Travel industry inching back

Posted at 11:03 AM, May 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-24 13:03:02-04

The sight is quite jarring: Four-hundred passenger planes that would normally be zipping through the skies are now parked in the California desert, row after row, with thousands more grounded elsewhere.

Last year, the AAA said 43 million Americans went somewhere on Memorial Day weekend. This year, the AAA isn't even making a guess as to how many people will hit the road, but they're expecting it to be an all-time low.

Travel will bounce back, but for now it's just inching back, and your experience won't be nearly the same as before.

Let's start with your hotel.

Travelers who check back in will have a much different stay, said Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta. "You'll go to your room with your digital key. You won't have to touch anything other than your phone. You'll open your room with your phone."

And the room you open will have been cleaned like never before: Masked housekeepers will pay special attention to things like light switches and TV remotes, and when they're done, they'll put a seal on the door.

"When a housekeeper is done cleaning the room, we will seal it, and you will be the first one in it," Nasetta said. "And we will not come in it until you leave or until you ask us to come back in it."

And now, to the skies:

Air travel has dropped by as much as 90 percent, United Airlines is now flying fewer passengers per day than it has pilots. But for those who are flying, the experience is different, and not necessarily in a good way.

Food service aboard is mostly gone, and if you've got to go, one European airline, Ryanair, is making passengers raise their hands for permission to use the lavatories.

That's not the case for U.S. carriers – yet – but there's an entirely new disinfecting program.

And no mixed drinks, according to Oscar Munoz, executive chairman of United.

CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg asked Munoz, "I'm assuming no more pillows on the planes for a while? No more blankets on the planes for a while?"

"Yeah, things of that nature, right? You saw that after 9/11, right? We took out cutlery. And then, you know, things eventually come back. I think once again, in this particular case, once a vaccine is discovered, hopefully, you know, sort of the nervousness dissipates and we can get back to something that's back to the old normal. But things will definitely change."

Like other airlines, United already has systems in place to make flying safer – better cleaning of seat-backs and tray tables, and things like electrostatic sprayers to disinfect every nook and cranny.

Greenberg asked, "You had a flight recently that, you know, went viral with somebody claiming that, 'My God, there was no social distancing at all.' What have you done about that?"

"We are gonna let you know, if you're flying on us, a day or two in advance, 'Hey, by the way, Peter, the flight that you're on seems to be over X-percent full' – 65%, 70%, we'll figure out a number. 'If you're uncomfortable with that, there's a flight leaving three hours later that, you know, has a lot of capacity.' And so, if you're uncomfortable and your plans allow that flexibility, that's what we've sort of pivoted to, to ensure that you have that."

Besides being less crowded, your upcoming flight may also be cheaper. You can find a lot of bargain fares right now. But since some airlines are losing $100 million a day, you can also expect fewer flights, and more turbulence ahead.

Munoz said, "For now, again, the operative term is to let's get through this crisis for the time being, and, you know, say a prayer or whatever it is that we do to make sure that not just our industry but that the world writ large becomes a healthier place."

And when an entire industry has basically been grounded, there's no place to go but up.