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A South Florida businessman and his family took a calculated risk to continue flying throughout the pandemic while working remotely. If including families on business trips is what the future of business travel entails, airlines need to pay attention.

While most of the world stayed at home throughout the pandemic battering the travel industry for nearly 18 months, one South Florida businessman stored his belongings, packed up his family and has been traveling both domestically and internationally ever since.

Traveling to more than 50 countries pre-pandemic, and frequently on the road between 80 and 90 percent of the time during the last eight years, Tony Gunn, 42, said with the exception of less international flying, the frequency of his trips hasn’t changed during the pandemic.

“I’d go anywhere if they let me,” he said.

Internationally, Gunn said he flew to Costa Rica, England and Mexico late last year without having to take a Covid-19 test and sometimes he took his family along with him. It’s a luxury Gunn enjoys sharing with his family, who joined him in backpacking across Mexico for about three to four months. His wife, Tania, has always homeschooled their 9-year-old daughter, who’s been to eight countries and 30 U.S. states, and used travel as teachable moments.

An engineer by trade, Gunn was a manager of international sales for 5th Axis and vice president of the spindles division at Air Turbine Tools, before walking away from work during the pandemic, instead opting to enjoy life traveling and occasionally working remotely on his natural healing company, Tree of Life.

With the flexibility of the pandemic and schooling, his family joins him on some business trips too, he said.

Tony Gunn and daughter backpacking through Mexico

Businessman Tony Gunn and his daughter backpacking through Mexico during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Tony Gunn

“My wife just got back from Cancun where I sent her for Mother’s Day and she had to take a rapid test on the way back, but the times that I was in those (international) places I’ve not been forced to do anything,” Gunn said.

Gunn said he’s seen people not allowed on planes because they can’t stop coughing, but emphasizes he’s never had to take a Covid-19 test going anywhere.

Gunn and his family took advantage of low prices on flights and hotels to fly even more for pleasure, taking short trips around the country on flights as low as $30 roundtrip, he said. He kept abreast of border closures and openings, and flight deals through the Kayak app, setting it up for what’s important to him, Gunn said.

It was while backpacking across Mexico from Playa Del Carmen to the Yucatan, San Luis Potosí, and Querétaro where Gunn said he helps support an orphanage, that he received a call from MTDCNC, a United Kingdom-based global online marketing specialist covering multiple sectors of the engineering industry. The company hired Gunn to be its U.S. general manager.

Gunn hosts the The Gunn Show Podcast for MTDCNC and travels around the country visiting manufacturers and filming shows for the company’s global news channel for engineering and manufacturing, which he oversees.

This type of reach is allowing customers to make informed decisions about products they need. And could potentially change the landscape of sales with the transition happening now to less of an outside sales force and more of an inside sales force, he said.

Gunn flew to England in December to meet with MTDCNC and on his flight from Fort Lauderdale to England, Gunn said he didn’t get a meal in first class. He experienced the same thing when he flew to Los Angeles on a different airline. Meals during the pandemic have changed, he said.

“If you think of first class, typically if it’s two to two-and-a-half hours and above, you’ll get some sort of warm or cold meal like a dish, or even they used to have those boxes like a tapas box that you can open up and have five or six snacks in there. For the most part, I’ve not seen the boxes only once or twice, and I haven’t seen any fresh meals yet for first class,” he said.

Throughout the pandemic, instead of individualizing each part of the process, flight attendants handed economy passengers a bag where all the contents were prepackaged, including a small bottled water, pretzel, a cookie and sanitizing wipes, Gunn said. And until recently, there hadn’t been any hot drinks or cold drinks being distributed, he added.

That all changed Tuesday. Gunn excitedly messaged Skift with the update his United flight from Fort Lauderdale to Houston served a hot meal in First Class with a choice of a hot egg sandwich or veggie hoagie, he said.

“During the pandemic, United did not completely remove meals or snacks except for (flights) with less than 300 miles in flight duration for First Class and less than 800 miles for Economy (we did offer a beverage upon request),” a United spokesperson said. “Food and beverage service was reduced globally across cabins and we are now restoring service.”

Although United transitioned to soda cans and bottled water instead of pouring, complimentary beverage service has been offered throughout the pandemic, the spokesperson said.

“For domestic First Class between 300-800 miles we have been offering our all-in-one bag and (on flights) greater than 800 miles we were serving snack boxes until October 1, when we started offering a choice of snack box or deli-style sandwich,” the United spokesperson said.

United will transition to a tray set up with hot meal choices for flights between 800-1500 miles between hubs only and all flights greater than 1500 miles beginning June 15, the spokesperson said.

Gunn who flies United when flying for business, said the airline hasn’t done anything to entice its business passengers yet, but it is focused on cleanliness and reducing anxiety for travelers.

United Air Filtration Airport Display

The United airlines air filtration display at O’Hare airport businessman Tony Gunn attended between flights. Photo courtesy of Tony Gunn

“I walked through Chicago (O’Hare airport) and there is a really cool stand setup explaining how the filtration system works on the plane and how it’s one of the safest places on the planet to be,” said Gunn. “And they had a bunch of water and snacks. People were asking questions and banners were set up almost like it was a mini trade show.”

Beyond mask-wearing and six feet of social distancing, Gunn said he has seen massive changes throughout the pandemic. Some of the changes included preferring credit cards payments instead of cash to minimize the amount of personal interaction, touching the credit card holder with your card instead of touching and swiping it, and a lot more cleaning.

“I felt like I saw a lot more people cleaning regularly and it was really empty for a while. As of lately, its jam packed, even more so than I had seen it even before the pandemic, and in doing so it’ll probably go very much back to how it was pre-pandemic,” Gunn said.

It’ll be far more difficult to keep toilets clean when it’s a constant rotation versus being empty or wiping down all the seats, or preventing people from sitting beside each other, and asking them to stand, he said. They’re not going to do that, they’d rather sit down beside each other and take that risk, Gunn said.

As the travel recovery ramps up, Gunn continues to see changes. He does a mixture of flying and driving to nearby states when traveling for business and said rentals cars prices have gone up exponentially during this whole thing, while the prices of mostly everything else have gone down.

Tony Gunn at the airport

Businessman Tony Gunn waiting to board his flight. Photo courtesy of Tony Gunn.

When passengers walk on the plane, they’re handed disinfectant wipes and everyone cleans off their own stuff, Gunn said. There is less service and standing is not encouraged when the seat belt sign is off, and lining up for restrooms is discouraged, he added.

On a business trip through Newark Liberty airport in May, Gunn said he has never seen the security line longer.

“Maybe they weren’t prepared for the influx of people and they had less security that day or whatever it was, I don’t know, but it was extremely crowded,” he said.

On the same trip while flying from Chicago, Illinois to Rochester, New York and Rochester back to West Palm Beach, Florida, where he lives, Gunn said Chicago was also busier than he had seen it and as busy as he had seen it previously at any other time.

He said it seems to him people are starting to get back into it. Gunn said people are just tired of being locked in the room like a bad kid sitting in the corner, and they want to get out, so it seems to be getting busy.

“I imagine it’ll go back to normalcy, and there’s been a lot of normalcy over the last month or two, but prior to that it was just empty, it seemed quiet, but I loved it.  I mean I got rows of airplane to myself,” said Gunn.

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Tags: airlines, airlines + transport, business traveler, coronavirus, coronavirus recovery

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