Back off! Thanks to COVID, 2 in 3 Americans can no longer tolerate crowds

NEW YORK — It appears there may already be an early favorite for song of the year. With the pandemic driving paranoia over large social gatherings, many people might be humming the lyrics to “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” lately. In fact, two-thirds of Americans say they can no longer stand being around crowds and other people thanks to COVID.

A survey of 2,000 Americans reveals 65 percent cannot tolerate crowds and will do everything in their power to avoid standing in lines, especially at the airport. Over seven in ten (72%) believe they’re better off having less direct contact with other humans while traveling.

COVID is changing the way people think about traveling

While 58 percent of respondents said traveling usually gave them a headache before the pandemic, nearly as many (57%) say it’s now easier for them to get to their destination. Major pre-pandemic annoyances like checking in to flights and hotels (46%), packing clothes (44%), and waking up early (43%) have all become easier because of COVID.

Still, some negative aspects of travel persist. Only 17 percent said booking tickets is easier now than before. Another 18 percent said the same for planning trips in general.

Commissioned by conversational AI company LivePerson and conducted by OnePoll, researchers also find 63 percent of Americans have made major changes to how they travel over the last year. This includes packing more pandemic staples like extra masks (58%), disinfectant wipes (56%), and hand sanitizer (54%) before they travel.

Patience is running out during the pandemic

The pandemic is even changing our tolerance level for minor inconveniences — and not for the better. Sixty-one percent say they get annoyed easier now than ever before. Simple tasks like eating and drinking (54%), unlocking phones (49%), and wearing glasses (48%) are a struggle now because of face masks and gloves.

For nearly two in three people (63%), those common annoyances extend to customer service too. On average, Americans spend 12 hours per month on the phone with customer service. Two-thirds of respondents say they would be thrilled to never deal with customer service again.

“From being uncomfortable standing around people in lines to dealing with excessive hold times on the phone, it’s clear that people still think there’s major room for improvement in how we travel,” says LivePerson CEO Rob LoCascio in a statement.

Doing everything over the phone

Smartphones — and messaging specifically — are proving to be key in helping remedy some of these common pain points. Six in 10 would rather use their phone to message someone than speak to them face-to-face (61%). Another 63 percent would rather solve annoying pandemic-era problems by phone or text as well. In fact, people would rather text or message for everything — from receiving a refund, to blocking an ex, to chatting with doctors.

“I’ve used my phone to text my kids and tell them to call me. It’s been useful to get out of awkward situations and conversations,” one respondent says.

Messaging can also help deal with that growing list of travel annoyances. Close to three in four Americans (73%) would prefer to message their airline or hotel instead of calling when they travel. Nearly as many (71%) are comfortable having their airline or hotel text them directly, especially if an upgrade is available.

“Having the power in your pocket to text an airline or hotel to book flights and rooms — plus getting help when you’re already on the go — means messaging has become a true lifeline for travelers,” LoCascio adds.

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