If 2020 was the year that travel was cut short, 2021 was the year of erratic swerving and side-turning, like a teenager driving a bumper car.
Summer travel has been particularly chaotic, as travelers have been emboldened by vaccines, looser restrictions and cheap airline tickets. For many, their travels turned into puzzle after puzzle: airline schedules were in chaos, extreme weather conditions hit the country, and international destinations flipped on Covid rules as the variant Delta was increasing.
Nancy Newhouse, former Times Travel Editor-in-Chief, flew from Albuquerque to New York on American Airlines this summer, with what was to be a brief stopover to change planes at Dallas-Fort Worth. Instead, she sat on the tarmac for two hours when she arrived in Texas, had her next flight canceled, and stood in line for hours trying to change reservations. Her connecting flight was booked and canceled four times before arriving at LaGuardia two days later – without her luggage, which the airline left behind and then charged her $ 40 for delivery.
“Although I have been a travel writer for many years and will of course continue to travel, my assumptions have changed since the trauma of the pandemic,” she wrote to The Times. “Smooth sailing is a thing of the past.”
Her story inspired our call to readers to ask them for their chaotic summer travel stories, to help us capture the ups and downs of the moment. Read a selection of answers here, which have been edited slightly for length and clarity.
The early bird special
I was in a hotel outside of Port Antonio, Jamaica. I was told about the restaurant on the grounds and the free breakfast, but no one mentioned the Covid curfew. When I showed up around 7:30 p.m. for dinner, I was told that the curfew was at 6 p.m. and the restaurant staff were long gone! However, the bar was open so I had a strawberry daiquiri for dinner!
– Alice Mathis, Madison, Wisconsin.
One day in paradise
The trip to Greenland that I had planned for my parents aged 80 and over was canceled – for the second time – less than a month in advance. My parents had worked hard to be strong for the trip, so I was delighted to find availability for a Tahitian cruise in August instead. With the tests before the flight departed, upon arrival and at the dock, I kept telling my friends that I wouldn’t breathe easily until we were on the boat. No dice: After a magnificent first day on the island of Moorea, Tahiti went into confinement. The ship quickly returned to Papeete, the capital, while I spent hours trying to change reservations; we then sat at the dock for three days, unable to disembark before our flight. I feel guilty that we’ve been there, but it’s so hard to know what to do: Local Covid cases have increased dramatically in just two weeks. We are grateful that we are all healthy and sorry for the people of Tahiti.
– Elaine Chen, New York
Traveling a little too light
I took my first flight in 18 months to see my family. On the way home I walked through TSA PreCheck, joked the TSA agent about not being used to traveling (forgot to put all my stuff in the security bins), then I walked to my door. Just before arriving, I realized I didn’t have my suitcase! I left it in my sister’s car when she dropped me off. After a minute of hysterical laughter (luckily my flight was delayed) I called her and, at best, she was nearby – my 2 year old niece had wanted a smoothie. Five minutes later, I had my bag. The TSA agent was checking IDs and I had a good laugh when I explained to him why I was back.
– Rebecca Perlmutter, Boston
It’s always wine time in quarantine
After testing positive for a revolutionary case of Covid-19 in the Azores, the Portuguese archipelago, my wife and I were taken by ambulance, with a hazardous materials driver, to an unattractive hotel in Ponta Delgada. We were taken to a room via the service elevator. Heartbroken and shocked upon seeing our containment quarters for the next two weeks, we strolled out onto the balcony – at least we would have it. We were then greeted by our 40-something neighbors who, seeing the look on our faces, immediately walked past a nearly full bottle of delicious Portuguese red wine. There are surely so many worse midlife experiences than the time we spent with this lovely family who helped make it all so much more tolerable. It’s also nice to now have friends in Lisbon to visit someday.
– Tim Jones, Boston
To clean? It’s a vague definition
My husband and I flew to Bozeman, Mont., To see our kids in July. All the airlines had been touting their cleaning protocols, and we thought everything would be fine. As we were leaving our flight and another flight to a nearby gate were delayed and it was chaotic. The gate agent tried to keep everyone calm. When our plane finally arrived, the agent announced that he was the cleaning crew – and their only member. We watched him enter the catwalk and then come back five minutes later. The flight carried nearly 200 people to and from Bozeman. You can’t even clean three small bathrooms during this time. It was a sad reality.
– Gro Flatebo, Yarmouth, Maine
A fish explosion
My family and I rented cabins and went to Yellowstone which was beautiful. However, every flight I have taken this summer has been a complete disaster – delays for all possible reasons, including a burst fish container in the cargo hold with the fish barring the cargo door closed. It was eventually opened by a very limited number of employees on the tarmac. There was another night I was stranded in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and was considering heading back to Maryland as it would be faster than flying – except all rental cars were already booked.
– Deepa Galaiya, Baltimore
Bait and switch
We live about half the year in Tuscany and half in Florida, so we’re used to going back and forth. This summer, American Airlines has taken it out on us (yet again) by scheduling and reconfiguring entire blocks of international flights on a whim. A few days before our flight from Rome to Philadelphia, we were informed that we were being sent to Philly from Rome, via Dallas! They refused our request to exchange the ticket for a flight to a different destination nearby, like JFK in New York, seeing it more as an upsell opportunity, incurring us a fare increase to avoid this unexpected new stopover: the salt in the wound!
– Russell Maulitz, Tuscany and Philadelphia
Avoid the uncertainty, make pizza instead
I started my summer trips to Greece at the beginning of July. I was supposed to go to Malta next, but they changed their policy, effective two days before my flight. They required proof of vaccination and I had my card with me, but they did not accept Americans because our cards can be easily tampered with. I rushed over and decided to go to Naples instead. A few days later, Malta decided that it would finally accept American vaccination cards. But at that time, I was enrolled in a pizza-making workshop at the school where pizzaioli train. Too bad. Malta will still be there later, and I have started to build my pizza game.
– Stacy Kissel, Somerville, Massachusetts.
The eagle did not land
I wanted to see the rock band the Eagles which was on tour in 2020 but American cities were super expensive and Wembley stadium in England was cheap. So I built a whole European trip (my first) around this show. The Covid canceled it. I postponed everything, as well as the concert, to 2021. Three weeks before leaving for England, the Eagles also canceled this show (Covid again). I took a safety notice from them and canceled my entire trip to Europe. In order to see the concert again, I planned a trip to New York to see them. Five minutes after arriving in New York in the pouring rain, I received a text that the New York show was canceled due to Hurricane Henri. Everything else in NYC was canceled for the day I was there too, so I ended up spending 48 hours in a hotel with only bad Chinese food.
– Patricia Crawford, Craftsbury, Vermont.
When chaos is everyday
I was unable to travel this summer because, brace yourself, I am a customer service supervisor for a major airline and, with a labor shortage and stressed workforce, I needed to be at work for the back to travel flood. From my perspective, everyone was on vacation in Vegas. Not literally, but figuratively, just trying to make up for lost time and do whatever they want, whether it’s right or not. And often it wasn’t. I have never had a harder summer at work, and have been working there for 16 years. People have forgotten how to act and how to treat each other. And that we were there to help them recoup their time lost with family or on an adventure.
– Kristie Boles, Portland, Ore.
The smell of despair
I had to fly to Pennsylvania to visit a sick relative, but I was terrified of getting an infection and passing it on to them. I arrived at LAX at 8pm on a Saturday and arrived in Scranton at noon on a Monday. My original flight was on the tarmac for over three hours and could not find a crew to load the luggage onto the plane. Once they started, they were taken out with half the baggage on board. An hour later, the crew finally gave up. The next flight kept getting pushed back. I was still at LAX 18 hours after arriving. I spent most of that time in a double mask and eventually learned to go to the dog park to get some outside air that smelled like dog urine and kerosene, but it was a huge improvement for the environment inside.
– Leonard Smith, Pasadena, California.
Cows at a funeral
We drove to Montana from California for my mother-in-law’s postponed pandemic funeral, then flew to the east coast to see my 97-year-old mother, who we hadn’t seen for nearly two years. We were saddened by the number of businesses that we had benefited from on past trips that were now closed, probably permanently, but encouraged by the hardworking service industry employees we encountered along the way who were formidable despite the delays in supply and the lack of staff. We were fortunate enough not to have experienced any delays on either trip – except for the herding of several hundred red cows which took place amid my eulogy. stepmother. Even these cattle seemed to be part of the happy crowd to leave.
Denize Springer, Mill Valley, CA
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