those years anyways.
- And I show up on the other side of the mic talking travel pro tips with Matt Wilson on his Millennial Travel Podcast. I’m trying to remember when we recorded this — had to be pre-April 2019 because I was still in the suburban TravelCommons studio and Matt was hanging out down in Costa Rica. The connection fuzzes out now and again, but it was a fun conversation. I’ll put a link in the episode in the show notes but fair warning — it’s mostly me rattling on for an hour. Listening back to it, I’m kinda embarrassed that I don’t give Matt much of a chance to get a word in edgewise.
- In the last episode, I talked about the work-from-hotel offerings from Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt. They all had their own twists, but Hyatt’s was the most unique in that their “Work from Hyatt” offer was resort-focused and had a 7-night minimum. I said it wasn’t so much a WeWork replacement as a digital nomad trial. Well, I’m guessing that they didn’t get much uptake on it because I just got another email from Hyatt with a new offering — “Office for the Day” — that pretty much matches Marriott’s Day Pass. Like I said last month, these offerings all feel a bit “toe in the water”, a bit opportunistic. And now that we’re starting to get better visibility into post-vaccine timelines, I wonder how long they’ll last — will people still want to pay to work in a hotel room after all the Starbucks stores have reopened.
- I’ve talked in past episodes about how I’m a bit of a knuckle-dragger regarding printed travel guides. I still find a physical book useful when traveling. But I’ve been wondering how quickly these physical guides will be able to push out post-COVID editions to reflect the closures of bars, restaurants, and independent shops they’ve recommended. I was running through my own Chicago recommendation list from 2019. A bunch of my favorite places have closed; it’s about an even split between “Closed forever, good-bye, we’ve taken down our sign” and “Closed until Spring… we hope.” The final proofs of the 2021 editions have to already be baked if not already at the printers. I dunno, maybe they’ll all post errata pages that you can download, print off, and then stick in your books.
- In a massive intersection of all things social media, I posted a CNN article on the TravelCommons Facebook page that a friend, a hotel company CIO, sent me on LinkedIn that showed TikTok videos of people cooking meals in hotel rooms using an iron for a griddle, a hot water kettle for a steamer, a pants presser as an oven, and the one that really wowed me — a coffee maker as a sous vide water bath. I don’t know if I should be impressed by the ingenuity or looking to set up as a ghost kitchen/delivery service wherever they are because I’ve never seen anyone go to that extent to cook their own meal in a hotel room. Even guys I knew trying to squeeze the last pennies out of their per diems wouldn’t do much more than boil water for their Cup O’Noodles or work hard not to burn their microwave popcorn. I’ll also put a link in the show notes to the TikTok account of one of the guys, Jago Randles. His TikTok series, Isolation Kitchen, has about 150,000 followers. He does some impressive stuff. But I will make sure, going forward, that I rinse out the coffee maker and wipe down the iron before using them.
- For many frequent travelers, a key early milestone of the pandemic was when airlines and hotels gave them a year’s push on their status — moving the expiration date from Jan 2021 to Jan 2022. Big sigh of relief. Then for Southwest fliers, another milestone — drink coupon expiration dates all got pushed to the end of this year. Whew! All’s right in the traveling world. But a couple of days ago, I was rummaging around in my messenger bag and out tumbled 5 Southwest drink coupons — one with a Sept expiration date; the rest, December 31. Look Southwest, I don’t want to seem greedy. I did get a year’s push on A-List and 6 months on Companion Pass. But I’d love you even more if you gave me another 6 months on those drink coupons. Nope, don’t say anything now; just think about it.
- And if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along to email@example.com — you can send a Twitter message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or our Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can post comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
- Bridge music — Ethereal (nop mix) by @nop (c) copyright 2011 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Lancefield/34818
Prove My Vax So I Can Fly
- Last month, I saw that quote from the Qantas CEO — “We will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft” — and thought, well it’s kinda the next logical step from Delta’s ATL-Rome and United’s EWR-LHR flights were you have to take COVID test and prove you’re negative before you can board.
- I remember going to a travel clinic before my first flight to India; getting shot up with MMR, DTP, Hepatitis, and Typhoid vaccines and being given my Yellow Card — officially my International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis — listing all my shots. They told me to carry that with me to India, which I did and to Vietnam and Thailand and Singapore and China. No one ever asked to see it, not in an airport, an immigration line, a hotel,…. It looks like the plans are that we’ll get a vaccination card from the CDC after receiving the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. But that card isn’t meant as a validated proof of vaccination; it’s more of a reminder to go back in a couple of weeks for the second shot.
- That handwritten piece of paper probably won’t pass muster at the Qantas boarding gate, and so that’s why we’re starting to see a bit of a vaccine passport app land grab going on. United has been testing the CommonPass app on their COVID-free EWR-LHR flight. You get your COVID test at the United Club near gate C93 and the results are uploaded into the app which then will display a QR code to the gate agent. CommonPass is being spun up with support from the World Economic Forum. Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, SwissAir, and JetBlue also have plans to use it. Delta and Alitalia are trialing the AOKPass developed by the Int’l Chamber of Commerce on their COVID-free ATL-Rome flight. It uses blockchain for medical certificate storage, so bonus points to them in technology buzzword bingo. IATA, the Int’l Air Transport Association, an airline trade group, says they’re finishing up their app, Travel Pass, and will be piloting it with IAG, the parent of British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus, in early 2021. And the World Health Organization says they’re looking at Estonia’s e-vaccination certificates as the basis of a sort of “smart” Yellow Card app.
- I’m sure I’m missing a whole lot more; I just got tired of reading the same rehashed press release verbiage about secure and verifiable storage of health certifications. Going through this, it starts to feel like the health equivalent of those scooter apps, where I need half-a-dozen of them on my phone so I can rent the closest scooter to me. Unless someone blinks, it seems like I’ll need 3 or 4 of these vaccine passports to cover all my travel bases. But after reading through all the press releases and the infographics and the FAQs, none of these apps were real clear on how I get my physical CDC vaccine card into their digital storage vault. And I’m guessing that doctors and clinics are going to be more focused on taking care of patients and keeping their COVID vaccines cold, and not all that interested in entering my vaccination information into all those apps. Maybe Australia is further ahead with electronic health records, but I’m thinking, at least for the next year or so, that my CDC card is gonna be the best that Qantas and the gang are going to get.
- Bridge music — My Flaming Heart by Wired Ant (c) copyright 2012 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Wired_Ant/36862 Ft: Javolenus
Hereditary Road Warriors
- I was reading some research, as one does during a lockdown advisory when one gets caught up running down a clickhole, about jobs running in the family. Some of the stats — a son with a military father is 5 times more likely to enlist himself while if his mother is a lawyer, he’s 6.6 times more likely to follow her to the bar; a daughter with a scientist father is almost 4 times more likely to be a scientist. Indeed, when I was deciding my college major, I was leaning toward chemistry but chose chemical engineering mostly because my grandfather and father were both engineers.
- Which got me thinking — does traveling — careers that require frequent traveling — run in the family? Again, looking back on my family, my grandfather traveled a lot when he worked for Sears, checking out vendors for hard goods — tools, small machinery — and working with them on new products. My dad designed farm machinery — things like hay balers and cotton pickers — for International Harvester. He’d often be on the road for weeks at a time, testing prototypes at farms around the country, looking for different crop and field conditions, and then at plants helping to set up the manufacturing lines for the finished machine. And so I grew up seeing that rhythm of travel — Dad at home, Dad packing, saying good-bye, and then getting on with our lives until he came back. This was back in the late ‘60’s and into the 70’s, so no cheap long-distance let alone messaging or email or video calls. He was gone, with the exception of a postcard or two, until he came back.
- And then when I joined the workforce, the first day of my first real job out of school, I got on a plane and made the first of what’s been hundreds of flights between ORD and DFW. So many that, pretty soon, I got to know the women working the front desk at the DFW Admirals Club. One morning, one of them asks me if I’d maybe like to meet her daughter. Awkward. I asked her, “Would you want your daughter dating someone who’s out of town as much as I am?” She paused for a moment and then said, “No, not really”.
- Also around this time, my dad had gotten promoted past the level of going out to the field and so was traveling a lot less. But my mother took a purchasing executive role and with that, the need for a lot of travel to vendors. So while travel was generational/ “hereditary” from my father to me, my mother and I started road warrior-ing at the same time, so we were more like travel “siblings” — comparing hotel notes, competing on frequent flier status and perks.
- Will traveling for a living continue to a 4th generation? Tough to tell right now; both kids measure their commute in feet rather than miles during the lockdown, and friends running consulting operations tell me the current state is great for staff productivity — an hour sales call takes an hour, rather than a day’s worth of travel for that hour, and working remotely with clients saves the client money and consultants don’t get burnt out trying to balance work and home needs. As I said back in the March and July episodes, I don’t buy that 100% remote is the “new normal”, but I also don’t believe it will snap back to 2019 levels, not after what will have been a year’s-plus time working out the mechanics of virtual working. But will there be another generation of road warriors in my family? It’ll probably take a couple of years to figure that out.
- Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #170
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