By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
More than a few wild turkeys are in luck this Thanksgiving. Even their short flights will be more frequent than those of most Americans. A scant 13 percent of people surveyed in a National Geographic and Morning Consult poll say they’d be willing to fly now or before the end of the year; another 24 percent said they would take a flight sometime in 2021.
“Even though we have learned more about the coronavirus, most people, regardless of age or politics, aren’t comfortable traveling on airplanes now, but I think that’s a product of how long this pandemic has stretched on,” says Nat Geo’s Jennifer Barger. She reported our story at an inflection point in travel, roughly when TSA reported screening a million daily passengers—the highest number since March—and when virus rates are soaring in many parts of the U.S. (Pictured above, a passenger disinfecting his hands on a flight in June.)
It’s a curious time to be collecting data, says Kennedy Elliott, director of interactive storytelling at Nat Geo, who created the graphs that illustrate our story. “The question we asked—‘Thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic (coronavirus), when would you next plan to fly on an airplane?’—is similar to a question we had asked in June. I was surprised by how little had changed in our polling results since then. To me this suggests that people still have unresolved notions about how the virus is playing out. As a result, they can’t yet say whether they’ll feel it’s necessary to wait for a vaccine in order to fly again.”
The headline? Don’t hold your breath waiting for masses of Americans to start flying again. About a third of the 2,200 respondents to the poll do not have an idea when they’ll next leave on a jet plane. But a reluctance to fly does not leave these travelers entirely grounded. A separate Morning Consult poll from last week found a steady increase in consumer confidence in resuming activities such as “going on vacation” or “going to a museum.”
With the holidays approaching, will new coronavirus spikes diminish TSA’s daily tracking figures? It’s too early to tell—for now, at least. Ultimately Barger is bullish on the return to travel, most likely in the New Year. “I think once there’s a vaccine, or even a hint one is really about to come, these numbers will change rapidly,” she says. When the pandemic does scale down, Barger suggests her own recovery strategy for the travel industry: “Airlines should consider luring people back with lots of chocolate.”
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Today in a minute
Zeta approaches Gulf Coast: After clipping the touristy northeastern corner of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Tropical Storm Zeta is strengthening toward hurricane force again as it approaches the U.S. Gulf Coast. Hurricane-weary Louisiana has declared a state of emergency ahead of landfall, which is expected on Wednesday, CNN reports. Voluntary evacuations are urged, beginning tonight, for parts of New Orleans outside the city’s levee system.
A sea turtle boom in Florida? A tourism bust amid COVID-19 may be helping the loggerhead and green turtles on the Florida coast. The Sanibel–Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Sea Turtle Program reported record sea turtle nest counts along 18 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches between Sanibel Island and Redfish Pass. Beach restrictions brought increased nesting on the Atlantic Coast’s Juno, Jupiter–Carlin, and Tequesta beaches, Jesse Scott reports for Nat Geo.
Even Everest: Nepal has temporarily suspended access to the world’s highest mountain after a local man became infected with COVID-19. Flights to the area have been suspended for now, the New York Times reports. The Himalayan nation had only recently been inviting tourists back after a six-month suspension. Everest mountaineering is a big contributor to the nation’s economy.
Very nice! When the first Borat movie came out in 2006, Kazakhstan was steamed at Sacha Baron Cohen’s portrait of its nation as a backward land with lingering anti-Semitism. For the Borat sequel, released Friday, the nation, recognizing the increased interest in the country generated by the first movie, has launched a modest tourist effort around a slogan used by Cohen’s fake Kazakh character—“Very nice!” Catch the four, 12-second snippets here.
Auf Wiedersehen! Berlin’s cramped, outdated Tegel Airport was supposed to have closed years ago, and it finally will with the long-delayed opening of Brandenburg Airport. Designed for handling 2.5 million passengers a year, 24 million passengers coursed through Tegel in 2019. Yet many aficionados will miss Tegel when it shutters on November 8, British writer and Berlin expert Paul Sullivan tells CNN. “Even the overpriced Currywurst stall outside the terminal, made to look like an S-Bahn carriage, to me symbolizes the airport’s charming crappiness."
Still flourishing: A photograph from 150 years ago shows a verdant garden on Alcatraz, the 20-acre island off San Francisco that was better known for decades for its notorious prison, the Rock. The gardens remain, with blooming roses and swaying purple dahlias, writes Jordan Kushins for Nat Geo, and they are gorgeous. (Above, the gardens in the 1950s amid the then-prison, which is now closed.)
Your Instagram photo of the day
Out for a ride: In Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains, Kyrgyz horsemen warm up their horses before a race during the yearly At Chabysh festival. At 11,975 feet on the windswept steppe near the town of Murghab, the air is thin, yet it doesn’t stop spectators from visiting in summertime to celebrate Kyrgyz horse traditions. More than 155,000 people galloped to our Instagram page to like Matthieu Paley’s photo.
Related: In the heart of Tajikistan
Overheard at Nat Geo
Finding your vibration: That’s that way Bob Marley found his audience, and that’s what Jamaican-born documentary photographer Ruddy Roye says he tries to do in his work. Roye grew up in the Caribbean nation amid political gang violence and the beautiful music around it, he told Nat Geo’s Peter Gwin in the latest episode of our award-winning podcast, Overheard. Roye talks about the tools of storytelling in covering civil rights demonstrations and life under COVID-19. Above, Roye’s photo of Nicole Harney (left) and her son, Justin, in front of a mural of Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman at a protest in New York. Harney said the pain of a dying George Floyd stirred her to action. “I could not stay on Twitter or any other platform,” she told Roye. “I had to come march outside.”
Related: Ruddy Roye’s powerful portraits of Black America
The big takeaway
Witch switch: Halloween is usually hopping in Salem, Massachusetts, which in pre-COVID-19 times annually attracted nearly a million tourists and generated $140 million for the city. (Above: Locals dressed in witch costumes for Salem’s festive Haunted Happenings Grand Parade, photographed in 2018 but canceled this year.) Pandemic aside, the town—synonymous with the witch trials of 1692, in which 19 people were executed for witchcraft—has been working effectively to balance tourist attractions with respectful commemorations of people, usually women, persecuted on groundless charges. Sites worldwide are negotiating similar issues with the goal of accurately honoring people and events of the past. (Pictured below, Norway’s Steilneset Memorial was designed by artist Louise Bourgeois and architect Peter Zumthor to remember the victims of the Finnmark witch trials, in which 91 women were burned at the stake or tortured to death.)
In a few words
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The last glimpse
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead): The holiday is a moment when Mexico’s papier-mâché craft—known as cartonería—really comes to the fore. Pictured above are outsized papier-mâché puppets alongside dancers after a Day of the Dead parade in the southern city of Oaxaca. Like many Latin American customs, cartonería has roots in European colonialism and Catholicism, Nat Geo’s Jennifer Barger writes. “Cartonería is like street art: You spray paint the wall but don’t expect it to be there in five years,” says Leigh Ann Thelmadatter, the Mexico City-based author of Mexican Cartonería: Paper, Paste, and Fiesta. “It’s about creation, not lasting art.” The annual festival is next Sunday and Monday.