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Good time for a staycation

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Want to get out of town this summer?

If you plan to fly, the advice from at least one Albuquerque travel agent isn’t what you might expect.

You just might be happier staying home for now, says Dan Martinez of Torres Travel of Albuquerque Inc.

“You can get there,” Martinez told the Journal last week. “But you can’t enjoy it. ”

And, once you return, New Mexico remains one of a few states that still require air travelers to self-isolate for 14 days upon their arrival. Exemptions include out-of-state residents traveling here for business.

“Travel-related cases are what brought the virus into New Mexico in the first place, and we want to be extra-cautious about New Mexicans bringing the virus home with them,” said David Morgan, a spokesman with the state Department of Health. “New Mexicans should continue to avoid unnecessary out-of-state travel.”

Martinez and other travel agents interviewed say that if you travel by air, there may be fewer nonstop flights as airlines gain their footing after a dramatic plunge in air travel due to the coronavirus. After travelers arrive at a destination, vacation attire will likely include masks, and vacationers may find long waits to get into restaurants that operate under limited capacity.

“Everything is up in the air,” said Kathy Hash, of Escape Travel USA in Albuquerque. “You fly out of here, but each place you stop can have a different regulation.”

Yet, whether for leisure or business reasons, passenger traffic at the Albuquerque International Sunport is slowly improving after dropping to 97% of normal for several weeks as the pandemic appeared to reach its peak in late April and May. Over the past seven days, the Sunport has had an average of about 3,200 passengers a day.

“It has very gradually started to increase to the point that today, we’re about 80% down,” said Jonathan Small, a Sunport spokesman, told the Journal on Thursday.

“The bottom fell out in April,”said Brad Hawkins, Southwest Airlines spokesman. The airline, the major carrier at the Sunport, had 30 flights daily in February and March of this year. “In May, we went down to eight departures a day.”

Southwest has doubled that to 17 daily this month and expects to be up to 26 departures in August.

“What the expectation is now is that normal is not going to be normal,” Hawkins said.

Nearly all states are opening up their economies while urging residents to stay home if possible. Many of those that issued self-quarantine orders for out-of-state travelers have lifted them.

In Alaska and Maine, alternatives to 14 days of self-isolation are now being offered. Travelers who present proof that they have recently tested negative for coronavirus can forgo the quarantine.

Alaska also offers testing at the airport upon landing, requiring the traveler to quarantine until the test result comes back. Yet Rhode Island and Massachusetts still require a quarantine.

Martinez, whose travel agency has operated since 1988, said Hawaii has taken a strict approach that requires out-of-state travelers to stay in their hotel rooms during their 14-day quarantine.

“You can’t leave the room for 14 days, and they call and check the room to see if you’re there,”Martinez said, adding that electronic room keys are good for only one entry.

“You can’t go to the beach, the pool or the restaurants,” Hawkins said. ” You have to order food in, and anyone who is caught outside will be challenged and arrested.”

Self-quarantine required

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham amended the state’s COVID-19 travel restriction effective June 1 to exempt certain types of travelers from the 14-day quarantine. Those are airline employees, those performing public safety or public health functions, military personnel, federal employees or those employed by a federal or national defense contractor, first responders, health care workers, those arriving because of a court order, and people traveling into New Mexico to conduct business.

In New Mexico, 24% of those who tested positive for the virus have been asymptomatic. For that reason, “travelers may be unaware they are carrying the virus,” the amended restriction says. Symptoms may not appear for up to 14 days after infection, state health officials say.

Those in self-isolation after an airline trip into New Mexico can be visited by family or household members, but those visitors are directed to then self-isolate or self-quarantine for 14 days.

The order, which doesn’t address road travel, permits the state Health Department to make “temporary holds of individuals or groups” and the agency can go to court to seek compliance and impose civil or criminal penalties.

As of Friday, there hadn’t been a case requiring enforcement action, said Morgan of the Health Department.

The Health Department has an information booth outside the security doors at the Sunport where arriving passengers enter the public side of the terminal, Small said. The city of Albuquerque has taken over manning the station, and there’s no requirement that travelers stop there.

Passengers must wear masks in the airport and while traveling. To reinforce that rule, United and American Airlines announced last week that people who don’t comply could face being banned from future flights.

Last week, American Airlines kicked a conservative activist off a flight to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport after he refused to wear a mask. After reviewing the incident, airline officials said the man would be barred from its flights as long as the mask requirement is in place, according to news reports. They contended he gave contradictory responses about having a medical condition.

United Airlines said noncompliant customers could be placed on an internal travel restriction list, losing their travel privileges on United for a length of time to be determined by a comprehensive incident review.

Southwest hasn’t adopted that kind of policy but is “vigilantly enforcing” the wearing of masks or face coverings during flights, Hawkins said.

“We don’t want to be the police, but everyone on the plane needs to feel safe and comfortable,” he said.

Masks have been required in public places in New Mexico since May 15.

But Transportation Security Administration officials may ask travelers to briefly adjust their masks during the security screening process, so their identities can be visually confirmed when they show their ID and to ensure that face coverings don’t alarm the body scanner, said a TSA spokeswoman.

TSA permits containers of liquid hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces in carry-on bags. More information can be found at http://go.usa.gov/xvhAE.

Meanwhile, some restaurants at the Sunport are opening, Small said. But no bars are opening.

Hold off for now

Martinez, a former sergeant-at-arms at the New Mexico State Senate, said that until last week, he hadn’t received a call to his travel agency since March 16. A customer phoned to change airline tickets for a flight in November.

If someone did ask his advice, Martinez said, “I would tell them just to hold off. I love to travel. I’m not knocking that. But it’s just not worth it.”

Hash, who specializes in Caribbean and international travel bookings, said most of her customers are delaying their trips to next year. Viking River Cruises, which normally runs European river cruise ships, is moving some of its ships to the U.S., she said.

She said the company intends to offer cruises on the Mississippi and the Great Lakes. “Because Americans are not able to travel, they figured they’ll bring some ships this way.”

Although there have been visits to her travel website, which also sells vacations to national parks, “nobody’s calling.”

“Nobody wants to do anything because they’re not sure what’s going to happen,” she said.

Although some national parks are opening, many are closed, Martinez said.

“You’re basically stuck at your hotel (if you go to a national park),” Martinez said. “For the governor’s happiness, you might as well just go to Downtown Albuquerque, rent at the Hyatt and just shut the door.”

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