As stores, restaurants, airlines, and offices try to attract customers, here’s what they need to do to win my business: make me feel safe – no, make me as safe as I am. possible. As I have started to explore ancient lairs, some are doing a fabulous job. Others are not.
So my dollars will go to the first, and I will effectively boycott the second. Think of this as ethical purchasing, with a touch of safety: I will reward companies that take the recommended COVID-19 precautionary guidelines seriously. And I will punish, in my own way, those who do not take them to heart.
Yes, I know businesses across the country have lost huge sums of money due to the pandemic. But many have secured billions of dollars in federal aid to support them.
All many of us got was a check for $ 1,200. Some that would not normally qualify for unemployment benefits will be able to obtain them, and some beneficiaries obtained extended benefits. Some of them have since run out.
It’s not that hard to make many businesses relatively safe and COVID-friendly, although it does require making it a priority, investing a little, and thinking outside the box.
My local Trader Joe’s in Washington, DC, did an amazing job. While I initially limited my shopping to once a week at dawn, I quickly came to view the store as a safe area: shoppers were given a squirt of hand sanitizer at the door and were directed towards a row of disinfected carts.
Mandatory masking was (politely) enforced, the number of customers in the store was limited, and customers waiting outside were neatly spaced in line at 6 foot intervals. Cashiers scanned your items behind a plexiglass partition and returned them to your shopping cart.
Customers could put their groceries in their transport bags on a frequently sanitized table outside. If you lived nearby, you could just use the cart to take the groceries home. The used trolleys were collected in an area for disinfection.
Compare that with a local CVS Pharmacy. Yes, there was a sign on the door stating that masking was required and plexiglass partitions had been placed at the checkouts. But there was no active app once inside, and it was sometimes crowded. The stack of baskets was, as always, inside the front door, and used baskets were placed on them by shoppers when they left.
Some customers picking up medication had masks around their necks, and even some employees – sometimes including the pharmacist – had lowered their masks so that the nose and mouth were exposed. I know wearing a mask for hours on end can feel overwhelming, but if surgeons can do it in the operating room, so can we. And if the coronavirus persists in the air in enclosed spaces, as we now know, not masking could be a problem.
Last week when I went to get an order that wasn’t quite ready, I said I wouldn’t be waiting in a place where so many people were violating our local masking mandate. I went.
On a recent trip to my hometown of New York City, many restaurants in my neighborhood had set up outdoor seating on sidewalks and on the street. (Indoor dining was still prohibited at that time.)
But my (once) favorite restaurant had just set up a few tables on the sidewalk, which the employees wiped with the same damp cloth. Yes, the tables were (maybe) 6 feet apart. But the tables don’t catch infectious diseases, people do. The chairs, where potential COVID carriers would sit (without masks when they ate), were much closer to each other.
In contrast, the restaurant next door, whose food I normally consider mediocre, had disinfectant at check-in and had set up a flower-bedecked tent in what was once a parking lane, under which the tables were widely spaced with plexiglass partitions separating them.
The waiters were scrupulous about social distancing. He limited meals to 90 minutes. The food was excellent. Did the restaurant have a new chef, or was it its beautiful setup – which really allowed us to relax and not consider a world gone mad with COVID while we ate – that made us appreciate its food more than never ?
An upscale Mexican restaurant we visited in Brooklyn took it a step further – each diners had to give a cell phone number at the door in case contact tracing was required. He had created an online menu, so diners made their selections from their phones.
And don’t get me started on the airlines, and their different policies. The risk of in-flight transmission seems low if everyone is masked and not knowingly flying sick. But that’s a big if. Remember, the cousin of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV, a much more dangerous but less contagious virus, created an infamous epidemic on a two-hour flight from Hong Kong to Beijing in 2003.
There have been cases related to flight exposures in Europe and Asia. Yet Airlines for America, an industry group, said this month that there had been “no confirmed cases of transmission of COVID-19 on American flights [italics mine]. “Are the Boeing and Airbus a little different in Europe than in the United States?
And let’s remember the epidemiology: there may be demonstrated cases of in-flight transmission elsewhere just because people overseas have resumed more normal lives than America. In the United States, very few people fly on a plane these days as America still has tens of thousands of new cases a day and leads the world in deaths.
Some airlines, like Delta and South West, do not sell mid-size seats or only sell about half of their seats. United and American are flying full whenever they can. On June 30, United Director of Communications Josh Earnest (yes, former Obama White House spokesperson), rejected the blocking of the middle seats as “PR”.
“When you are on the plane, if you are sitting in the aisle and the middle seat is empty, the person in front of you is within 6 feet of you,” he said. declared. “The person at the window is within 6 feet of you. The people in the row in front of you are within 6 feet of you. The people in the row behind you are within 6 feet of you.
But 3 feet is better than play by play. In fact, the World Health Organization claims that 3 feet is acceptable for social distancing.
Still, it’s not so good if you take your mask off. So why are the airlines handing out these little bags of pretzels and nuts, anyway? When my daughter flew to college in California, I insisted that she take the plane Delta, although other carriers make the same route.
Instead of trying to create a bit of social distancing, some airlines are offering a few concessions. American says, “Customers on all flights receive disinfectant wipes or gel. United offers to change your flight booking without change fees if it is too full for your comfort the day before. They will notify ‘customers when we can if their flight is full enough and give them the opportunity to change it”- although you pay the price difference for a new ticket.
A friend of mine flying from London to New York pre-checked a United flight plan and – seeing that the middle seat was free – prepared for a long, but relatively safe flight. Shortly after taking their seat, another passenger sat in the middle seat next to them. If you’re going to start college or visit a sick relative, delaying (and paying a higher price) isn’t really a viable option.
Remember that the airlines have received tens of billions of taxpayer funded loans to help them survive the pandemic. And – with their crowded and uncomfortable seats and an explosion of new fees – they don’t have a good record in recent years to meet customer needs.
So if the government doesn’t act to enforce some sort of COVID-era standards for customer satisfaction, we can all use our hard-earned dollars to do so.
Yes, COVID precautions often seem overdone. There is little chance that I will get COVID-19 from a meal, a flight, or a trip to the pharmacy. But multiply those chances by over 300 million Americans visiting millions of places. A lot of people – maybe someone you love – will.