At this stage in the pandemic, there’s no point even commenting on how much COVID-19 has changed air travel—that’s a given. And how has that been going? That depends on who you ask.
When we interviewed Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy, back in October 2020, he mentioned that in his own experience, there had been fewer people on planes, and those who did fly followed the rules and were civil to each other. (That was several months ago, so he might have different observations now.)
But not everyone has shared that sentiment, with many people noticing fellow travelers who do not believe the COVID-19 public health measures apply to them. As if the virus approached them, realized that they were wealthy and privileged—or felt entitled to ignore the precautions for other reasons—and then just went on its merry way.
If you encounter someone with this attitude while traveling, you may not be entirely sure how to handle it for a variety of reasons, including that you realize the chances of them listening to you and then complying are slim. But if you do decide to engage with someone like that, here are a few expert tips to help you navigate different situations.
Rather than launching into a lecture on germ theory, Nick Leighton, an etiquette expert who hosts the “Were You Raised by Wolves?” podcast advises taking a neutral approach. Here’s what he recently told USA Today:
“If you do engage with another traveler, approach the person in a way that’s judgment-free, value-neutral, and presumes that the issue is just an innocent mistake and not deliberately malicious. The right tone is often the key ingredient to successfully defusing and resolving sticky etiquette situations.”
In that context (assuming they made an innocent mistake), you can also mention something about the new TSA fines for not wearing a mask in the airport.
This tip comes from Jeanie Johnston, a tour operator based in Minneapolis, and takes a similar approach: combining kindness with some context that might be relevant to the person in close proximity. On a recent trip to Disney World (umm...), she politely requested that some people standing in line near her give her a little space, she told USA Today.
But before she did that, she commented that Disney World hasn’t had a case of COVID since July—counting on the fact that they’d put two and two together on their own, and figure out that if they want Disney World to stay open, they should follow the guidelines.
This one’s an old trick, usually used to get someone with bad breath to accept a piece of gum or a mint. Except this time, you’re at an airport (or on a plane, etc) and see someone who could use some hand sanitizer. Instead of giving them unsolicited information on hygiene, get out your bottle of hand sanitizer, use some, and then casually offer it to the person—in a polite, not passive-aggressive way.