As most of us have canceled or radically changed vacations and altered everyday lifestyles during the past 6-7 months, questions arise about how safe it is to fly, what it’s like to visit foreign destinations allowing Americans, and what the actual flight process is like. Both because I was itching for a vacation and because I wanted to personally check out the situation for my clients’ sake, my daughter and I took a 5-day trip in early September to Puerto Vallarta.
We flew out of Charlotte with connecting flights through Dallas both ways. We had an early morning flight and not only was Charlotte airport considerably less busy than usual, there were few shops or restaurants open. Normal opening times have been completely altered, which was doubly disappointing since we also wouldn’t receive any snack or beverage service on our flights. American Airlines’ current policy for shorter domestic and Mexican flights is to hand out a bag with a small water bottle, a bag of pretzels, and a sanitizing wipe in it as you board the plane. No other service is available.
Face masks are required in all of the airports. While the vast majority of travelers obey the rules of only removing their masks while seated and eating, there are still some who completely ignore them unless forced to do so. On one of our return flights, which was packed 100% full, we had 2 passengers sitting next to each other who only put on their masks when flight attendants reminded them of the rule, then took them off again as soon as the attendants walked away. They were by far the exception to the rule as most people went out of their way to be thoughtful and courteous of how others might feel.
Social distancing is a real mixed bag when flying. At TSA, there are distancing markers, and people obeyed them. But then when we boarded the plane, we got bunched up waiting in line to get to our seats. Similarly, when disembarking the plane and going through our temperature checks and immigration, we got bunched up in lines again. Then on the flights themselves, 2 of our 4 flights were fully booked, so there was no space between seat neighbors. The planes did seem noticeably cleaner to me, with the exception of the restrooms on the full flights.
Everywhere we went in Puerto Vallarta, staff and even most people just walking around outside, were wearing masks. We didn’t wear them when just walking outdoors, but many people did. When entering any shop, restaurant, or hotel, masks are required and there is hand sanitizer available at most places. Upon arrival at restaurants and hotels, and at some excursions, temperatures are taken before entering the establishment. It’s important to have a QR code reader while traveling since most places have removed menus, activity lists, and directions and instead give you a QR code to pull up the information online. However, that’s not universal.
The Marriott where we stayed was very clean and followed all possible protocols. Our table at the outdoor restaurant where we ate several times was sanitized both when they cleared it after the last diner and then again when we were seated. Wait staff wear a plastic mask that is closed on the bottom, fitting around the chin, then scooping upward and open at the top. Plexiglass is used at counters and desks. However, wherever we went we found that we, and the person behind the counter, would lean into the cracks or around the sides more often than not, so we could hear each other. Talking through a mask with an extra layer of plexiglass and trying to understand each other’s accents can become difficult.
At our Marriott, rooms were cleaned every other day. However, everything appeared to be well sanitized. The phone and tv remote were even shrink-wrapped. Items such as coffee makers and refrigerators have been completely removed. Ice buckets are also no longer in the rooms, but guests may call to request a bucket of ice. Similarly, there are no binders with information about the resort, no pens and no paper anywhere in the room. The one newly added item was a bag of sanitizing wipes!
When outdoors at the pools or on the beach, face coverings are not expected. Whereas staff always wore face coverings walking around outdoors, most guests did not. Guests only wore face masks regularly in the lobby and indoor spaces.
We had some wonderful excursions and went into town a few times. For transportation to and from these places, we used Uber. The drivers were always wearing face masks, as did we. Cars were clean and we never waited more than a couple of minutes to be picked up. Taxis were also readily available everywhere, and we never saw a driver without a mask.
On our excursions, things were a bit different. We took a fantastic 4-hour ATV tour. At the beginning, temperatures were taken and we were given bandanas to wear with goggles in case we preferred to use those. However, we were not required to wear anything other than the helmets while riding. We had several stops for photos, drinks, a tortilla demonstration and snacks, and everyone in the group was pretty careful about keeping some distance while doing these activities, which were all in open air, and under shelter. Guests did not wear face coverings during these times. In contrast, our guides kept on their face coverings the entire time when stopped.
We also took an all-day catamaran sailing trip. While our numbers were low enough on the catamaran to keep a bit of distance, none of us wore masks while sailing. Being outdoors in the wind, sun, and salt, I think we all felt pretty comfortable.
I was generally very impressed with how hard the Mexican people were working to stay safe and keep everything sanitized. Our vacation was extremely enjoyable and it’s a real treat to travel with no crowds at resorts (plenty of available lounge chairs) and no waiting in restaurants. With the fresh sea breezes, cleanliness, and regulations in place, we felt very safe. The only times we were a bit uncomfortable about possible exposure was when we were crowded into lines in the airports.
So would I recommend traveling to those places allowing American visitors right now? It depends. If you’re someone who is at risk and doesn’t want to ever be in a space with a group of people, then there’s just no guarantee that won’t happen. And a few fellow travelers are going to try to get around wearing their face masks whenever possible. If that makes you uncomfortable, you probably shouldn’t fly yet. However, if you’re not in the higher risk category and are anxious to get out into the world again, I’d absolutely recommend it. In spite of some of the limitations of being able to control every single situation, airports, airlines, restaurants, resorts, and excursion companies are doing everything possible to keep everyone safe. And overall they’re doing a good job.
I was in need of a vacation and returned home refreshed… and ready to go again!