Passengers traveling from London Gatwick are facing delays and cancellations this week due to a COVID-19 outbreak among air traffic controllers. As winter approaches, will COVID-19 again cause travel chaos?
Rising COVID-19 Cases Threaten Global Travel
COVID-19 never went away, we’ve just learned to better co-exist with it. But as the colder months approach in the Northern Hemisphere, cases are on the rise (blurred only by many no longer bothering to test).
I know of multiple people who are currently positive and experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. While not a cold or flu, eventually we may need to treat COVID-19 no different: life must go on and as we understand the virus more, we can better cope with it, prepare for it, and fight against it. The tradeoffs of fresh shut-downs or travel restrictions should take all such discussion totally off the table.
Still, we may see travel disruptions if COVID-19 ravages through crew domiciles and air traffic control towers. That is what happened this week in London Gatwick, where the flow rate had to be substantially reduced because so many air traffic controllers called in sick.
It is not far-fetched to speculate that we could see the same thing in the United States, especially because air traffic controllers are already stretched thin. The stigma around COVID-19 will prompt many to stay home when sick versus a cold, leading to higher absence rates (and this isn’t a bad thing…).
A Return To Masking?
Based on the bad behavior that obligatory masking encourages among some adult toddlers, I do not expect we will see any return to mandatory masking and especially not on airplanes. Presented with vaccines, boosters, and drugs like Paxlovid, those who wish to mask may do so.
In Los Angeles, masks have returned in a big way. At grocery stores and restaurants and coffee shops, workers are wearing them again. Even at my gym, many patrons are working out with their N95s or at least surgical masks. I don’t see many cloth masks any longer, which is a good thing. Admittedly, I strongly dislike masking up but if cases rise significantly I may choose to mask up on airplanes, especially if I encounter a seatmate who looks sick.
While it is too early to tell what the winter will look like in terms of COVID-19, the rise in cases and recent issues at London Gatwick suggest we might be in for a greater struggle than many predicted. While wide-scale shutdowns or travel restrictions are highly unlikely, we may see frequent disruptions should cases explode as the weather cools.