Travel in the Time of COVID-19
When people hear that I’m traveling, there is shock. There is concern for my safety. And there is more shock. “Essential travel” means many things to many people; in my opinion, traveling for a client that provides my team with work amid the pandemic certainly qualifies as “essential.” Taking every precaution upon return, like self-quarantine for 14 days, temperature checks (life hack: a meat thermometer totally works. So I’ve heard, anyway 😉), and working hard to keep my immune system boosted with vitamins, lots of sleep and daily sauna sessions certainly didn’t hurt.
“Is it creepy?” “Aren’t you scared?” “What’s the airport like?” are just a few of the questions I’ve gotten. I flew last month and again last week, and the fascination remains. So I figured it may be interesting to share the evolution of – as well as what looks to be the new normal for – air travel during the time of COVID-19.
There are lots of flights available, maybe 7 or 8 a day. I booked my flight the night before I left, at a price that was laughably low. I was admittedly pretty freaked out to be traveling – my Lyft driver didn’t understand why I wanted to put my own suitcase in the trunk, I tried to avoid touching anything, and I tried my best to wash my hands, use Purell, etc. but, honestly, it felt like a losing battle and eventually I just gave up. Few people were wearing masks at the time, and, at least when I left, most places were still open.
In the Delta lounge (once you find the one that was open; most were not) the normally plentiful food options were replaced by sad looking small plastic containers of cheese and egg salad, plastic-wrapped fruit and prepackaged bags of crackers. The bar was comprised of a table staffed by an employee, evoking more of a “holiday house party set up” than the normal full-on bar situ typically found in the average airline lounge. Once on the plane, all in-cabin beverage/snack service had been suspended, the airline magazine had been removed from the seatback pocket, and the plane felt much colder than usual. I thought it was just the location of my seat; I didn’t realize at the time that the airlines had intentionally increased the air flow as a decontamination measure that, coupled with the lack of body heat on the planes, resulted in freezing flights.
Returning home five days later, there were still lots of flights available, but they were increasingly cancelled on a rolling basis depending on popularity of destination. Colleagues heading to Indianapolis had flights cancelled daily; fortunately, heading to Boston proved more reliable. Still, in the handful of days that passed between my flights, the scene upon arrival at Logan was noticeably different; businesses that had been open the previous Sunday were closed by the following Friday. According to The Boston Globe, staff was passing out flyers encouraging arrivals to quarantine at home though I saw none. Cabs were plentiful, I returned home and quarantined for 14 days. The end.
Flight options are greatly reduced to San Antonio — one 6AM departure daily, and prices are now double what they were just a month ago. Walking into the airport, it was very clear that the landscape is vastly different. Most of the check-in counters are closed; at the ones that are operating, you now must stand behind a stanchion. You can still get close enough to pass over your luggage and your driver’s license, but otherwise you’re kept a strict 6 feet away. TSA agents have a plexiglass shield in front of their faces, and you’re more conscious of maintaining social distance from your fellow travelers while going through security. Pretty much everything is closed save for one or two shops/restaurants, even the Dunkin’ is dead and the list of departures on the board is perhaps 8 flights at most. Masks are definitely more plentiful, but far from universal. The boarding process is now done back of plane to front (why isn’t that always the case anyway?), but airline status holders can still board as they like, which makes zero sense. I’m conscious to stay 6 feet behind the person in front of me on the walk to the plane. There is still no service on the flights, but now when boarding passengers are offered a plastic bag containing a bottle of water, a Purell wipe and snacks. No one is seated together; first class passengers sit next to empty seats, and in coach Delta keeps the middle seat empty. The planes are still freezing.
Upon landing in San Antonio, police officers greeted us as we came off the plane and required that we fill out forms with personal information and instructions to quarantine. Apparently it was because the plane came from Atlanta, which was surprising as I hadn’t heard of it as a hotspot at that point…if they only knew my real city of departure! Having only recently finished a 21 day quarantine (I know, I know…overachiever), I know I’m clear….and will do it all over again when I return to Boston.
This trip I rented a car instead of Lyft, to better reduce my exposure. The hotel had undergone numerous changes too: plexiglass at check-in, all of the furniture in the lobby was removed, and staff wore masks. I found it especially interesting because recent news reports suggested Texas was close to lifting their stay-at-home orders…but from the looks of it so far, not anytime soon.
I came back on Saturday on the one flight available. Had it been cancelled, there would have been no flights back to Boston until Monday. Overall, my return trip felt slightly bi-polar, with the differences between departure city and layover city. There was literally nothing open at 3:30 pm when I arrived at the San Antonio airport to fly out save for two fast food spots. No Hudson News equivalent, hardly anyone in the airport. I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard the gate agent announce “To reduce crowding with the boarding process…” There were literally eight people on the plane. Also, it was probably the fastest I’ve been in the air…maybe ever. No endless taxi-ing to get to an open runway….it kinda felt like it was just wheels up! Transferring planes in Atlanta felt slightly different – many more people, much more was open, even things that hadn’t been open the previous Monday at noon — but still remarkably quiet at 8:30 pm for one of the country’s busiest airports. Flight was the same, but this time they offered first class passengers a choice of the usually “paid for” snack boxes. And it was probably the fullest flight out of all four.
All in all, travel in the time of COVID is actually pretty great…you know, except for the weird instinct to avoid any type of human contact and all. No lines, airline upgrades are pretty much guaranteed, and – unless your flight gets cancelled — zero delays. It’s definitely not for everyone, and I imagine it will take some time for flights to get back to normal even once most states decide to reopen. Until then, if you have to fly, my tips & tricks, below.
Marlo’s Flying Recos/COVID-19 Edition:
- If you have to fly and you’re picky (who, me?!), bring your own food.
- Wear layers. Dress warmly. Especially if you veer cold…#trust.
- If you’re scared, try thinking about it this way: it’s probably more dangerous going to the grocery store at home as you’re far less likely to be in close proximity with others in the airport or during your flight.
- Don’t leave extra time – you don’t need it. Check in, security and gate access is a breeze.
- Wear a mask. But often you can take it off because literally no one is around you.
- Support your system with supplements (I like to boost the Vitamin C and Elderberry when I travel), get lots of sleep, avoid alcohol, take probiotics (I took GoLive at least one, if not two, times daily while traveling), and drink water. Anything you can do to help your body boost your immune system (this is generally sound advice these days, flying or not).
- Have a good reason to travel, whatever ‘good’ means to you. Let’s be real: flying isn’t going to be any less ‘dangerous’ in a month or two when they “reopen” the country. Until there is a vaccine or enough testing/tracking to ensure no one who is sick or asymptomatically carrying the virus travels, flying (like everything else) will be a crapshoot. Right now there are so few people it’s actually pretty easy to practice social distancing.
- Stay calm. If you’re choosing to travel for an essential reason, then embrace the fact that you are doing so, take the proper precautions and acknowledge that, at least for the foreseeable future, this is what modern day travel will be like.
Hope this has been helpful. Feel free to email, comment, or DM me with any questions, happy to answer if I can!