“Revenge vacation” season is now moving full speed ahead, and while many travelers are racing to book a trip after a year of being stuck at home, the mayor of one tropical island is asking airlines to slow down: Maui, Hawaii.
“I have been talking with different airlines and … we’re asking for just a pause, if you want to use that term,” Maui County mayor Michael Victorino said during a press conference on June 29. “We don’t have the authority to say stop, but we’re asking the powers to be to help us.”
In recent weeks, the number of tourists flocking to Hawaii has sometimes surpassed 2019’s travel levels. And from July 1 to July 5, over 170,000 people traveled to the state, according to Hawaii’s travel data. As a result, the Kahului Airport in Maui has hit “overcapacity” with bottlenecks throughout the airport, according to Victorino.
In late June, Victorino also met with “airline executives” to potentially cut back on airlift to the airport, Rick Daysog reported for Hawaii News Now.
“The people of Maui County have lacked sufficient time to prepare for the sudden, large influx of tourism, even as health restrictions remain in place,” Brian Perry, a spokesman for Victorino, told Hawaii News Now. “Many of our hospitality-related businesses are still struggling to fully staff their operations to provide a high quality of customer service.”
“People are choosing to come to Hawaii not only because of its wonderful resources and people, but because there really isn’t a lot of choices,” Victorino said, citing that other international travel destinations currently have closed borders.
Some of these tourists also aren’t using “good common sense and [are] going into areas where they’re not supposed to,” therefore needing the island’s emergency services for rescuing, Victorino said.
Flight attendants will get self-defense training from July to stop violent passengers assaulting staff, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced in a Thursday press release.
The voluntary training, led by federal air marshals, was paused during the pandemic, but the TSA said it was bringing the classes back to “deter assaults against officers and flight crew.”
Flight attendants told Insider earlier in June that they felt burnt out from dealing with aggressive passengers as travel bounced back.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has so far reported more than 3,000 incidents of unruly passenger behavior in 2021, most involving travelers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate.
The FAA has opened 487 investigations into passenger incidents – more than triple the number from 2019, before the pandemic started, and the highest number since the agency started listing its investigations in 1995.
The TSA said passengers had also assaulted security staff, noting two separate cases this month where it said TSA airport officers were attacked. In one incident, a traveller bit two officers and faces a $13,910 civil fine, the TSA said.
The TSA said in the press release that it may “pursue criminal charges and a civil penalty up to the maximum allowable by law” for unruly passengers.
Airports welcomed 2.1 million air passengers on June 20, up from 590,456 for the same day in 2020, and the highest number since March 7 last year, according to TSA data.
Christopher Sanford was eager to hop on a plane after getting vaccinated in January. Until that point, he had only flown once in the pandemic – to visit his mother in Texas.
“The whole world has cabin fever, and everybody wants to travel now, myself included,” Sanford, an associate professor of global health at the University of Washington, told Insider.
So three weeks ago, Sanford and his wife headed to Turkey, alongside a multitude of travelers embarking on their first flights in more than a year.
In the last two months, the average number of daily passengers recorded by the US Transportation Security Administration has risen 30%, from around 1.2 million in March to 1.6 million in May. Booking Holdings, a travel company that owns search engines like Priceline and Kayak, reported that its airline tickets sales jumped 49% during the first three months of 2021.
This uptick came as several countries reopened their borders to tourists: Iceland and Croatia have lifted quarantine requirements for US travelers, for example, as long as visitors show proof of vaccination. The European Union, meanwhile, expects to allow fully vaccinated Americans to visit this summer.
But Sanford said many of his patients still question whether traveling is safe – particularly as airports get crowded.
“I’m very heartened that things are slowly lurching back toward normal, but there’s a tremendous amount of fear, even after people have been vaccinated,” he said.
He offered a few tips for staying safe while flying, even if you’re vaccinated.
Flying was fairly low-risk even before vaccines
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people delay all travel until they’re fully vaccinated.
But scientists haven’t documented many cases of coronavirus transmission on flights, most likely for two reasons: Airplanes have strict mask requirements and solid air-filtration systems.
Air generally comes in through vents above your seat, then exits an aircraft through floor-level vents nearby, meaning it doesn’t circulate throughout the entire cabin. It’s also filtered through high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters, which can remove coronavirus aerosols (tiny airborne particles produced when people talk or exhale).
“If somebody is right next to you and they have COVID and they take their mask down, that elevates your risk,” Sanford said. “But if they’re several rows back, even if they don’t wear a mask and they have COVID, probably their exhaled air is going to go through a filter before you breathe it in and the risk then would be very low.”
A November study found that the rate of in-flight coronavirus transmission was just 1 case per 27 million travelers. By comparison, the rate of fatal car crashes in the US is around 12 deaths per 100,000 people.
Keep your mask on as much as possible
Aside from getting vaccinated, masks are still our strongest defense against transmission on planes, Sanford said.
A September review found no secondary COVID-19 cases on five Emirates flights with up to 2,000 passengers in total. That’s despite the fact that 58 passengers on the flights had tested positive for the coronavirus. The researchers attributed the lack of transmission to the airline’s strict masking protocol.
Put simply, “the more you wear a mask, the better – the less, the worse,” Sanford said.
Book a nonstop flight
The riskiest parts of traveling, Sanford said, are the steps leading up to a flight: cramming into buses that take you to a terminal or mixing with crowds as you wait to board. He recommended asking a friend to drive you to the airport, then finding a relatively isolated location to post up at your terminal.
If possible, he added, opt for a nonstop flight.
“The more stops, the more people, the more airports, the more mixing,” Sanford said.
Each of these elements increases your risk of infection – even if that risk is slim.
For short flights, eat before you arrive
US airlines and airports still require masks until at least September 13. But travelers can take off their masks while eating or drinking. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should, though.
Sanford recommended keeping your mask on for the entire duration of a short flight, which would require eating before you arrive at the airport. For longer flights, like Sanford’s recent 13-hour trip from San Francisco to Istanbul, you’ll probably need to eat and drink, though.
“If you’re doing a seven-hour flight, it’s not good not to drink water for seven hours,” Sanford said.
No need to put your mask on between bites, he added.
Seat selection doesn’t matter much
Research indicates that blocking off middle seats on planes can lower the risk of transmission on board.
An October preprint, which has yet to be peer reviewed, found that the chance of a passenger in coach contracting COVID-19 on a two-hour domestic flight was 1 in 3,900 if all seats were occupied. But when middles seats were kept empty, that risk went down to 1 in 6,400.
As of May, however, US airlines are no longer blocking off middle seats.
As far as other seating choices go, Sanford said there isn’t much data to suggest that window is better than aisle or vice versa. The research so far is mixed: One December study found that the coronavirus’ secondary attack rate on a domestic flight in Australia was greater among passengers in window seats than in aisle or middle seats. But other studies have found that people in aisle seats have more contact with other travelers during flights, which can increase their risk of infection.
“Things like seat selection have such a negligible, minimal effect on the ultimate risk,” Sanford said.
Splurging on a first-class ticket won’t reduce your risk
Although seats in first class are spaced farther apart, Sanford said that probably won’t cut your risk of infection.
“I don’t think it’s a huge difference and I would not spring for the money,” he said.
Indeed, a study last year documented an instance of coronavirus transmission in business class. A 27-year-old woman passed the virus to 12 other business-class passengers during a 10-hour commercial flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. The people at highest risk of infection were those less than two seats away from the woman.
Just two passengers in economy class were infected.
Don’t travel to a place where the hospital system is overwhelmed
The CDC advises US residents to avoid travel to 140 counties, including those in the European Union. But the agency has suggested that it might be safe for fully vaccinated Americans to travel internationally – with the caveat that they may be at increased risk for getting and spreading variants.
Sanford equated the CDC’s message to “a tepid thumbs down” for international travel. The key concern about traveling abroad, he added, is whether you’d be able to receive proper medical care at your destination.
“It’d be really bad for you and all concerned if you got COVID in India currently, with the healthcare system there full of patients already,” he said.
Still, Sanford added, there’s no need to worry about whether the airport you’re flying into has lots of international travelers.
“I don’t tell people to avoid international hubs,” he said. “I do tell them to avoid crowds.”
Two US active-duty pilots ejected from an F-15 fighter jet Tuesday morning after an emergency on the runway at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, the US Air Force and a nearby base said.
Emergency responders arrived on the scene around 7:30 am local time. Both pilots were taken to a local hospital to address minor injuries and for observation. One pilot has been released, a spokesman for Scott Air Force Base, which is adjacent to MidAmerica Airport, said.
The aircraft involved in this incident was a new F-15QA fighter recently accepted by the Air Force from Boeing and expected to be transferred to the Qatar Emiri Air Force through the Foreign Military Sales program. The pilots, a source told Military.com, were from the Air Force and Navy and assigned to the Defense Contract Management Agency, which handles equipment delivery from contractors.
Boeing received a five-year $240 million contract in 2019 to support the QEAF by providing F-15QA program management, maintenance, and aircrew training, according to the company.
Scott Air Force Base tweeted in late February, that pilots who will fly Boeing’s new fighter were undergoing training and instruction at MidAmerica Airport with support from base personnel.
It is unclear exactly what happened Tuesday that caused the two pilots to eject from the F-15QA fighter on the runway. A safety board investigation is currently underway, according to Scott Air Force Base.
Update: This post was updated with additional information from the US Air Force and Scott Air Force Base.
In scenes broadcast live on several news channels, after the first explosion, civilians and security officers ran away as cameras panned out to the blast, while the politicians scurried away to safety. Images and videos from the blast show chaotic scenes in the aftermath, as well as a smoke and debris-filled airport with bodies strewn around inside terminals.
No government officials on the plane were hurt by the blast, per the AP report.
Yemeni Communication Minister Naguib al-Awg, a passenger on the plane, told the AP that the attacks may have been drone attacks, stating there were multiple.
“It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed,” al-Awg said, claiming that the plane was the target and was scheduled to land earlier.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Yemen’s government has charged that Iran-backed Houthi rebels targeted the airport with ballistic missiles. Officials reported a second explosion near the presidential palace, where the new cabinet members were transferred after the first attack.
The announcement and introduction of a revitalized cabinet in Yemen potentially offered a new chance for collaboration between Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates.
Throughout the course of the decade-long humanitarian crisis and war, which has gripped Yemen, Hadi’s government has at times sided with UAE-backed separatists and been supported by a US and Saudi-led military campaign, which has targeted Houthi rebels, who control swaths of Northern Yemen as well as the capital Sanaa. At least 233,000 Yemenis have been killed throughout the war from indirect and direct causes, according to the UN.
Several high-ranking Yemeni officials responded to the attack, as did humanitarian organizations on the ground in Aden, a highly disputed port city.
Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed tweeted that he and his cabinet were unharmed, calling the attacks a “cowardly terrorist act.”
Health Minister Qasem Buhaibuh tweeted that at least 25 people were killed and 110 others were wounded, adding that many were seriously wounded.
Several humanitarian workers and journalists were killed in the blast.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said that three workers were killed in the Aden blast. “This is a tragic day for the ICRC and for the people of Yemen,” said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC’s director of operations.
Yemeni Belqees TV, a Yemeni news channel, said that reporter Adeeb al-Ganabi was killed in the airport blast, and Yemeni Information Minister Moammer al-Iryani added that at least 10 other journalists reporting on the historic arrival were wounded.
The Yemeni prime minister also tweeted a video after the attack, and said his government was in Aden “to stay.”
After Houthi rebels took over Sanaa in 2014, Aden has largely been Hadi’s base. The plane carrying Yemen’s new cabinet was returning from Riyadh, where they were sworn in last week after striking a deal with the separatists.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government has largely operated from Riyadh during the war, where cabinet members have been self-exiled.
The UN Secretary-General and several embassies issued statements condemning the attack as well.
The day before Christmas eve saw the largest number of travelers passed by the airports since March.
A total of over 1.19 million travelers passed through checkpoints at airports across the country on Wednesday, according to the Transportation and Security Administration. This is the largest number of travelers since March, topping 1.17 million travelers who passed through airports on the weekend after Thanksgiving, according to data from the TSA.
Coupled with the consequences of pandemic fatigue and more people congregating indoors due to cold weather, the amount of travel and gathering over Thanksgiving proved deadly: As Business Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen reported earlier this month, over 47,000 people have died from coronavirus since Thanksgiving.
Ahead of the Christmas holiday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told The Washington Post that he advises the public to “stay at home as much as you can, keep your interactions to the extent possible to members of the same household” and noted that the holidays “cannot be business as usual” this time.
Nurses on the frontlines told Business Insider’s Allana Akhtar that they expect a surge in cases following the winter holidays, similar to what they witnessed after Thanksgiving.
“We’re just kind of expecting the numbers to only get worse, unfortunately,” said Sarah Curran, a nurse in the ICU in Michigan.
These alarmingly high numbers of travel come amid grim milestones related to the coronavirus. As of Saturday, the US surpassed 18.7 million cases of coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The US has seen a 7.6% increase in the number of cases over the past week, according to the COVID Tracking project, and due to the overwhelming number of cases, some areas like regions in California are setting up tents outside to make room for patients.
As Business Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen reported, over 47,000 people in the country have died from coronavirus since the Thanksgiving holiday and hospitals have struggled to support an overwhelming number of patients.
While the tragic surge in deaths is attributed to pandemic fatigue, cold weather forcing people indoors, and lax policies on masks and closures, the recent record-breaking days of death are also the result of infections contracted around Thanksgiving, McFall-Johnsen reported.
Dr. Fauci, in a recent interview with The Washington Post, warned the public ahead of the Christmas holiday to remain home as much as possible, and that it “cannot be business as usual this Christmas because we’re already in a very difficult situation, and we’re going to make it worse if we don’t do something about it.”
Since last Tuesday, airports have recorded an increased number of travelers passing by the checkpoint with the past consecutive days recording over 1 million travelers passing by, respectively, according to the TSA.