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Itching To Travel Again, Some Americans Take Advantage Of Lower Airfare


Promising vaccine news may have some hoping to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel and maybe even daring to think about getting on a plane bound for, well, just about anywhere. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The Pizzarello family loves to travel, so much so that dad Ed hasn't even brought up the subject so his kids wouldn't get their hopes up. But the other night at the dinner table...

ED PIZZARELLO: I just said nonchalantly. Like, it wasn't even something I planned. I said, you know, hey, like, if we were done today and there were no more travel restrictions, what's the first place you'd want to go?

SCHAPER: Pizzarello writes a travel blog called Pizza in Motion, and he was expecting cautious responses. Instead, he got the opposite.

PIZZARELLO: Both of the kids and my wife all shout out places that they are just, like, raring to go.

SCHAPER: Places like...

PIZZARELLO: Italy, and then there was Australia. And then my son changed from Australia to China to Japan, back to Australia. And my daughter realized she wanted to go to Iceland more than she wanted to go to Canada. So there were a lot of choices (laughter).

SCHAPER: Pizzarello says he's not ready to book a trip yet, but he is looking. And a lot of other people are itching to travel, too.

KENDRA THORNTON: I think it's at an all-time high.

SCHAPER: Kendra Thornton runs the travel agency Royal Travel & Tours in Chicago's northern suburbs, and she says there's certainly a lot of pent-up demand.

THORNTON: People are tired of being at home. We hear that over and over when we speak to clients. They want something to look forward to. It's a new year. They're feeling optimistic, and they really want to have something on their calendar.

SCHAPER: Thornton says some want to book long weekends in February and March or spring break trips, while others are looking at summer and fall. She says the new federal requirement that those coming into the U.S. must first test negative for the coronavirus has chilled some travel enthusiasm. But after this dreadful year for the industry, is she now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?

THORNTON: Oh, yeah. I never say never now because we thought we were in the clear when 2021 started. And then that CDC mandate came out, and everyone in our industry was very caught off guard by that.

SCHAPER: But Kendra Thornton says with airfares really low right now and airlines dropping change fees, people will start booking trips. She says hotels and resorts are becoming more flexible, some even offering guests free COVID testing to help them meet the new CDC requirement.

THORNTON: It's been a yo-yo. We probably aren't fully out of the clear yet, but we're very optimistic. We know people want to travel.

SCHAPER: A recent survey by the American Society of Travel Advisors indicates that 87% of Americans plan to travel this summer, but to where and how will likely be influenced by the vaccine rollout. Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association told reporters this week that the pandemic has decimated the travel industry. Since March, hotels, airlines, rental car companies, theme parks, restaurants and other U.S. businesses relying on tourism have lost more than half a trillion dollars. That's trillion with a T. And the industry's unemployment rate soared to over 50%. Dow says as the travel industry goes, so goes much of the U.S. economy.


ROGER DOW: Simply put, the broad-based economic and jobs recovery is impossible without the revival of the travel industry.

SCHAPER: And that revival can't come soon enough. United Airlines today notified 14,000 employees that they may be furloughed April 1 when a second round of government aid runs out. And other airlines might follow suit unless people really start to feel safe enough to scratch that travel itch and start booking trips. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.


David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
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