So I’ve just returned from my first business meeting involving travel since the world turned upside down (referring to the very unwelcome arrival of pandemic pandemonium), and I wanted to share a few brief observations for those who are still quite content to remain in their cocoons until the white flag has been officially raised and/or you are forced to venture out in the world again because they can no longer deliver toilet paper to your doorstep. So here goes:
The Not-So-Good Side of Air Travel:
- For those of us who like to dump our bags curbside, not happening.
The PLUS SIDE of Air Travel:
- No wait at TSA, or anywhere for that matter. In fact, I can now say that I’ve actually been in Terminal A at OIA (Orlando International Airport) and witnessed NO LINE at that Starbucks. You know the one I’m talking about that always, ALWAYS has at least 30 people waiting until you want to join and realize it’s actually more like 55 people ahead of you? Yeah, that one. No. Wait. Not. Kidding.
- I flew Southwest and I finally got in boarding group A without having to pay for an upgrade. Whoa! Here is my proof:
I felt like royalty, that is until I found out there were only a total of thirty (as in 30) passengers so, technically, I was in my usual back of the line spot again as my imaginary tiara disappeared. Sigh. But, boarding was surprisingly socially distanced with everyone wearing their masks (we were told you couldn’t board without one and gratefully no one was challenging the system that day), and I’m happy to report all passengers behaved like adults and patiently waited their turn. I mean heck, we all knew we had at least three rows a piece so no need to rush.
- Service on board was a tad below SW minimum which is/was a beverage and tiny pretzel bag because this time when I say beverage I mean water. One cup. And I was dutifully carrying my remaining SW comp drink ticket with such high hopes. Oh well. Pretty sure those ‘luxury’ days of in-flight adult beverage service are over for all of us.
- It was mid afternoon on a Friday when we checked in and we were greeted at the front desk by the Director of Sales, not because he wanted to take us on a tour of the meeting space but because he was also working as front desk clerk. He was super friendly and we felt genuine appreciation for our business as he proceeded to check us in from behind his protective screen (which was behind a big table set strategically in front of the check in desk) while also wearing a mask and gloves. (At least I think that’s what he was enthusing to us about as I’m personally still struggling with mask-muffled conversations from six feet afar.) Knowing that our group was the only one in the hotel at that time and that they had just reopened-most likely for us- it was nice to witness that everyone on the staff was working together to make some semblance of order out of the new covid chaos. That said, it was still a little confusing listening to all the directions and instructions regarding hotel room cleaning (no cleaning) and food service options (limited-pay attention to times!) along with availability (closure) of ‘extra’ hotel facilities. Although, priorities being what they are, we all successfully perked up and took notes when he announced the bar hours.
- My room was in excellent shape, not missing any of the usual (insert major international hotel chain) amenities such as coffee machine, comp water bottles, bath toiletries, etc., and I did feel like it had undergone a major cleaning, perhaps due to the lingering smell of sanitizer which was fine by me.
- Our planning team had off-site work to do upon arrival, but by the time we returned to the hotel for our eagerly anticipated happy hour (we referred to our notes to confirm times) there were a few others – socially distanced – already in the bar. But it was a large space and we felt very comfortable as we settled in to order drinks and dinner. The bartender/waitress, yes there was only one person on duty, was super good and told us outright it was her first night back to work and she was ever so grateful to receive that phone call and still have a job, albeit more complicated (ever try mixing and pouring drinks with gloves on?) as she was now working solo as both the bartender and dinner waitress during a brisk Friday evening.
- The hotel had prepared paper menus to share outlining the limited wine and food selections, and overall our group was pleased with what was offered despite the restrictions. And considering she was working solo, our busy server managed to pace the service quite well.
- Saturday morning hotel breakfast found another lonely waitress, again quite busy but with the right attitude and energy to keep all customers happy. But to be honest the menu situation was a bit confusing. Limited items, some individually wrapped and displayed to see (but no pricing), others were explained at the table (listening through that mask muffle again) making for lively conversation about “What did she say? What’s up on that display case? How do we do this?” Being adults we eventually all figured it out, and I’m only mentioning it here because this is probably going to be the new normal going forward. It’s very hard for hotels to know how much food to purchase and prepare when they don’t even have a good handle on how many incoming guests there are and whether or not those guest even want to eat in the public hotel space. This became more evident as we were asked on multiple occasions about buying advance tickets for Monday morning’s breakfast buffet. Apparently due to our group’s arrival (and we had no scheduled breakfast functions) they were trying to figure out a better system to keep people happy and fed.
- Regarding elevator etiquette, it was kind of an honor system as to how many people got on although there was a sign on each one stating “limited occupancy due to social distancing” (perhaps better placed outside of elevator?)
- And finally, regarding overall mask compliance, the state of Tennessee did have a mandatory mask order in place and our Nashville hotel had many signs displayed prominently at entrance as well as all over the building. However, we’re talking about people being adult. . . and following the rules, so enough said on that issue. Moving forward I’ve already heard it discussed among my meeting planner friends that we will have to secure extra staff, possibly even from security companies, in order to do our own enforcing of masks, social distancing, and any other regulations that pop up, and they are bound to appear. Plain and simple it’s a safety & security issue for all of us as we return to some semblance of face to face meetings.
There were plenty of other emotions and memories I had while working on site in this new normal during the pandemic, but as we all start to crawl out of our comfort zones and re-enter the world of travel the experience is sure to be different for everyone. My overall thought is that it’s just so sad out there right now. Empty airplane seats, barriers to keep people from close contact, masks that cover smiles and facial readings of any kind, vacant customer service positions in places that really need them, and the list goes on.
But the one thing I know for sure is this: people who want and need to travel will continue to do so and will find ways to work around all the barriers and limitations that are now in place. Just yesterday I heard on the local news about a new face mask that has a clear shield around the mouth so that people who must rely on lip reading can still manage to see those lips, so check one more barrier off the list of the ‘new-mal.’ How great is that?
“You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.” (Marianne Williamson)