I flew from LA to Minneapolis to cover the George Floyd Memorial Service. It was a monumental experience, but the thought of getting on a plane in the age of Coronavirus is damn scary. Look, I fly a lot, but since this pandemic hit I have sat my butt at home. I have friends boarding planes daily; they send pictures and fill me in on the process. BUT until I flew commercial myself, it was going to be hard to get a feel for how things have evolved.
Now that I’m home, here are the ten things I learned flying during the age of Covid-19:
Where’s Your Mask?
I don’t know if it’s hubris or just stupidity, but a lot of people in the airport didn’t have on masks. They were all walking around like they were immune, and most waited until the last second, when they were boarding, to throw something over their mouths. But here’s the real shocker: a lot of the people with unprotected faces were older—folks over 50. The same group with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate.
There are no rules inside the terminal. It’s the wild wild west, and people can coverup or not.
Easy Breezy In and Out
LAX, under normal circumstances, is a nightmare to get into. The airport is usually jammed with people traveling internationally, and traffic is bumper-to-bumper. That was before COVID. Now, getting to your terminal is a walk in the park. No traffic, no crowds. I was able to get through security (TSA PreChek) with more than an hour to spare before boarding.
The Atmosphere is Tense as Hell
Flying used to be care-free. Even when it was crowded, the airport felt magical. Now you go in on 10, praying you can get to your destination without catching Coronavirus. Everybody is looking at everybody and evaluating masks or lack thereof. Is someone too close? Did I hear a cough? Does someone look sick? Gone are days of striking up a conversation with another traveler. I didn’t want to be near anybody – especially the people who didn’t have on a mask or.
Remember when your main worry flying was if the plane would crash? Well, now you’re likely to be way more worried about Coronavirus than turbulence. Every interaction with anything during your flight feels like life or death. Of course, a large part of that was just in my head.
Nothing is Open
Well, a few places are open, mainly the eateries, but the days of the airport slash shopping mall are on pause for now. If you need something, get it before you get there. Stores are on limited hours, and the same goes for the lounges. I spent some time in the Delta lounge in Detroit during a layover, and it was a ghost town. That part is excellent, a lounge to yourself, but almost all the goodies were gone. Drinks are limited, there is very little food, and many of the amenities like the showers are closed. That’s the bad part, but during these times, having a place to hide away from the masses is magical. As restrictions are eased, and retail establishments reopen all over the country, things will get back to normal. But right now, it isn’t happening. As a person who loves to indulge in the shopping experience at airports all over the world, things suck right now, but its not forever.
Boarding is VERY different … and that’s good.
Airlines have now begun to board from back to front. In other words, if you are in the last row, you get on the plane first. Its the most logical thing ever and should have been instituted a long time ago. How many times have we watched people in the last boarding group get to the back of the plane and find out there is no more overhead space. That problem is over, and so are those tense confrontations between airline employees trying to get their flight out on time and passengers who just want to keep their luggage.
Wipes, Wipes, and more Wipes
As soon as I stepped on the plane, the flight attendant gave me a handful of antiseptic wipes. I went back for a second set so I could disinfect my seat area. Just a few months ago, people would look at you like a crazy person if you spent your boarding time wiping down your seat. Now they look at you like a crazy person if you don’t. Nobody was irritated that I held up the boarding process while I killed the germs on all the contact areas around me. It’s almost like it becomes a mandatory part of the process.
Gloves, Mask and Every Inched Covered
I am paranoid, so I wore disposable rubber gloves. It seemed like a good idea, but I will say people tend to stare when you wear them in the terminal. I don’t care, so I was cool with it. But there is one drawback, your hands sweat like a teenager about to go in for a first kiss. That part sucks, but I kept them on the entire time I was in the terminal and on my flight. It did bring up a little problem in the bathroom. You can’t wash gloves after you go pee, so I was the guy who went but didn’t wash my gloves (I justified it because I never touched anything). Wearing a mask for basically 5 hours was not a lot of fun either. It was hard to breathe, hot, and so very tight. But safety first, so unless I was drinking or eating, I kept it on. I also wore a light jacket and full-length sweats, but that has always been my travel uniform, even before Coronavirus. The point I’m trying to make is that wearing proper attire and PPE is essential, and it’s not just about keeping you safe, but it also stops you from giving it to others.