Despite lifted restrictions, the pandemic is still wreaking havoc on travelers


KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — Travel is booming back this summer following last year’s pandemic lull. AAA predicted travel this Independence Day would be the second-highest on record with nearly 50 million Americans expected to either fly or drive from July 1 through the Monday after the holiday.

The organization says that’s a nearly 40% increase from 2020, but despite restrictions being lifted, the pandemic is still wreaking havoc on travelers like Laura Quillen from Kingsport.

“We were able to get some water and claim a place on the floor, but this is ridiculous,” said Quillen in a Facebook live update from the airport in Saint Lucia Saturday night. “All these people with no place to go.”

According to Quillen, their flight was delayed five times before being canceled altogether.

“There are, I’m going to guess, 1,500 people in this airport now sleeping on the floor,” she said in the video. “All four American [Airlines] flights have been canceled after being delayed for six hours continually, and it’s because there are no pilots here to fly the planes.”

Quillen says there weren’t any available hotel rooms on the island, so she and her husband spent the night at the airport.

“They were able to provide us with water and bags of chips, and that was about it,” she recalled. “The restroom had four stalls for a thousand people… and it was horrific.”

The couple was able to fly into Charlotte Sunday morning but had already missed their connecting flight to the Tri-Cites.

“By that time, we had missed our connecting flight to Tri-Cities,” she said. “There was one other flight left at 6 p.m. We decided we were going to rent a car and drive home. Then the problems continued. There were no available cars to rent one way from the Charlotte airport to Tri-Cities. So, we were basically stuck.”

A spokesperson for AAA said this situation was extreme, but travelers should prepare for delays, shortages and closures in some cases.

“It’s taken some time to readjust to those travel volumes,” said Megan Cooper. “So right now, when you’re traveling, you might see some of those in the industry. Whether it be a changed flight because of a staffing shortage or we’ve seen it with the rental car shortages in some areas, there may be fewer vehicles. It also may be more expensive to purchase that vehicle.”

Those problems can become even more of an issue when traveling out of the country.

“Unfortunately, there is no standardized method of opening back up,” Cooper said. “There are different processes for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers. There are different ways of documenting those Covid-19 vaccines as well as that Covid-19 tests whether they’re negative or positive. It can get very tricky and very confusing.”

Cooper suggests booking through a travel agent and purchasing insurance for your trip, especially if you are flying.

“With road trips, you do have that flexibility of changing things at the last minute and you can change course throughout the route of your trip; that provides a lot of flexibility for travelers,” she said. “It also provides a lot of comforts because more than likely they are traveling in their own vehicle and they can control nearly every aspect of their trip.”

Quillen and her husband arrived back in the Tri-Cities Sunday night.

“We were very excited about this trip,” she said. “It was our first time to travel, even with COVID. We got our vaccines before we went. That whole process to travel out of the country to travel was relatively easy —multiple steps, but it was relatively easy,” she said. “For the rest of the year, we are not going to travel out of the country, because I would rather be stuck somewhere in the U.S. and be able to get a hotel somewhere.”

News Channel 11 also reached out to the airline who sent a statement-

“On Saturday, July 3, American Airlines Flight 2291 from St. Lucia (UVF) to Charlotte (CLT) was delayed due to a possible maintenance issue. We never want to disrupt our customers’ travel plans, and we are sorry for the trouble this caused.”

American Airlines Spokesperson

Quillen is now going through the complaint process.

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