After five flights this week that touched airports in Pittsburgh, Fort Myers, and Newark on two airlines I wanted to provide some observations of what it’s like for those that aren’t traveling.
Florida Terminals Are Full
Social distancing is not an option at Florida airports this week. That’s a good thing for everyone, kind of. It would be better if flights were spaced out or gates were, rather than bunching everyone together. I can understand the need for airports to close off sections of the terminal and consolidate operations both for airport staff, security, and cost savings.
However, even in pre-COVID periods, I would prefer the privacy, space, and the quiet of a lounge over a packed boarding area filled with gate lice.
That said, Pittsburgh was a ghost town this week. Newark was light and airy as well. Very few people were waiting for flights and it seemed that Fort Myers (Regional Southwest Florida International) might have had as many flyers in Terminal C as Newark did.
That’s like being in a strange parallel universe but reflects the pandemic at this stage perfectly. The snow and cold have shaken out even the most stalwart “stay home, stay safe” crowd as have falling positive COVID-19 test results and rising vaccinations.
Florida Flights Are Full
It could be that last-minute flights can be booked cheap at the moment. It could be that the flight price really doesn’t matter with that bitter cold snap last week, some in Texas were probably shopping cheap airfares to Florida, Las Vegas or anywhere else that got them away from freezing pipes.
But I suspect it’s not just cheap flights and cold weather that have many heading to the sunshine state, at least on my flights this week. While it might be time to buy trans-con flight deals like $31 cross-country upgradable to lie-flat business class, some of the cheapest fares are departing in favor of higher rates for spring break.
Some employees for Delta that I know were flying back north on one of two 767-400s to Minneapolis and planning for a long day of standby with just two seats available on either flight. Few seats were available on the five Atlanta flights from 6:00 AM to 11:00 AM as a backup for them.
It’s not just Delta flying full from Florida, United had flights nearly to capacity to and from Newark, Spirit was loaded to about 130 of 160 seats to the sunshine state, yet flights from Newark to Pittsburgh were half empty or less.
Business Travel Hasn’t Returned, May Be Awhile
Based on how full flights were and which flights were full I can only surmise that leisure travel knows few bounds right now to Florida. If United can fill 170+ seats on Wednesday/Thursday flights to and from Florida but can’t get an E-170 to half full once a day, business travel is virtually non-existent.
One business traveler that works for a major pharmaceutical bragged to me this week that while her fellow salespeople were clamoring to get back on the road, just 55% had gone anywhere for work in the last few months nor would they any time soon. There’s not a huge need to do so either. Zoom is still good enough for the time being, and some simply aren’t allowed to return to in-person meetings.
The good news for leisure flyers is that while business travel is down, it’s a great time to find the cheapest deals for business/first class upgrades.
Of my four United flights this week, I cleared just one upgrade (Pittsburgh to Newark) and was never closer than 4th on the upgrade list to and from Florida despite my United Premier 1K status. On at least one flight I was surrounded by other 1Ks that didn’t clear either, which means those seats were sold to paying customers rather than given away to elite chumps like me.
The sweet spot will be when international routes open up again and business travelers don’t buy all of the good seats in the front of the plane, but leave those seats to leisure travelers with upgrade instruments flying on cheap coach airline tickets.
What do you think? Have you been flying this week? What did you find?