Title

Conference Travel Hesitancy

Why I find myself reluctant to agree to any work-related future travel.

August 15, 2021

Planning for in-person higher ed conferences in 2021-22 has begun. Some in-person conferences, like last week’s ASU+GSV Summit, have already occurred. Other professional and disciplinary academic conferences have been announced.

I’m not sure that I want to go to anything.

My in-person academic conference hesitancy has something to do with COVID worries. But not everything.

From what I’m reading and hearing from colleagues who have flown anywhere, travel has become an absolute nightmare. Travelers seem to be paying the price of a combination of airline mergers, acute TSA and airline understaffing, and chronic underinvestment in airports and other travel infrastructure.

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Every travel story that involves some combination of flight, hotel and rental cars seems to include tales of cancellations, long lines and delays.

Wearing a mask for the duration of a flight seems OK. Even with new COVID variants and too-low vaccination rates, I could get my head around flying.

But when you add the baseline COVID risk to a possible miserable travel experience, the appeal of flying to an academic conference feels greatly diminished.

Conferences on Zoom are terrible. The worst.

But small meetings with close colleagues from other institutions on Zoom are sort of OK.

Maybe the world has changed so that we will spend more time in smaller and more participatory virtual gatherings and less time absorbing information at in-person academic conferences.

I don’t know. Maybe my hesitancy to commit to fly to any academic conference gathering in 2021-22 will diminish when the U.S. vaccination rate reaches a certain level.

It is a luxury of the academically privileged to have the resources to fly to an academic conference. And it may be even more of a luxury to be able to say no to in-person conference travel while still pushing one’s career forward.

Right now, I’ve not committed to any work travel that involves flying in 2021-22. Have you?

What travel hesitancy might mean to the professional and disciplinary associations that depend on revenues from in-person academic conferences to balance their books is a worrying question.

Maybe in-person conferences will come roaring back.

After all these months, everyone will be so desperate to see each other face-to-face that airline/airport understaffing and frequent travel delays will matter little.

All I know is that, right now, I have no desire to get on an airplane.

How are you thinking about work travel in the coming year?

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Joshua Kim

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