Meagan Drillinger
Meagan Drillinger

Back in August, I went on a covert mission to Cancun to see what travel was like during a pandemic. Mexico was one of the only international destinations open to Americans, and I wanted to see if travel suppliers were living up to their promises about health and safety. I was pleasantly surprised. Recently, I returned to Mexico (publicly known, this time), with the destination having passed into the Yellow Phase, and the experience was slightly different.

Back in September, the Mexican Caribbean transitioned to the Yellow Phase of reopening, which means hotels, restaurants, theme parks and attractions can operate at 60% capacity. When I visited in August, the Mexican Caribbean was still in the Orange Phase, meaning most attractions were closed and hotels were open at 30% capacity. Beaches were also closed to the public. I breezed right through a silent Cancun Airport and was genuinely impressed with the heightened level of security and health from takeoff and touchdown to checking into the resorts that I visited.

Sixty percent looks a lot different. 

It started at New York JFK, where I waited to board a Delta flight to Cancun. Large groups of people clustered around the boarding area like any other time pre-pandemic. There was nothing socially distant about it. 

I chose Delta because it's my preferred airline, but also because they have been adamant about blocking out the middle seat. You can imagine my surprise when a stranger sat down next to me. 

The airplane I was flying in was an Airbus A330 widebody aircraft. After reaching out to Delta for comment, I learned that as of Oct. 31, aircrafts configured with 2-by-2, 2-by-3 or 2-by-3-by-2 now permit those not traveling together to be seated in any of the 2-by-2 configurations. There was an announcement in August, but I had missed it.

Delta also clarified that middle seats in other configurations are blocked through Jan. 6. On aircraft without middle seats, Delta continues to block select aisle seats and limit the number of people on board. The flight I was on was operating at 60% capacity, yet the majority of passengers were all seated in the same sections.

That said, Delta has noted that passengers can check where they are seated anytime prior to departure, and if they are uncomfortable with their seat location, they can be rebooked with no change fee or fare difference.

Upon arrival in Cancun, we were handed health forms asking the necessary questions. However, it was not made clear where these forms were to be collected. We carried them in our hands with us all the way to our hotel, where they are still sitting. The arrivals area was slammed with people, with only two of the four immigration blocks open, causing a snaking line and people crammed into just two areas. For those who are familiar with arrivals in Cancun, they are well acquainted with the sea of shuttle services and newly landed passengers who congregate outside the terminal. This was business as usual, as well.

What remains consistent, however, is the service and attention to health and safety the resorts exhibit. Currently, we are staying at the Ventus at Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort in Puerto Morelos. Our driver met us, sanitized our luggage and brought us to the hotel, where we were also sanitized and had our temperatures checked. Staff is masked 100% percent of the time, restaurants are available in limited capacity and guests are spaced out appropriately on the pool deck and the beach. It feels safer in the resorts in Cancun than it does in most places in the U.S.

It's understandable that with the occupancy increase -- and the U.S. in lockdown for so long -- people are itching to travel, and therefore an increased volume of people is inevitable. But with the colder months coming in and more people on the move, cases worldwide are increasing. Quintana Roo has had 13,911 total cases as of Nov. 17, according to the New York Times, with a seven-day daily average of 24.7. It still remains among the lowest states in Mexico in terms of cases per 100,000 people with 926. 

We all need to continue to do our part, especially if travel across borders is on the table.

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