The good news was that my flight to Las Vegas on Tuesday wasn't among the 1,300 canceled. Not even delayed!
The bad news was that I got upgraded.
Bad news, that is, for Delta Airlines. I was No. 11 on the upgrade list, but at boarding, there were still 20 first-class seats open on that Boeing 767.
Widebody equipment for that time and route was likely allocated well in advance. The first week of January is when CES, formerly the Consumer Electronics Show, is held. For decades, it has been the largest trade show in the world, typically drawing 180,000 attendees. Demand for air seats into Vegas that week is often so high that I fly into LAX and rent a car to drive there to avoid paying $2,000 for a middle seat in coach. This year, $500 (roundtrip) ended up getting me into first class.
Moments like this offer, for the brave and the foolhardy, great leisure travel opportunities. But for the events business (and businesses that see events as opportunity in proportion to the number of attendees), it's not so wonderful. I was heading to CES to moderate a panel that included Marriott president Stephanie Linnartz, Space Perspective CEO Jane Poynter and Departure Lounge founder Keith Waldon. The last time I moderated a panel at CES, in 2018, it was standing room only. This year, I'm crossing fingers and toes that the room will be half-full. (If you're interested in seeing the panel virtually, it'll be on the CES website until the end of the month once it's posted.)
Why am I attending what has traditionally been a very crowded conference during a spike in cases due to the highly transmissible omicron variant? I'm not one to downplay the risks of Covid-19. It has affected members of my immediate family. I am double-vaxxed and boosted, and if another booster is recommended, I'll be first in line to get it.
But at the same time, I believe that, although it doesn't always feel this way, as a society we are far, far ahead of where we were a year ago. There are still too many deaths, too many illnesses, too many disruptions in everyday life. But I've come to view the pandemic through the symbolic image of a fever chart, one that marks the highs and lows on a daily basis but also tracks trends over a longer period.
As an example, monitoring the stock market daily, weekly or monthly, you may see what appears to be drama and instability. The lines on the chart rise and plunge; viewed in the short term, it's a dizzying dynamic.
But looking at the trend curve of the stock market over time, it reflects a positive movement that's impossible to see if you're looking at it day to day. Similarly, with the pandemic, it's as if we're all standing too close to a pointillist painting, seeing only blurry dots instead of a Sunday afternoon at the park.
Am I being Pollyannaish? Maybe. But think back to where we were just one year ago. No vaccine, no cruise ships in the water, no leisure travel to or from Europe. CES and every other conference was virtual.
Yes, the omicron surge is discouraging, but we knew there'd be more variants, and frankly, if you're vaccinated, getting omicron is possibly a better bet than whatever might be behind curtain No. 3. Omicron has already peaked and proved less deadly in South Africa. The acute phase in the U.S. may be behind us relatively soon.
The fact is, it's no fun riding a fever chart as if it's a roller coaster. But a longer view provides perspective and solace. One of my favorite blogs was started by David Byrne, and it's simply called "Reasons to Be Cheerful." (This, from a musician who became famous with the song "Psycho Killer"? As I said, it helps to take a long view.)
On the same day as my flight to Las Vegas, the subject line on the "Reasons to Be Cheerful" email was, "192 ways the world got better in 2021." Clicking through, I saw that very few of the 192 are directly connected to the pandemic, but frankly, I found that refreshing. For our own mental health, it's good to realize there is more going on than Covid-19. Byrne's list highlighted positive things being done for the environment, the poor, the aged and the marginalized.
Technology plays a role in many of those uplifting advancements, which is part of what attracts me to CES. The entrepreneurial spirit of vendors displaying innovations gives hope.
As I know all too well, it's important to report news about how the pandemic affects us on a daily basis. But nonetheless, it's also important to remember that there's much more going on in the world than pandemic-related news.
And, even upgrades aside, there are still many, many reasons to be cheerful.