Students grapple with the ethics of pandemic traveling

by Talia Argov, Michael Sun & Jessa Verhoef, Features Reporters
graphic by Abby Kutin

Upon entering a plane bound for Florida wearing a mask, freshman Mia Dror said she immediately felt unsafe.

“The kids sitting behind me were definitely at the age where they were supposed to be wearing masks, but they weren’t,” she said. “I felt like the plane was trapped and closed, and I feel like they definitely should have separated it better.”

With many travel plans put on hold, students like Dror are contending with the ethics of traveling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 56 million fewer passengers travelled by plane in July 2020 than in July 2019. The Transportation Security Administration counted 468,933 passengers on Jan. 26 as opposed to 1,643,435 passengers on Jan. 26, 2020. There was an increase, however, of 5.8 million passengers from June to July. 

Some, like Dror and her family, have decided to take the risk. Dror and her family traveled to Florida over December break. While Massachusetts requires visitors to take a COVID-19 test or quarantine upon arrival, Florida has no travel regulations, a difference Dror said was emblematic of the states’ relative responses.

“In Tampa, you would get looked at weird if you were wearing a mask. People around me started looking at me like I was crazy,” she said. “I saw around five or six people who wore a mask the entire time.”

Junior Frank Liu, on the other hand, canceled his travel plans due to COVID-19. Liu and his family were planning to visit California and China over the past year, and he also hoped to travel to New York City. Liu said, however, that by March, he had realized that these plans would have to be postponed.

“For places like New York City, the positivity rate was the main concern,” he said. “Even in safer places like China, the fact that we had to quarantine for 14 days basically killed our plans.”

Freshman Andrea Tang said that she planned to travel to Las Vegas to compete in the United States Nationals Table Tennis Tournament, but it was ultimately postponed.

Tang said individuals should reconsider traveling due to the danger of COVID-19 and look instead for positive elements of staying home. In her case, this meant more time to prepare.

Liu said that once the pandemic is over, he hopes to travel somewhere reminiscent of life before the pandemic.

“The place I want to go to most is New York City to have the total opposite of quarantine,” he said. “It should be crowded and busy.”

Dror said that unessential travel is an ethical dilemma with no clear solution.

“It’s tough because I’d say that it’s not smart all the time, but that would make me a hypocrite,” she said. “I definitely was very uncomfortable with some of the situations I didn’t realize we would be in, like on the plane. A lot of places were too similar to how they were before COVID-19.”