I had to travel to Florida to handle some personal business last week and made some observations along the way.
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Personal Business in the time of COVID
I tried to delay some personal business I had in Florida, but after more than a week, an in-person visit was required. I was a little leery about heading into Florida because the headlines suggested I’d find a state in flux and panic. I didn’t visit any hospitals during my time in the sunshine state but I did find myself in three cities (Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and Orlando) which took me to almost every part of the state save the panhandle.
I was concerned about visiting not just for my own health but, of course, for the many vulnerable I’d encounter as well.
Masks Being Worn, But No Panic
I wore a mask for everyone’s sake for much of my visit though it wasn’t implicitly required. I found, however, that the three different cities had three very different approaches. Everyone I encountered in Fort Lauderdale wore a mask without issue and those that I saw, wore them properly (over nose and mouth.)
In Fort Myers, the attitude was much more lax. In restaurants (still open) almost no one wore masks, but in grocery stores everyone did. I can understand that wearing a mask just to take it down to eat and drink is not only inconvenient but also a bit of health safety theater. However, some of the staff in some restaurants didn’t bother to put them on either. I spent some time at a couple of beaches and no one wore them outside, again, understandable.
In Orlando, the response was somewhere in between. Many bars and restaurants had open seating outdoors where patrons weren’t wearing masks but staff did. However, in Orlando, the seating seemed to be much closer together than any of the places I had encountered in Fort Lauderdale or Fort Myers.
In three different airports (PIT, FLL, MCO) almost 100% of people were masked. Announcements were made on my Spirit flight with clear directions on how masks were to be worn and when they could be removed (eating or drinking) – by a maskless flight attendant every time she spoke into the microphone.
But for a state that is experiencing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 positive cases, no one in any of the cities I visited seemed panicked. I obviously didn’t visit any hospitals but from shops to restaurants to driving during peak times, it seemed like business as usual in Florida.
Flexibility Has To Be a Two-Way Street
I stayed in one hotel during my visit that required flexibility from guests but did not provide the same back. For example, at this particular property in Orlando, the hotel chain would have normally provided breakfast for a guest like myself with status. I knew before I went that I wouldn’t find a buffet set out for breakfast, that’s fine, but the hotel had a small cafe and a convenience store inside. They both sold breakfast items but none were provided to guests complimentary. I found that to be a little disingenuous. If they didn’t have any capacity with which to offer guests breakfast, fine, but they clearly did as long as guests were willing to pay for it – elite benefits be damned.
Which brings me to two other aspects that rang hollow for me. The property usually charges for parking and that’s fair. This hotel was in Orlando, close to touristy spots and near the airport – under normal conditions, I would have expected to pay for parking. But this isn’t normal conditions. The hotel was empty and I could count the just over 20 cars in the parking lot for the ten-story dual towered property. The hotel wanted $16/day for self-parking and $20/day for valet (which was not available during my stay.) It seemed petty.
Maybe readers of LiveAndLetsFly.com will instead interpret my complaining to be petty and that’s their right. But from a customer perspective, it just didn’t sit right with me. I am highly loyal to this particular brand – I could have found far better deals from other chains that would have better suited my needs and not nickel and dimed me but thanked me for my business. I was literally 4% of their guest occupancy. I might have not gotten my elite benefits at the other hotel but this property (which had suites for sale) didn’t even bother to upgrade me despite holding the highest tier status. What hotel right now with fewer than 10% occupancy has a valid excuse right now for not upgrading, at minimum, top tier loyalists?
I don’t mind being flexible with adjustments to breakfast. I wouldn’t mind if they decided not to upgrade me in an effort to minimize housekeeping and keep all the guests on one floor and I wouldn’t have minded paying for parking as much if they recognized that it was a little ridiculous but it was their policy. But there was no flexibility on the part of the hotel, yet I was expected to be fully flexible. That left a lasting impression on me, one I won’t forget when I return to the area.
Florida, despite media reports that the state is in grave danger, seemed to be unfazed and enjoying the summer with caution. Travelers adhered to and respected the safety requirements in place. Travel companies made efforts to provide a safe environment but in the case of at least one hotel, they weren’t willing to be as flexible as they asked their customers to be. I think the one thing that everyone can agree on at this point is that we all wish it would get back to normal soon.
What do you think? Have you travelled to an outbreak state recently? How was your experience? Do you think the hotel was inflexible or petty or do you think I was instead?