The Curbing Cars Newsletter, 5/16/2020

The future of transportation and its intersection with the environment

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What A Strange Trip It Is These Days To Fly

I haven’t been on a plane since last fall, and the idea of flying in the COVID-19 era is completely unappealing.

But some people have to fly, for business and personal reasons. There aren’t very many, to be sure. And when they head to the airport, they find scenes that look nothing like the world before 2020.

Investment banker Martin Watts traveled from Incheon airport near Seoul to London Heathrow this past week, and he shared some stunning photos on Facebook. Martin was my student at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and I asked him to tell us about his travel experience.

Q. Why get on a plane now?

A. I'm traveling for a mixture of Korean visa and personal reasons, and no, there was no choice. I am lucky that KAL (Korean Air Lines) has direct flights to two destinations, one of them being London, and that, as a British citizen, the U.K. has to let me in!

Q: What were some of the procedures you went through at Incheon?

A: I had my temperature taken as I approached Security/Immigration, and then again when I was almost on board the plane. Actual check-in was being performed well in front of the usual desks by a very few number of staff, and we then wheeled our bags to the desks for bag drop-off. This was fine for an empty flight at an empty airport, but will certainly not work when things get busier.

As for documentation, I carried a lot more - because who knows how the situation will change? So I carried things like my degree certificates, medical records, bank accounts, etc. But Incheon required nothing more than the usual passport and boarding pass.

The only traveler in the club

On Facebook, Martin mentioned that he was the only person in KAL’s Premium Club, as you can see from his photo above.

Q: What did you notice in the airport? How were people equipped?

A: Pretty much every airport and airline staff member wore mask and gloves. Masks are universal in Korea now anyway. My flight was 20 percent full, and the cabin crew all wore mask and gloves, and eyeguards when serving food, perhaps because of the longer and more protracted contact needed.

All passengers wore masks most or all of the time, although quite a few took them off to sleep - and sleeping was pretty easy, with most people having several seats to themselves. Of course, there is still the vulnerability of having to have masks off for 15 to 20 minutes for each meal.

Q: What did you think of the procedures?

A: I thought the measures taken were sensible and proportionate

Q: Some airlines have been reducing on-board service (Southwest recently cut out snacks). Did you notice any difference?

A: We got the usual two meals, with an additional snack mid-way through the flight. Cabin crew walked through the plane noticeably less than durin other flights, but that may simply be because there was so much less for them to do, with so few passengers.

Q: What happened when you arrived in London?

A: When we landed, we were instructed to stay in our seats while UK Quarantine did some kind of checks. At that point, I expected someone to come through and take the temperature of everyone on-board, but no, we were waved off after five minutes of sitting. I have no idea what they were doing - there wasn't even one of those temperature check cameras as we walked from the plane to Immigration.

Coming from Korea, it was noticeable that some, but far from all Heathrow staff were wearing masks. I absolutely zoomed through Immigration, baggage claim and Customs, and came out to a completely deserted Arrivals area - just as surreal at Heathrow as it was in Incheon!

Correct response — or overreaction?

Q: If this becomes the standard operating procedure for flying, can you handle it?

A: The whole thing was easy, I wish more flights were so quiet, with such fast processing each end! But this level of capacity cannot be sustained, nor can real quarantine such as making people self-isolate for 14 days.

In my opinion, many countries are going to look back on their reaction to coronavirus and regret it, for years and years to come. Korea is one of very few countries which will emerge with any credit.

Europe, the U.S. and Japan (who covered up their outbreak in an attempt to protect the Olympics, and are still covering it up even now) failed to react in time, and then reacted disproportionately, and in the wrong way.

The devastation caused to the economy, and the unemployment and tax rises to come, will create widespread and protracted poverty, and any MBA knows that a fall in GDP increases mortality.

The fact is that some brave politician had to say, "We can't protect everyone from everything all the time, and we need to protect the economy as well as citizens." It's appalling, it's a fact, and who will actually come out and say it?”

Our thanks to Martin for sharing his experience.

If you’ve been on a plane lately, we’d love to hear from you for the Curbing Cars Podcast. Share a voice message with us on Anchor and be featured on a future episode. Be sure to tell us your name and city.

Some stories worth your time

Europe’s golden age of cycling. The mayors of Paris and London aren’t wasting time in adapting their cities to the new normal of COVID-19. In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has swiftly expanded the city’s bike lanes, adding a series of new temporary routes (they’re reflected in orange on the map above). Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced new low-traffic areas, added bike-sharing hubs and increased the congestion fee on motorists who enter the city during the day. Critics say that Khan’s moves will hurt the ability of many employees to reach their jobs, now that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has authorized those who cannot work from home to return to offices.

Detroit car plants are set to restart. Suppliers, Tesla and some import auto companies have cranked up their plants. Now, Detroit automakers are set to resume production on Monday. The return will be slow, and there’s already a glitch. Mexico, which produces parts and cars for the American companies, now says production there can’t begin until June 1. Ford, meanwhile, announced a new plan for testing workers at its Detroit-area factories. It thinks it can get results back within 24 hours.

Rich New Yorkers fled the city. There’s some stunning data from the New York Times, showing how New Yorkers in wealthy neighborhoods fled the city as COVID-19 began to spread. In areas like the Upper East Side, the West Village, SoHo and Brooklyn Heights, residential population decreased by 40 percent or more between March 1 and May 1. Some of the areas are home to universities and students, but overall, only five percent of all city residents departed during those two months.

Reservations on the MTA? One of NYC’s dilemmas is how to keep passengers on the subway and buses safe, beyond nightly disinfecting programs. One idea is to require reservations for spots on trains and buses, which may have far fewer seats available during rush hour. The city could use a combination of its own ticket service and Ticketmaster. (Let’s just hope they keep fees to a bare minimum.)

Future road trip safety. Many travelers are figuring out whether they want to hit the road this summer. If you’re going to do so, you need to find out a few things, like the COVID-19 rate where you’re headed, the availability of testing centers, and you’ll also need to check whether stay home restrictions are in place. Also, local authorities could require you to self-quarantine for 14 days when you get there. Because supplies are still slim, you will certainly want to pack your own PPE, as well as hand sanitizer.

On This Week’s Podcast: The Toyota Prius Turns 20

The Toyota Prius went on sale in the United States 20 years ago. I’ve owned mine for the past 12 years, and on the Curbing Cars podcast this week, we take a look at the history of one of this century’s most important cars.

I’m joined by a very special guest: my brother Frank Maynard, an award-winning broadcast engineer and fellow Prius owner.

The Curbing Cars podcast is available on Anchor and wherever you get your favorite podcasts. Please listen, leave a rating and subscribe. You’ll be helping fund the Curbing Cars project, and we appreciate your support.