Health

San Antonio Int’l Airport lights up

Yes, it looks pretty. But this month the lights at San Antonio International Airport (SAT) are supporting two important national campaigns: Breast Cancer Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness.

SAT is turning its lights pink to acknowledge Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The airport is partnering with local groups to promote the “Real Men Wear Pink campaign. The campaign raises money for breast cancer research and encourages men and women to get breast exams.

SAT is also participating in the Purple Porch SA Initiative. This campaign raises awareness about domestic violence and the airport’s lights are turning purple to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The lights will alternate between purple and pink until October 31.

As part of the the local campaign, a sculpture made of bras and ties is being commissioned.

Travelers are invited to donate to the sculpture’s creation by dropping bras and ties in bins placed at the information desks in the baggage claim areas of both SAT terminals.

We suggest bringing your donations along with you; not undressing on site.

The sculpture will be unveiled next year and then travel around the city and state to raise awareness of the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women.

The last day to donate bras or ties is October 31.

Mask minders at Tampa Int’l Airport

Flying somewhere over the holiday weekend? If so, keep in mind that the federal mask mandate requiring travelers to stay masked up on airplanes and in airports has been extended into January 2022.

Tampa International Airport (TPA) takes that rule seriously and is actively enforcing it.

In its newsletter, TPA shared that its Operations, Guest Services, and other frontline team members do regular “mask enforcement blitzes” during which about 15 employees periodically walk the terminals to remind travelers of the mask rule and offer maks to those who need them.

Good work TPA!

Even if you have your own mask we encourage everyone to bring along or accept a spare. After a few hours wearing one mask, it is good to switch it out for another.

Mask mandate on planes & public transit to be extended

On Tuesday, multiple sources were reporting that federal officials will extend until at least mid-January the requirement that travelers must wear face masks on commercial airplanes, in airports, and on other forms of public transportation.

The Transportation Security Administration’s current transportation mask mandate is set to expire on Sept. 13. The agency is expected to extend the mandate until Jan. 18.

The mask mandate makes sense, given the rising rates of COVID-19 due to the delta variant. But there are likely to be people who are unhappy with that requirement. Some of those people will likely end up in the FAA’s unruly passenger list.

No official tweet from TSA on the mask mandate as of late Tuesday night, but TSA did post something earlier in the day about the latest pups in competition for the agency’s Cutest Canine Contest.

Dogs are cool, but cat lovers at some airports made sure to celebrate Black Cat Appreciation Day on Tuesday as well.

Travel jitters. Now due to the delta variant

(This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News online)

This was supposed to be the summer of “revenge travel,” catch-up trips, and rescheduled family reunions — but the surge in coronavirus cases, and in particular, the highly contagious delta variant has some travelers pausing their plans.

Summer 2021 has come with soaring prices for everything from rental cars to lobster rolls. Wildfires, heatwaves, delays, worker shortages, and an uptick in unruly passengers have all already tested the patience of the hardiest traveler.

But it wasn’t until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged even vaccinated people to resume wearing masks indoors that the ramifications started to ripple through the travel and tourism industry.

Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking Holdings, which operates sites such as Kayak and Priceline, said the rise of the delta variant and the new travel restrictions “have led to a modest pullback in our booking trends in the month of July relative to June.”

Around the country, major tourist destinations, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles County, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. reinstated mask requirements in public indoor settings. Many communities are taking it a step further — a growing list of bars and restaurants in Seattle now require that patrons show proof of vaccination for entry. And nationwide, Yelp now has a filter that allows users to see if a restaurant or business has instituted a ‘proof of vaccination’ rule.

Later this month, New York City will begin requiring proof of vacation for indoor dining, performances, and other leisure activities. At least one hotel, Ian Schrager’s Public Hotel, in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, said it will require guests and workers to present proof of vaccination.

With changing rules and ever-tightening restrictions, travelers say they are beginning to think twice about their plans.

“I’m in the fretting stage. There’s so much that’s uncertain,” said Frieda Werden, who has a trip to Durham, North Carolina, planned for September. “I want to go see my mother, who is about to turn 96 and feels she is declining. But I don’t want either of us to get the variant.”

In Coupeville, Washington, Moe Bébé Fraser Bowman is adding concerns of the delta variant to the list of reasons why she keeps “putting off the notion of checking off the travel bucket list.”

Other travelers say they are still willing to travel, even abroad, despite the risks.

Nicole Woolcock of New York City says she won’t cancel her family’s trip to Portugal in September.

The family is booked into hotels that are taking extra precautions, she said. However, “if it looks like we won’t be able to leave our hotel and really experience Portugal, we’d reconsider our travel,” Woolcock said.

Tania Swasbrook, a luxury travel adviser at California-based Travelworld International Group, said many of her clients are also forging ahead.

“It is revenge travel with a hint of ‘the world may close down again so let’s go now,’” she said.

Deciding whether to take a trip is just one part of the puzzle, however. Travelers, or their agents, need to keep up with what can feel like a rollercoaster of changing protocols and rules. For some, the solution is to book “insurance” trips.

“Travelers are getting savvy, taking advantage of flexible cancellation policies, and booking multiple vacations for the same time but to different areas,” said Misty Belles, vice president for global public relations at Virtuoso Travel Network.

With several plans in place, “they know one will go through even if something happens in the other destinations,” Belles said.

Adding to the uncertainty of traveling right now is the fact that hotels, restaurants, and airlines are struggling to find enough workers to meet the demand.

“It is very bad right now,” said Jan Louise Jones, professor of hospitality and tourism in the Pompea College of Business at the University of New Haven. “And the variant? That’s not helping.”

Why We Spit on Viking Cruises

What’s the best part of taking a cruise around Iceland right now?

The food? The views? The waterfalls? Take your pick.

We’re fully vaccinated. But were we worried about traveling out of the country when the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t yet officially over?

You bet.

Still, when Viking Cruises sent an invite for a cruise around Iceland on the Viking Sky on one of the voyages in the “Welcome Back” collection, we said yes.

Just getting to go somewhere was an attraction of course. And there are now many researched-during-the pandemic places on our go-there-soon list.

But Iceland went to the top of the list when we took a look at the cruise itinerary and contemplated all the waterfalls, fjords, and elf-anointed landscapes we’d get to visit.

Viking’s Health and Safety program and COVID-19 prevention and mitigation plans, as described, were an attraction too.

Before the cruise, passengers had to provide proof of vaccination and fill out multiple health surveys. (I was a bit late on the uptake with that and got a phone call gently reminding me to get with the program.)

And in addition to wearing masks on board and while out on excursions, we had to agree to daily temperature checks, to wear contact-tracing devices, and to take daily non-invasive PCR tests once on board.

We were assured that crew members would be wearing the contact tracing devices and be tested daily too.

That PCR testing involves spitting into a tube left in our staterooms each night.

And to be honest, filling the tube to the required line isn’t that easy. And it is certainly not ‘cruise fun’ to be reminded by a staff member to take care of this task before leaving the cabin each day.

But it is important.

What happens to all that spit?

All the tubes get delivered daily to the onboard lab Viking has created on the ship. (Each Viking ocean ship has one now.) And the team in that lab uses highly sensitive equipment to test and evaluate all those PCR tests each day.

As we learned a few days into this cruise, this protocol works very well.

Although everyone on board is vaccinated, the lab discovered a suspected positive case of COVID_19 on board.

That fully vaccinated and asymptomatic guest was quickly re-tested and isolated in a dedicated section of the ship. The contact tracing system was activated.

We have another level of safety on board that has been protecting passengers from COVID-19: A pair of UV sanitizing robots, named R2 and D2. While passengers sleep, these efficient machines are sent into public spaces such as the fitness room and the atrium to UV-away any viruses that may be hanging about.

Still, the Icelandic authorities are making the Viking Sky skip some scheduled port visits. But because the onboard protocol is so extensive and efficient, there is no need for the rest of the passengers on board to restrict activities as we head back to Reykjavik.

There is no shortage of alcohol, sushi, or fact-filled lectures. And there are no other cases of COVID-19 discovered. (Yes, we keep spitting).

So we are all fine. It is, after all, a cruise ship filled with wonderful amenities and incredibly enthusiastic staff. There is no need to feel sorry for this merry band of cruisers.

[Update: the bars are now open. And Viking’s Chief Health Officer has arrived in Iceland to meet with officials and ensure the cruise line’s protocols are in sync with the country’s health officials and the Coast Guard. ]

As is their way, the team at Viking Cruises is keeping everyone very informed of what is happening – or not – and offering generous partial refunds (50% ) to customers, many of whom are already talking about their future cruises.

And as I move about the ship I hear disappointment, of course, but barely a grumble.

And that is why we are happy to spit on Viking Cruises.