Weird Weekend Back In The City Thanks To COVID-19

I was back in New York for the second time in a month, and returned to Florida this past Monday. I have been a frequent flyer for the past 20 years, and throughout that time the travel industry has been impacted by numerous viruses: SARS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu and Zika, and now most recently the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

This current COVID-19 virus seems more intense and dramatic. I kind of feel that if the entire country would stock up on food and take a 14 day breather, we could shut this virus down.

I wrote about my observations in the Big Apple two weeks ago prior to any confirmed Coronavirus cases, but this weekend seemed a little more acute. This was probably because the Coronavirus had actually arrived in New York and the first confirmed fatality was reported, which has now elevated my personal anxiety level.

In New York, I walked into numerous pharmacies looking for hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, only to find empty shelving. I never managed to locate any during the entire weekend. Luckily, my Delta Airlines amenity kit contained hand sanitizer.

Wearing my winter gloves to avoid direct contact with doors and railings I tried to enjoy the city. My wife and I discovered a gluten-free bakery; “by the way BAKERY“. The bakery has an interesting back story and very good eats. We even found gluten free Hamantachen. We also sat down to enjoy a grass fed, hormone & antibiotic free hamburger at “Mocha Burger“. We were the only patrons in the restaurant, which actually serves a really good burger.

People were already starting to stay home and when possible working from home. Facebook and Google have canceled their upcoming summits, and the Microsoft MVP Global Summit scheduled March 15-20 in Washington state will now be an online-only summit. The Mobile World Congress, “the largest mobile event in the world”, which was scheduled to take place in Barcelona has been canceled. Amazon instructed its approximately 800,000 employees to cease all non-essential travel immediately.

The travel industry seems to have been hit the hardest by the Coronavirus. The disruption in travel has prevented the industry from providing any realistic itinerary. Transportation schedules have been changed or cancelled frequently and my flights were relatively empty compared to two weeks ago for the same routes. Delta my favorite airline took a big hit in the stock market. Time magazine reports, “U.S. stocks lost nearly 12% and $3.5 trillion was erased for U.S. listed stocks“.

After 40 years in operation Flybe Airlines, the largest regional airline in the United Kingdom shut down operations. The winter slowdown, Brexit and now the Coronavirus was too much for this regional carrier that handled 40% of domestic routes, connecting the small towns throughout the kingdom. Flybe was well known as a champion for women in aviation and hired and promoted women extensively.

It is sad to lose another airline so soon after the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook Airways. Airlines are struggling during this epidemic, and media hysteria and viral fears are pushing airlines to the edge. Norwegian Airlines, El Al Airlines and Cathay Pacific are also in trouble after drastically curtailing their schedules.

Spirit Airlines stock price has dropped by 50% in the last three weeks. Southwest Airlines CEO, Gary Kelly even said on CNBC that the drop-off in domestic travel “has a 9-11 like feel”.

Delta Airlines has been offering deeply discounted award domestic flights for as low as 10,000 Skymiles. There are round trip flights now on sale from the west coast to Hawaii for under $300. Hong Kong Airlines is offering a discounted annual pass to fly between Hong Kong, China and Taipei, but will anyone purchase this travel bargain in the current environment?

Congress has quickly passed the $8.3 billion emergency funding package which includes $400 million in grants to localities throughout the country. $3.1 billion is earmarked for the purchase of medical supplies, with additional funding for research.

The traditional handshake is being substituted by the fist bump, in meet and greet scenarios. All this hand washing is causing dry skin and the need to use moisturizer, along with sanitizer and masks and gloves. Hopefully, this too shall pass.

It’s good to be back in Florida from all that weirdness in New York. I kinda got used to the local liquor store selling tackle and bait and alligator heads with a bottle of wine. What’s so weird about that?