The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we think about traveling. Most countries in the world have adopted some measure of lockdown or restriction to movement to reduce transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and ease the burden of admissions in struggling health systems.
However, with the relaxation of lockdown measures in some countries in light of reductions in the number of COVID-19 cases, many people are facing the dilemma of choosing to travel after months of restrictions or to remain at home. Considerations include where it is safe to go, what is the risk of traveling, and what new measures are in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for those who decide to travel.
I traveled thrice during this time and every time the situation and behavior of people were very different, which explains how the fear graph moved around us. My first travel period was at the end of May when the cases were somewhat controlled, but the fear graph was high because people were very careful about even touching the handles of the train door and everyone could be seen with two masks and hand gloves on. I also traveled with all the precautions and was in a very alert mood. Also, the railway station security was on high alert and taking every possible measure. The second time, I traveled via flight around July end when the cases were in the outbreak phase and it was the time when we as a country were about to cross the highest number of cases. The third time, people were very casual about things and this casualness included the basic measure like a mask. This is how any other thing becomes normalized in our society, like we can take the example of smartphone culture, likewise other different social norms which take place slowly and become very common in our daily lives.
What does the future hold for travelers? The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine will be instrumental in reinstating confidence in travelers. However, it is expected that many airlines will cut services such as meals, drinks, and free magazines, not so much for economic reasons but as a way to limit so-called touchpoints, which are opportunities for SARS-CoV-2 transmission via close physical proximity between flyers and crew. Rapid testing for COVID-19 for both crew members and passengers could become a regular feature. Enhanced cleanliness and sanitation will become the norm. The use of masks or other protective equipment will become more common. Touchless technology will reduce human interaction and facilitate payments and processes linked to traveling.
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, travelers adapted to enhanced security controls in airports and strict rules regarding their luggage. The COVID-19 pandemic may similarly redefine what is normal for travelers, with a potentially positive outcome of reducing the risk of transmission of many other infections besides COVID-19.