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The UC Alumni Career Network explores the future of travel

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If you’re typically a globe-trotter, the COVID-19 pandemic has likely been a challenge for you. It’s difficult to imagine what exploring the world will look like when coronavirus is behind us. The latest episode of the UC Alumni Career Network explores what’s in store for the future of travel, and what journeyers might expect.

This episode features Christy Dobbs (’92, UC Berkeley) and Melinda Yee Franklin (’85, UC San Diego). Professionally, Christy is a capacity builder at Helping You Help Animals in New Zealand. She’s an enthusiastic traveler who typically spends most of her year exploring the world; since the pandemic began, she’s stayed close to home to protect her health. Melinda is chair of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and managing director of corporate and government affairs at United Airlines. In this role, she is the external face of United Airlines in a large territory of Western states. Melinda has first-hand knowledge of the many ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting employees and travelers. Here’s what viewers learned.

Note that this conversation took place on Nov. 12, 2020. Please refer to the California Department of Health for current travel-related COVID-19 regulations and advice. 

What’s the general climate of the air travel industry right now?
Air travel is down about 60% domestically and 75% internationally (U.S. citizens are currently barred from entering many countries). Corporate travel is down 85%. The travel industry doesn’t anticipate that it will recover to pre-pandemic levels until between 2023 and 2025, due to vaccine availability, general economic recovery and anticipated changes to large-scale corporate events. Unfortunately, many airlines and other travel industries, including hospitality, have had to furlough thousands of workers due to lost business. Airlines are cutting costs dramatically — cutting expansions, working to manage debt and adjusting the frequency of routes based on varying demands.

For those of us who haven’t been on a plane since the pandemic began, how has flying changed?
Airlines are paying a lot of attention to minimizing travelers’ risk. Most of the check-in experience is now touchless and can be done on a phone, from making your reservation and checking in to printing a bag-tag. Planes are thoroughly cleaned to meet high health standards; United, which partners with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic, uses electrostatic spray guns and ultra-violet lights. Airlines are paying particular attention to air circulation throughout the flight experience, with HEPA filters that detain 97.97% of particles. Airports are trying to reduce the number of passengers in the terminal. Perhaps most significant is the mask policy — masks must be worn at all times in the airport and on the plane (except for when they are actively eating and drinking). Customers can be banned from the airline for failure to comply. Some, but not all, airlines leave middle seats open to allow for more space between passengers. And, many airlines are waiving flight change fees.

Is there anything I can do to make flying safer right now? Do I need an N-95 mask?
One of the best things you can do is turn on the air vent above your seat to improve the air circulation in your immediate space to maximize airflow. (Plan ahead and bring a sweater if you get cold easily.) In terms of masks, N-95s are known to be the most effective in general; if you have access to one, you might want the additional protection. That said, it’s a personal decision. If you have a long flight, you might want a more comfortable mask, since you will be wearing it for several hours and potentially sleeping in it.

What should I consider before I travel?
Make sure that you’re aware of travel regulations to the place you are visiting. U.S. citizens are not allowed to travel to some countries; some states, like Hawaii, require you to present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding. Before reserving travel, research COVID-19 information and restrictions at your destination. The U.S. Department of State is a great resource, as are airlines’ COVID-19 pages.

What’s safer — staying at a private home or a hotel?
It’s a toss-up. Hotels are following stringent cleaning standards. By staying in a private home, you have to put a little more trust in an individual’s willingness to implement and follow cleaning standards, but there may be fewer people around. (Either way, you might want to bring your own cleaning supplies to be extra safe.)

How are air miles programs being affected by the pandemic?
United and many other airlines are extending their loyalty programs to accommodate travelers who cannot fly during the pandemic. Check with your loyalty program for full details.

How are airlines working to support COVID-19 relief efforts?
United and other airlines are providing pro-bono transportation services — from shipping medical personal protective equipment (PPE) to transporting essential medical professionals domestically and globally. Through the California Social Bridging Project, run through Governor Newsom’s office, United employees are calling seniors to check in on their well-being.

Any other advice for travelers?
Whenever possible, book directly through the airline website. It can sometimes take longer to research flight prices than some of the airfare aggregators, but if you do have a travel-related issue, it’s almost always easier to modify your reservation when you book directly with the airline.

Save the date for our next episode — Navigating difficult conversations at work

On Jan. 21, 2021, join us from 12-1 p.m. for a question-and-answer-style webinar. We’ll offer advice on addressing difficult conversations at work, handling challenging topics or colleagues, and effective communication techniques to minimize conflict when differing ideas are offered. Register now to join us!

About the UC Alumni Career Network

The UC Alumni Career Network is a high-impact, online series designed to provide UC alumni and community members with the insights, information and connections to launch, grow and expand your career opportunities. Each month we’ll tackle a different career topic by providing you with insider tips and advice to help you make the most of your UC network. Join us online to gain the latest information and to ask questions relevant to your own professional journey.

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