June 19, 2021
Having made it back from the West Coast, where I reprised by annual spring visit, postponed from 2020, until June, I can offer a firsthand report: America is on the move. The planes were jampacked, and flights were double the prices that I remember. Rental cars, same thing.
On my last leg I sat next to a United pilot trying to make it back to the New Orleans area. He was even more exhausted than I was, and that took some doing. He said that what I was seeing was the same everywhere he had flown. Families jumping to vacation were everywhere. They were easy to pick out. Short pants galore! The rest were all of us who had finally confirmed that people were willing to meet with us after the long homestays. Those folks were easy to spot as well. The lines in the United group one for frequent flyers was the longest I have ever seen. United had given everyone a bye for the pandemic on the upgrade status it looked like, so it was a good healthy crowd in the first wave.
The rental car “crisis,” as the Republicans are reportedly referring to almost everything from what I read, meant that the price there was also double the usual. It must be so bad for some people trying to get a deal that the Federal Trade Commission, consumer groups, and even rental companies themselves are warning travelers of scams involving fake website and customer service numbers. How low can you go? I was bottom fishing, so I can imagine how people can get caught in the net. Expedia hooked me up with something called NU Rental Car. Get it, “nu – new” rental car company. It was an off-site operation, but I have no complaints.
On the other hand, I was talking to the Latino driver on my way into SFO. Naturally, we discussed housing prices, which is pretty much a mandatory subject for discussion in California now. Figuring he had to commute from forever to the job, I started asking him how far he had to go. He started the exchange saying that he only traveled 15 minutes from the city. Two-bedrooms he said were over $3000 and even a one bedroom would be over $2000. It turned out that he was renting one room and hoping to save enough money so that maybe he could rent an apartment somewhere next year.
For all the travel surge, it was impossible not to understand that the “essentials,” as we should call all service workers now, will be hurting. Retail shops were more numerous than my last trip both at the New Orleans airport and the one in San Francisco, but there were still about half of them still shuttered. It’s a problem too, since even a 3-hour flight from SFO to Houston, means a bag of pretzels pretty much.
We’re coming back, but we’re coming back raggedy when it comes to workers and about anything else that doesn’t refill the coffers for the airlines, it looks like to me.