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Aviation

Holiday Travel Was Met With Anti-Maskers

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

As the U.S. passes the grim milestone of 20 million COVID-19 cases, much of the world is bracing for a stunning surge in the virus' spread, courtesy of millions who ignored public health recommendations and traveled for the recent holidays. The deadly virus didn't stop more than seven million people from flying during the week before Christmas, and that's just in the United States.

Those numbers represent just a fraction of typical holiday travel numbers, back in the days before COVID-19. Airlines, of course, are bleeding money, and their employees have faced reduced hours, layoffs, furloughs, and buyouts for the better part of a year. Concurrently, denial of the absolutely-real pandemic is rampant, particularly among the Trumpian right, who have seen their soon-to-be ousted leader and his acolytes politicize and ridicule the wearing of facial coverings to help thwart spread of the novel coronavirus.

With these facts in mind, it should come as no surprise that many of those who might be willing to board a plane in a pandemic might also be unwilling to don a mask. A stunning new analysis from The Washington Post's Michael Laris indicates that airline workers—much like retail workers who were violently assaulted, treated like a Kleenex, and even killedfor daring to ask people to comply with mask requirements—are facing abuse at the hands of reckless air travelers.

In a review of "more than 150 aviation safety reports filed with the federal government since the start of the pandemic," The Post found that passengers of the anti-mask stripe boldly exploit the allowance to remove masks while eating and drinking.

Asked to mask up, one passenger pulled out a large bag of popcorn and nibbled her way through it, kernel by kernel, stymieing the cabin crew for the length of the flight. Others blew off requests by chomping leisurely on apple slices, between occasional coughs, or lifting an empty plastic cup and declaring: "I am drinking!"

Another report describes an unmasked man who charged up the aisle, stopping just 18 inches from a flight attendant. "He sneezed directly in my face, making no attempt to cover his mouth, pull up his mask or turn towards the row 1 window," lamented the employee, who was, thankfully, wearing a mask that caught the brunt of the man's sinus explosion.

Airlines, of course, are quick to note such reports, and thus anti-mask passengers behaving badly, are quite rare—claiming otherwise could deter travel by those who understand that masks work. But Baruch Fischhoff, a psychologist and Carnegie Mellon professor, begs to differ, telling The Post that "if you see 100 (reports), there are probably 1,000 or 10,000. This is a widespread enough phenomenon that it needs to be taken seriously."

COVID denier-in-chief Donald Trump and his administration don't even support mask mandates at cocktail parties, much less on the federal front. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao repeatedly has quashed calls for mask requirements on public transportation.

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to ask the nation to mask up for at least his first 100 days in office; he also plans to issue a first-day mask mandate in federal buildings and on interstate trains, planes, and buses.

Whether or not people will comply remains to be seen.

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Everyone loves a good deal. Almost everyone loves to travel. It only makes sense that the intersection of the two, in good travel deals, would appeal to a very wide audience.

Airlines, however, have made finding a good deal difficult. In 2008, airlines began charging fees on checked baggage. Although they suffered from bad publicity at the time, the airlines knew that if they held their ground, passengers would eventually accept the additional fees. They were right. A generation of travelers has grown up with these fees and now accept them as part of the cost of flying. These baggage fees have turned into a $5 billion profit center for the airlines.

Similarly, shortly after the terrorist attacks and wars in the Middle East caused the price of oil to spike in the early 2000s, airlines imposed “fuel surcharges” on all airline tickets. Even though the price of jet fuel has stabilized and crude oil costs less than a third of what it did at its peak in 2008, the fuel surcharges (now called carrier fees) are still assessed on every airline ticket.

These fees and surcharges make it that much more important to find the best fare possible. Here are some ways to find low-cost airplane tickets:

Be Flexible About When You Fly

Supply and demand dictate the price of airline tickets. Whether an airline sells one ticket or 140 tickets on a flight, that airplane has to fly. The airline has to make sure that flight is as profitable as possible because fuel costs, crew expenses, and taxes must be paid regardless of the number of passengers. Consequently, fares will always be lower on flights that are undersold, and higher on flights that are oversold.

Certain days of the week and times of year are less expensive to fly. These will vary by destination, again according to supply and demand. For example, flights to Chicago for Presidents Day weekend might be cheap, while flights to Miami for the same weekend in February might be very expensive.

Most people who travel for work or pleasure fly at the beginning of the week or the end of the week. As a result, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays usually see fewer travelers (and fewer airline tickets sold) than Mondays and Fridays. Airlines will often cut prices to sell tickets for flights in the middle of the week to try to fill those airplanes. Flying on a holiday, like on Presidents Day, can save money since most people prefer to fly before or after a holiday.

Unfortunately, burglars can also use the popularity of Friday through Monday travel to target your home. A home burglary occurs every 13 seconds in the United States. Many of these burglars case your home and your social media timeline to make sure you are not home when they strike. When you travel, make sure your social media is set to private or that you avoid posting about your travels until you return home.

Use Online Resources

Search sites for airline tickets provide a wealth of information about ticket pricing. Kayak, for example, shows pricing trends so you know whether you should buy or wait to buy based on whether the ticket price has increased or decreased.

Skyscanner provides information on the carbon output of flights, so you can account for the environmental impact of your flight choices in addition to the price. And Travelzoo allows you to search over a range of dates to find those hidden cheap flights on a Tuesday morning that you might otherwise miss.

Be aware, however, of scam sites that are not real travel booking sites. Scam sites collect your personal information and either use your payment card to run up bills or steal your identity to obtain new payment cards and credit accounts. Do your research on these sites and, above all else, be wary. Nearly 50 percent of consumers think that their security habits make them vulnerable to identity theft or other information frauds.

Time Your Purchase

As mentioned above, Kayak offers a feature that allows you to see the price trend for airfares. However, these price trends may be influenced by many factors, such as holidays, travel seasons, natural disasters, and oil prices. Summer, for example, has higher airfares to tourist destinations, while airfare may drop after a hurricane or other natural disaster.

Barring unexpected events, the window for finding good deals on domestic flights is usually one to three months before the flight and two to eight months for international flights. One strategy would be to begin monitoring airfares before this window begins to get an idea of the starting price. This allows you to identify a good deal as you monitor the airfares during the recommended window. But beware of waiting too long. When you see a price you like, you should snap it up because ticket prices can jump suddenly.

Check Regional Airports

Sometimes you will be able to fly into another airport close to your destination and rent a car or take a train for less than flying direct. For example, Sanford Airport, 24 miles from Orlando, is often cheaper to fly into than Orlando International Airport. Likewise, airlines often have less expensive fares to Baltimore than Washington D.C. Since Baltimore and Washington are connected by rail, flying to Baltimore is often a cheap alternative to flying directly to the nation’s capital.

Some airfare booking sites allow you to search for alternative airports. Checking the box to include regional airports in your search can save tens, and sometimes hundreds, of dollars on airline tickets.

Finding good deals on airfares is facilitated by good online tools. Moreover, knowledge about the days of the week and times of the year to travel, as well as alternative airports available for travel, can save you money the next time you fly. You might even save enough to stay an extra day at your destination.