I celebrated my 50th birthday in February by joining friends and family aboard a cruise. My official birthday party was on a 3-night cruise to the Bahamas, then my wife and I remained on board the ship for 2 more cruises, or what some of us cruise fans would call a B2B2B. On February 17th, we flew home, and that’s where I stayed for 235 days. Suffice it to say that a year that looked like it was going to be very active for travel changed a lot due to the pandemic.
Time to Fly
In March, my day job halted all travel, and I certainly had no need for leisure travel. Throughout all this, I’ve maintained that I would be willing to fly if I had a need to. I’ve felt all along that airplanes probably weren’t a big risk for being exposed in and of themselves, as long as passengers follow the rules. Finally, in late September, I was invited to Colorado Springs. That’s not drivable for a weekend from Washington, DC, so I started exploring flight options. I discussed taking the trip with my wife before I booked it. I pointed out that Colorado was not on the list of states that required a 14-day quarantine (note that it’s been added since my trip), that virus numbers in both DC and Colorado Springs seemed to be doing OK, and that I would not be hanging out in any bars and restaurants. I felt comfortable going. I did not get the impression she was excited about the prospect, but she agreed.
While I might not be “worried” about catching a virus from flying, my first thought was that I wanted to fly an airline that was blocking seats. Unfortunately, Delta’s schedule into Colorado Springs from DC just wasn’t viable for me. I briefly considered flying into Denver and driving down, but ultimately settled on American Airlines flights with a connection in Chicago. I booked first class to ensure more space, including being in a seat by myself on the E-175 flights between Chicago and Colorado Springs.
Departure day finally arrived for my early morning flight. I took Lyft to DCA (first time in a shared ride for 235 days too) and arrived to find an eerily quiet terminal for a Friday morning. Unfortunately, Clear did not open until 6am, but TSA PreCheck was still a snap. Once I arrived at the gate area, I lost the sense of eery quiet as it was apparent that my flight was going to be quite full. Soon enough, I was on board and on my way to Chicago. I’ll skip comments on seats other than to say, you might recognize my old friend, noAAsis. (Note: even the inflight magazine has been treated with some kind of “anti microbial process.”)
This will be a short paragraph. There was no inflight service. At least none was offered on my flight to Chicago. I’m aware that I could’ve requested something, but in truth, I didn’t want anything that early. For my other flights, flight attendants proactively offered drinks, and on the longer flights between Chicago and Colorado Springs, a “snack pack” of bottled water, biscoffs, and an individual hand sanitizer was offered. All in all, service was fine. The flight attendants on 3 of my 4 flights were very attentive and offered beverage top offs throughout the flights. It was good to be in the air again!
I only had time to hit the Admirals Club in Chicago. As you might expect, things are different now. Seating was well spaced, and menus for beverages and food were available via QR code. The bar staff was friendly as usual, and all food items were individually wrapped or in some kind of plastic container. I had plenty of time for the Admirals Club breakfast of champions.
To Fly or Not to Fly
While I’d likely pick driving over flying for any kind of reasonable distance, that wasn’t an option so I weighed the risks and chose to fly. Airlines appear to have done a good job with enhanced cleaning protocols and reducing possible touch points during flights. Aircraft ventilation systems apparently reduce the likelihood of viral transmission, and of course, everyone is wearing a mask. I did not see one instance of anyone without a mask or wearing one incorrectly during my flights. I did see one person waiting to board a flight in Chicago with no mask who didn’t seem to care that dozens of people were giving him the stinkeye.
In the end, flying during a global pandemic is a personal choice within the confines of any state-mandated restrictions. In my case, I carefully evaluated all the available information I could find on infection rates at my destination, packed my masks and hand sanitizer, and booked my flights. The bottom line for me is that I’d fly again, but I honestly do not know when that will happen.