U.S. airlines are announcing new steps to protect passengers from the coronavirus as the number of people flying has stalled, threatening a three-month gradual increase in air travel. (Aug. 17)
Jessica Alba loves to seek other travelers’ tips ahead of a vacation.
In mid-August, the 37-year-old Indiana woman turned to one of her favorite online forums – the Facebook travel community created by deals site Scott’s Cheap Flights – in search of updates on travel to Mexico after a long-planned Costa Rica trip fell through because of coronavirus restrictions.
Her request ended with a qualifier: “Thanks in advance for any (judgement free) information you can provide!”
The coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 176,000 people in the U.S. as of Monday with case counts still growing, has created a minefield, on social media and in everyday life, for people still traveling or planning trips.
Travelers have to tiptoe around the topic, emphasize every safety measure taken or keep the trip secret for fear of critics questioning their common sense, priorities, and morals or character.
The problem is so significant that Scott’s Cheap Flights and other online travel forum operators have had to issue COVID-19-era guidelines and reminders about civility. On the eve of summer vacation season in late May, Scott’s urged its 135,000 online community members to be kind. It had to double down in mid-July because “ugly comments” remained a problem, forcing it to delete a post, a rare occurrence for the site.
“If you disagree with anyone traveling now, that’s totally okay. If you’re upset that countries are allowing people in, understandable,” an administrator wrote. “BUT that is not cause for judging others who simply comment that they want to go somewhere OR who are finding hope in seeing some countries reopen.”
Alba said she added the qualifier to her recent post after seeing people travel-shamed online. She said she had one post on another Facebook travel board removed because it mentioned travel to Florida, a COVID-19 hot spot, even though she was simply trying to get a car to someone there.
“if you travel during this time, people think you’re either misinformed or malinformed or they think you don’t care about other people,” she said. “To sit here and automatically shame people or assume that they’re uneducated or ignorant or just that they don’t care, … it’s not fair to say. It’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario.”
The mother of three, who is not taking her children on the Mexico vacation, said she has studied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel guidelines and researched airlines before picking Delta for its safety measures. She said she and her fiance just plan to lie on the beach, not do those “spring break-like things” that drew ire early in the pandemic.
“I’m more worried about living in a Big 10 college town and what that looks like than I am about international travel at this point,” Alba said.
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Shaming is not new, of course. Incivility was rising long before COVID-19 hit but has intensified during the pandemic because people have different views on social responsibility and safety, according to Sue Scheff, co-author of “Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate.”
It has spawned mask shaming and shaming about social activities, including eating out and going out with friends, even as coronavirus restrictions have eased and more places have opened.
“They’re just throwing travel shaming in now as another way to become judge and jury of this world,” Scheff said.
Scheff, who has traveled only nearby since the pandemic began, said there’s a measure of self-righteousness among the harshest critics.
“They believe that they are right,” she said. “You can tell them all day long that the sky is blue. And in their mind, the sky is red. There’s just no way changing their mind.”
There are “no winners” in online shaming, Scheff said, except maybe the beach shamers who posted photos of packed beaches early in the pandemic, which prompted officials in Florida, where she lives, and other destinations to close beaches again or tighten restrictions.
Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, said it’s natural for people to criticize others during a stressful time like a pandemic because “we’re all looking for someone to blame.”
Travelers on vacation are the perfect target for those still quarantining at home, he said.
“For a lot of folks, it seems like the epicenter of indulgence,” he said.
Keyes hasn’t been on a plane since the pandemic began but has camped with his family.
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Scheff said there is nothing wrong with expressing concerns about the pandemic travel plans of a stranger or friend or family members, as long as it’s not an attack.
“You can say, ‘Hey, you know what, Europe sounds like a great idea, however, let me give you some advice (on) how to do it safely,” she said. “If you can be constructive rather than combative, people will listen.”’
Pointing out that a particular area has had recent surges is fine, too, she said.
Suzanne Nguyen was compelled to comment on a Scott’s Cheap Flight post in mid-August asking whether it was worth it to visit Las Vegas that weekend.
She wasn’t flip or crude like the poster who said, “I mean, Vegas is all about gambling so why not gamble with your life too?” or the one who posted an emoji of the Grim Reaper.
But she did say she wouldn’t risk it because a friend of a friend had contracted the virus from someone who had recently been in Las Vegas and passed it along to a young woman who died. She included a Facebook post from a friend about the death.
“I just wanted him to know, you can still travel, that’s your choice,” the 35-year-old hair stylist from San Jose, California, said. “I’m not going to mother you and tell you not to, but I just want you to know a friend that I know recently passed away.”
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Nguyen said she has seen a lot of travel shaming and can understand where critics are coming from.
“I really don’t blame them because maybe they’ve had a personal experience with the virus,” she said. “I feel like it’s very personal. If they are shaming, it’s probably for a good reason.”
Nguyen hasn’t traveled since the pandemic began and says her message to others is, “Hey, we need to take this more seriously.”
“If you’re just traveling for leisure, at least do it safely and not go to a place that’s crowded,” she said.
Alba’s plea for no judgment about her Mexico questions worked; she received only helpful responses. She’s headed there this fall unless travel restrictions change.
But she doesn’t plan to post about it on social media.
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