Which parts of travel weren't changed by COVID-19? The quality of airline and hotel service

·6 min read

Some things never change. Even in travel. Yes, even during a pandemic.

You're probably a little weary of all the headlines proclaiming that COVID-19 has changed our lives forever. So maybe it's comforting to know that the travel industry is the same as ever – for better or worse.

By "better" I mean that some of the positive aspects of travel have also remained constant. And by "worse," I mean that some parts of air travel and hotel accommodations have stubbornly stayed the same, despite all the promises. Taking inventory of these permanent aspects could help you plan your next trip.

Airlines lose some fees but keep the bad service

Airlines made a big deal when they dropped some – but not all – of their ticket change fees at the start of the pandemic. They didn't mention that these fees were unconscionable to begin with, or that the airlines were receiving generous federal aid ($80 billion and counting).

Rick Versace, a frequent air traveler who is the CEO of an airport limousine service, says that while he appreciates the removal of airline fees, flying remains a "cattle call."

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"Airports are jam-packed, and the flight attendants and ground crew are overworked and exasperated," he adds.

Sounds a lot like flying before the pandemic, doesn't it?

By the way, don't take your eye off the airlines. It won't be long before they quietly reintroduce all those fees. It's a heck of a way to say "thank you" for all that taxpayer support during the pandemic.

Hotels aren't 'COVID clean'

Hotels would like you to believe that their rooms are cleaner than ever, thanks to their new sanitation protocols. But in conversations with hotel insiders and guests, it's clear that these cleaning initiatives are mostly just promotional campaigns designed to attract more bookings.

"The whole 'COVID clean' thing is BS," says Chloé Cohen, a real estate investor from New York. “I've seen stickers that say 'self-sanitizing' on an elevator keypad in a New York hotel, that was not backed by tech to emit the UV pad sanitation. So basically, it was just a sticker. Same goes for door handles and key cards. There was no evidence of virus-related cleaning.”

All that talk of UV robots and extra-clean hotel rooms will probably soon fade. And what will we be left with? Hotels will start charging for daily housekeeping. Thanks for nothing!

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Car rental companies: Older cars, higher prices

Here's a complaint as old as the car rental industry: Travelers griping about overpriced, high-mileage vehicles. But they got more of the same during the pandemic as the rental car industry struggled to adjust to the new normal.

If anything, the situation turned worse after the outbreak. And the outlook is more of the same, as car rental companies struggle to manage their fleets and meet customer demand. Complaining about the old cars and high prices will remain.

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Road trips are still in fashion

Not all of the consistency is bad. Road trips, which were already big before the pandemic, became even more popular after the outbreak. Of course, they did: They offered the promise of safer travel within your family pod, and the opportunity for plenty of social distancing.

"Millions of Americans went on a road trip," says Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner. "What also hasn't changed is people’s desire to visit friends and family."

Road trips never went out of fashion, even when record numbers of Americans were flying. And if you took a road trip last summer, you know why, and also why that's great.

They don't call it the great American road trip for nothing!

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Travelers still use advisers

Travel advisers are still here too. A recent survey by Internova Travel Group found 4 out of 5 Americans prefer working with a human being over an online travel agency to plan an important trip.

Why? They like the personal attention, the extra perks, and getting access to deals they can't find online. Also, agents are more relevant than ever in the age of COVID-19, helping travelers navigate the world of PCR tests and ever-changing travel requirements.

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"Travelers can expect consistency from their travel advisers," says Angie Licea, president of the Global Travel Collection. "Why try to figure this out on your own when this industry was built on support and service for travelers?"

A sharp adviser has always been one of the most effective travel tools. And that's true now more than ever.

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And yes, people still love to travel

Another thing that hasn't changed: People still love to travel. Even at the height of the pandemic, they booked trips and remained optimistic. A recent survey by Generali Global Assistance found that 41% of travelers expect a return to normal in 2022, with no masks or other COVID-19-related precautions.

“Given the lingering impacts of the pandemic, it's reassuring that Americans are optimistic for travel normalizing in 2022," says Chris Carnicelli, CEO of Generali Global Assistance.

Maybe one reason they're so optimistic is that no matter how much people talk about change in travel, so little actually changes. That familiarity – at least on the positive side of the travel experience – is reassuring and comforting.

How have you changed since the pandemic?

The travel industry hasn't changed that much, but travelers have. Here's how – and what it means for you:

Travelers are planning their trips at the last minute. More than half of hotel bookings happen seven to 14 days in advance. That's a big switch from before the pandemic when lead times were often measured in months. "As hotel occupancy continues to increase, you should plan," says Michelle Russo of hotelAVE, a hotel consulting firm. "If you're unsure about what the future could mean when planning, select destinations that will offer more flexible cancellation policies."

They're taking shorter vacations. Another change: Trips are shorter than in the past. John Gobbels, chief operating officer of Medjet, an air medical transport and crisis response program for travelers, blames that shift on continuing uncertainty. "People are taking a series of smaller, more easily canceled trips this year instead of one longer one," he says. But if you have your vaccines and don't mind staying out for a few weeks, this could be the time to plan a lengthier vacation. You might save some money too.

Travelers are buying more insurance. Amid all the uncertainty, more travelers are buying insurance. And with good reason, says Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications at Allianz Partners USA. "Our claims volume has been up 75% over last year, and we’re hearing from customers that they never expected to have to cancel their trip, but they are glad they purchased travel insurance." You have a limited amount of time to buy insurance and receive the maximum benefit.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pandemic travel: What hasn't COVID changed? Airline and hotel service

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