After a year-plus of coronavirus-induced stress and boredom, many Americans are eager to travel again.
Looking ahead to an expected boom in summer travel, Amtrak is luring travelers in with the relaunch of its USA Rail Pass. The ticket, which Amtrak launched last week, allows people to spend a month criss-crossing the country on Amtrak trains for a flat fee.
Through June 22, the pass is discounted by 40% to $299 from its usual price of $499. It doesn’t allow for unlimited train travel, but rather the $299 includes the purchase of 10 rail segments over the course of 30 days.
According to Amtrak, each segment of a trip occurs when a passenger gets off of a train. So a trip with one connection uses up two segments, but one long direct ride would only be one segment.
The USA Rail Pass is only good for coach seats and doesn’t let passengers book more premium accommodations like sleeper cabins or first-class seats. Still, at an average cost of $30 per segment, the pass offers massive discounts, given that a single segment can cost hundreds of dollars.
For instance, one round-trip ticket on the 1,377-mile-long Crescent line from New York to New Orleans can run you close to $500. The USA Rail Pass would pay for itself after that trip alone.
Buyers have 120 days to book trips using their USA Rail Pass after purchase. They then have 30 days to use up the 10 segments from the date of their first trip.
Sarah said she enjoyed the decreased stress that came while working over the pandemic, servicing emptier planes when people felt less safe flying. She added boarding back-to-front and assisting fewer passengers with their luggage made her job more efficient.
But more than a year after the pandemic, Sarah, who, like many of the other flight attendants interviewed, requested to remain anonymous to speak without fear of retaliation, said she is excited for the perks of her job – like visiting new destinations during layovers – that got put on hold.
“We want travel to come back, flight attendants probably the most,” she told Insider. “We miss traveling on our off days and we want travel to be safe for everyone.”
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Though the pandemic has changed how we fly, some flight attendants are ‘cautiously optimistic’ about travel’s return
A San Francisco-based flight attendant said the job lost some of its “glamour” during the pandemic, as crew members couldn’t visit beaches and other attractions due to quarantine mandates across many US states. The flight attendant recalled packing her lunch in mid-2020 for flights because airports had closed many restaurants.
“I just had back-to-back layovers in Hawaii and, you know, crew members are not exempt from quarantine,” the flight attendant said. “In the old days, I would have been laying out my bikini, so it’s definitely a little less glamorous now that’s for sure.”
The San Francisco-based flight attendant said the job had become lonelier during the pandemic because she and other crew members could not go out for happy hours due to COVID restrictions. Some protocols have left flight attendants feeling lonelier aboard planes, too.
“I miss so much being able to smile at my passengers,” she said. “I do smile now, but you know, you can’t see it. I hope that my passengers can feel it, but I do miss being able to actually give them a real smile.”
Jenn Ayala, a flight attendant based in New Jersey, told Insider that she also feels like wearing masks had made communicating with passengers more difficult, and took a hit on the customer service part of the job.
Policing passengers over mask policies had made passengers more aggressive during the pandemic, flight attendants recently told Insider. The Federal Aviation Administration said it received 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers since January 2021. About 1,900 of the reports deal with passengers who refused to comply with the federal facemask mandate.
Per the CDC, Americans – both vaccinated and unvaccinated – still must wear masks in airports and on transportation. But airlines like United and Delta are taking harder approaches to COVID-19 safety than other private firms by requiring new flight attendants get vaccinated.
Anthony Fauci said he predicts all airlines and cruise ships will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination before getting on board.
Sarah said she feels safe flying because she knows vaccines are safe and airlines continuously filter air in the cabin.
Though she said passengers who don’t want to wear masks have been “challenging” to deal with, Sarah said she’s seeing less nervous passengers and people boarding the plane wearing hazmat suits the last few weeks – a sign that Americans are thankful to be in the air after being “cooped up” at home.
“As of right now, I’m cautiously optimistic for the future of airline travel,” Sarah said. “I’m really proud of how US airlines have handled flying during the pandemic and keeping everyone safe.”
Other flight attendants said more travel means more job stability.
One Los Angeles-based flight said another benefit for the uptick in travel is decreased fear of furloughs and layoffs.
American and United began furloughing workers on September 30 after projecting the two would layoff a combined 32,000 workers. Globally, airlines may have cut nearly 5 million jobs if travel did not rebound after COVID-19, according to an analysis by the Air Transport Action Group.
But one year later, American, Delta, United, and Southwest all announced they will hire pilots and other positions before the end of 2021. The Association of Flight Attendants union expects the number of flight attendant jobs to climb from 80,000 in June to 100,000 by 2023, Insider’s Kate Duffy reported.
“The more flying we have, the better it is for both passengers and crew members,” the LA-based flight attendant said. “I hope everything stays and we don’t have any setbacks going forward.”
One Chicago-based flight attendant told Insider she got laid off for four months during the winter, and came back on board in March. She said the state of the industry had been in such a flux that she didn’t know whether to wait until she got called back or to find another job.
She said she’s ready for airline travel to go “back to normal,” and she’s happy to see flights full again.
“I really love my job,” the flight attendant said. “I didn’t realize how much I would miss interacting with people until I was furloughed and quarantined. The furlough made me appreciate my job more.”
Vaccinated against COVID-19 and craving a warm summer escape aboard a cruise ship? Royal Caribbean’s newly announced seven-night Mediterranean cruises may be a good fit for you. From July 10 through October, the cruise line’s 13-deck Jewel of the Seas ship will bring guests from Limassol, Cyprus to different destinations around Cyprus and Greece, including Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini.
This will be Royal Caribbean’s first time sailing from Cyprus.
“We are delighted that Royal Caribbean will call Limassol its home port for the first time ever,” Savvas Perdios, Cyprus’ deputy minister of tourism, said in a press release. “This has been an ambition of ours for many years, and we are thrilled that, finally, this dream has come to fruition.”
These new Mediterranean sailings will cruise with a vaccine mandate. This means all crew members and adult guests aboard the ship will have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, while passengers under 18-years-old will instead have to test negative for the virus. However, Royal Caribbean notes that these protocols may change “as they are evaluated on an ongoing basis.”
“The vaccines are clearly a game-changer for all of us, and with the number of vaccinations and their impact growing rapidly, we believe starting with cruises for vaccinated adult guests and crew is the right choice,” Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, said in a March 19 press release. “As we move forward, we expect this requirement and other measures will inevitably evolve over time.”
Harvest Hosts, an RV membership company that gives RVers access to “unique” overnight stays, has found success during COVID-19, and a new almost $40 million investment will allow the business to continue its fast growth ahead of the predicted summer travel boom.
Road travel vehicle manufacturers specializing in RVs, camper vans, and trailers saw a huge spike in sales during 2020 as COVID-19 stopped would-be travelers from flying and cruising. However, these makers weren’t the only travel-adjacent companies that benefited from the coronavirus pandemic: from May 2020 to December, Harvest Hosts’ membership base doubled in size, the company says.
Prior to this, the company had already been growing fast due to the millennial #VanLife boom and retirees interested road travel. But when COVID-19 hit the US, “everything went into hyper-speed,” Joel Holland, CEO of Harvest Hosts, told Insider in an interview.
Harvest Hosts’ expanding business eventually caught the attention of Stripes, leading to its $37 million investment in the RV membership company. Stripes previously invested in companies like GrubHub, Reformation, and Refinery29.
“We look to back ambitious entrepreneurs who are delivering amazing products, and it became clear as we spent more time in the space that Holland is building a really special product for RVers,” Chris Carey, a partner at Stripes, said in a press release. “His vision for the company is something we are excited to be part of.”
How it works
Harvest Hosts’ appeal is in its straightforward membership model. Members can tap into the company’s network of over 2,000 locations – known as “hosts” – across the US for overnight RV stays. The company’s hosts encompass a wide range of destinations, including breweries, farms, golf courses, and wineries, the latter the most popular option.
There are several stipulations to the membership program. For one, members must have a “fully self-contained RV” with a toilet and wastewater tanks. RV travelers are also required to notify the hosts ahead of their arrivals and are discouraged from staying longer than the allotted 24-hour overnight stay.
Annual memberships start at $79 for the classic package. This price then jumps to $199 for the classic package plus access to golf and country clubs. Overnight stays don’t come at any additional cost, but Harvest Hosts encourages its members to spend money at their destinations in order to support the local hosts.
“We keep our membership costs low because we want to encourage people to take the money they’re saving and spend it with the local businesses,” Holland said. Currently, about 60% of its members are retired, and over half have a six-figure-plus disposable income, making them a “powerful buying force,” Holland explained.
Last year, Harvest Hosts’ members spent over $25 million at the visited locations. Holland projects this will grow to $30 million this year, which translates to an additional $15,000 for winery-based hosts specifically.
Harvest Hosts has grown quickly. This is how its new investment will help
The company’s rapid growth has been a constant for several years now. From 2018 to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvest Hosts’ membership base grew ten times, and this growth only continued to accelerate through 2020.
According to Holland, new members began flocking to the company through the summer – as expected – into the winter. Travel normally hits a lull during winter, but the inverse happened for Harvest Hosts: interest in January and February 2021 were so high, the number of members spiked 400% compared to last year.
“Everything in this industry seems to be moving fast,” Holland said. “We want to make sure we can keep up, and the funding will help us do that.”
According to Holland, this $37 million investment will help Harvest continue the growth of both its host and member communities, all with the goal of becoming “the trusted resource for RVers when they’re looking for a place to stay.”
To do this, Harvest Hosts is now using the money to boost its location catalog from a little over 2,000 hosts, to 3,000 hosts by the end of the year. Looking even further ahead, the company is “racing to 10,000,” Holland said.
Along with this host growth, the Harvest Hosts is also building out features like improved “route planning tools” and a new reservation system meant to ease the hosting process.
“The faster we can get more hosts onboard, the better for our members and these small businesses,” Holland said. “The more we scale, the better everyone does, so I’m excited to [do so] as quickly as possible, and that takes money. “
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Now, Royal Caribbean is enforcing this same protocol on its newly announced summer sailings collection: all adult passengers must be vaccinated against COVID-19, while guests under 18-years-old must test negative for the virus.
“The vaccines are clearly a game changer for all of us, and with the number of vaccinations and their impact growing rapidly, we believe starting with cruises for vaccinated adult guests and crew is the right choice,” Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, said in the press release. “As we move forward, we expect this requirement and other measures will inevitably evolve over time.”
This new series of ‘fully vaccinated’ trips will sail on the Adventure of the Seas ship beginning June 12 from the cruise line’s new homeport in Nassau, Bahamas. The cruise will then hit islands like the Grand Bahama, Cozumel, Mexico, and Royal Caribbean’s Perfect Day at CocoCay island. The latter is filled with hot weather amenities like a water park, beach club, and freshwater lagoon, all of which will be operated by a vaccinated crew.
“I am especially pleased that Royal Caribbean … selected the Bahamas as a homeport when sailing resumes,” Hubert Minnis, prime minister of The Bahamas, said in the press release. “Cruising is a vital part of The Bahamas’ economy and having Royal Caribbean and their guests return to our shores will contribute greatly to restoring and reactivating tourism.”
Guests will also have to adhere to the country’s travel requirements, which include presenting a negative PCR test before traveling and testing again after arriving.
Eager cruisers will finally be able to cruise around the Bahamas this summer aboard Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity ship.
In total, Crystal Cruises will be offering 32 seven-night trips from July to October starting from Bahamas’ Nassau or Bimini. The cruises will then shuttle passengers to five other destinations around the country: San Salvador, Long Island, Great Exuma, Harbour Island, and Bimini or Nassau, the latter depending on the sailing’s starting point.
“Crystal Cruises will go on record as the only cruise line offering Bahamas-only voyages … and the support that these cruises will bring to multiple communities within the country will be tremendous,” Dionisio D’Aguilar, Bahamas’ minister of tourism and aviation, said in a statement. The Crystal Serenity will also be the “first ocean ship to sail from the Americas” since the ongoing cruising pause first began in 2020, according to a blog post from the Bahamas.
Bookings for the tropical cruises will open on March 18 starting at $2,000 per person. The sailings will also follow Crystal Cruises’ “Crystal Clean+” measures, which include arrangements like contactless dining, mask-wearing on certain parts of the ship, and social distancing protocols.