Ask an Advisor: Travel Advice in the Post-Pandemic Era
As travel begins to take flight again, travelers have a lot of questions. No one knows this better than a travel advisor. So Worth sat down with Kimberly Wilson Wetty and Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-presidents and owners of Valerie Wilson Travel, to find out what questions travelers are asking right now, and what these travel advisors are saying.
Q: Is it safe to travel?
A: I think everybody is of a more heightened mindset, and I think even understanding what safe means to you as a traveler is very nuanced. Is it safe in the sense of are the borders open and you can physically get there? Is it safe in the sense that you want to know what the protocols are that the hotel or the airline or the cruise line has done? Or is it safe in the sense that you want to know how many current COVID cases they have? Safe means different things to different people. – Kimberly
Q: What’s the experience going to be like?
A: You’re probably going to want to have a few extra masks in your handbag or your carry-on bag. You’re going to want to bring extra wipes. We’d have never told a client to pack sanitizer wipes before when they travel. And then, you want your own small bottle of hand sanitizer that’s going to fit in the 3-1-1 bag. Explaining to them what the experience will be when you go through TSA—”will somebody actually touch my ID, should I bother to get a paper boarding pass or should I do everything on the phone to go as touchless as possible?” It’s amazing that those very detailed questions about what to expect are very top of mind for travelers. And we’re also finding that it’s that re-entry. So, the client who’s traveling for the first time after 14-plus months, it’s like you fell off the bike, and you’ve got to get back on it again. Once you’ve done it once, that next trip seems much more comfortable. – Kimberly
Q: What’s it like going to the airport right now?
A: There’s no typical day. My first flight was over Presidents’ Day week. And then, I just went again for spring break because my kids were off between Palm Sunday and Easter and Passover. Those were exceptionally busy days in the airport. And it almost felt like pre-COVID numbers. I didn’t feel like people were honoring the six feet as you’re waiting to check in. Even boarding the plane, you land, and everybody stands up and you’re just like, “OK, there are way too many people for my comfort right now even though we’re all wearing masks, and we’ve all had our COVID test.” I think the airport feels different. I think they’ve been pretty busy on high peak days, but that’s not the norm. Because I’ve had colleagues who’ve gone to the airport, and they literally said they could roll a ball like down a bowling alley lane in LaGuardia. Like, not a soul. So, there’s no consistency, and I think that’s one of the things that clients are really looking for—they’re longing for a sense of consistency of what to expect. – Kimberly
Q: Does it make more sense to fly private right now?
A: Ninety percent of people who can afford to fly private still don’t fly private. So, it’s a very small percentage who do utilize private aviation. What I love about it, especially in a COVID/post-COVID world, is it really does help protect your bubble—if you’re really unsure and not ready to go into a major airport on either end, your departure or your arrival into your new destination, private aviation really gives you that ability. But I wouldn’t do it because you think the airplane is that much cleaner or healthier because I’m so impressed with what the major airlines are doing. We’ve been really working closely with Delta Airlines and American Airlines, and the investment that they have made in the air quality and the experience and the cleanliness of the flight, I feel very comfortable flying, and I would feel very comfortable recommending to somebody from a health standpoint to get on an airplane. We’ve definitely seen an increase in private aviation requests, though. -Kimberly
Q: Do I get in a taxi or an Uber?
A: I think one of the areas that people are still very much unsure about is, “Do I get in a taxi? Do I get in an Uber? Do they have the Plexiglas up?” Obviously, you wear your mask. “Can you keep the windows down? What would you recommend?” On that spectrum for a traveler, it’s what’s the risk level, what’s their comfort to try something? And the first thing people tend to do is take a road trip on their own. I think the next is a domestic flight or stay in a hotel. And then, as things begin to open up, it’s being able to use your passport again, which a lot of people have said, “Oh my goodness, I haven’t taken my passport out in over a year.” – Jennifer
Q: How do I know my money is safe?
A: A lot of clients are worried about, “Do I want to go make a deposit on a booking in the future? How do I know that I’m going to get that money back?” Those are questions that we’re now having to answer as travel advisors, which would’ve hardly ever come up pre-COVID. And if you’re booking a cruise or a tour company, you have to prepay, unlike hotels where you might only put down a one- or two-night deposit, and then you pay the balance of that when you check out. So, where’s the risk of your financial investment? – Kimberly
This interview has been edited for clarity.
For more stories from our recent travel issue, check out the digital magazine here.