Air Travel and Covid-19 Lessons Learned
The new normal for air travel is pretty painless unless you are a nine-year-old with motion sickness, but that is another story. Traveling during a pandemic, especially air travel, can bring a lot of anxiety. Not only do you have to take your shoes off for the TSA security screen, but you have now must wear a mask in all airports and on the airplanes. Mask-wearing is a small price to pay for the freedom to travel. You will see that mask adherence is not the same as you move across the country, and different states take a more lackadaisical approach to this safety measure. Travel is not for everyone, some may even think it irresponsible, but if you want to fly, here is what you you need to know.
Leaving from our home airport in Boston, we found the place pretty empty. Social distancing is a breeze. The downside is the lack of food options because many restaurants and stores are closed, most likely due to a lack of patrons. In Boston, we wear masks. Outside, inside, you will be hard-pressed to find a naked face. Children wear colorful masks with princess suitcases in tow. Contrast this to Rapid City, South Dakota, where masks are an afterthought. Denver Airport was about 50/50 with what I call the pull-down to talk, pull-up crowd. Dallas Fort Worth Airport was almost a ghost town for food options, and most people wore masks. In Las Vegas, masks are a serious business. The airport is wicked crowded and everyone is wearing face coverings. During our adventure, the Las Vegas airport was the most “unsafe” that I felt.
There is absolutely no social distancing, people are everywhere. A 6-foot buffer is practically impossible. One thing that I noticed was a large number of valved masks.
People, I get it, masks are uncomfortable, but you let your germs out if you wear a vented mask. Vented face coverings are a no-no for air travel. During a pandemic, the price for traveling is discomfort, hungry belly, sweaty face, and a little more stress. Air travel is not all doom and gloom. You can look forward to shorter lines, empty overhead bins, and excellent prices on airfare. If you are budget-minded with a huge family like ours, this time may hold the cheapest flights you will ever find. There is no way we could afford to take 6 people across country with regular fares. The "new normal" and Spirit made it happen for us. There are some things you should be aware of when considering air travel.
There is a difference between the carriers and their Covid-19 safety protocols. We were impressed with United’s safety measures. Upon plane entry, everyone received alcohol wipes. When everyone ripped those packets open at 70% alcohol content, you could have gotten intoxicated off the smell. My nose hairs were singed, and I think the fumes probably killed viral particles instantly. Another social distancing precaution that United implemented was to fill the plane from the back to front to minimize contact with others. I loved this. Being cheap,
we always sit at the back, so we got on first, and I took a nap before take off. United bagged all snacks and water bottles into little care packages to minimize handling. There was an empty seat between all non-family members. They tried to highlight safety and cleanliness efforts by announcing that between flights, they "cleaned the plane with electrostatic spray." The precautions made you feel pretty good about a somewhat risky activity.
Flights on Spirit seemed less strict about Covid-19 safety. Boarding is the same as it has always been with first-class boarding first and then filling seats to the back of the plane. Therefore, you need to walk past all kinds of people to get to your seat. Don’t expect any alcohol wipes. Spirit is no-frills, and that includes safety precautions. If you choose to forgo the up-charge and stick with your preassigned seat, you will be seated next to a stranger. Instead of seating our family of 6 together, to reduce exposure, they spread us out all over the plane. If you choose to upgrade, they will attempt to socially distance passengers leaving an empty seat between non-family members. Passengers on Spirit are required to wear a mask, but you could hear the flight attendants arguing with people who did not fancy the idea of face coverings. If you want a cheap flight and don’t care much about social distancing Spirit is your carrier.
Overall, the air travel prospects are pretty good and only mildly more inconveniencing than standard air travel. The prices are great and we found it to be relatively safe. Many of our family members are COVID tested weekly for work, and after a 14 day vacation with multiple airplanes we were all testing negative. I have to admit, that was a real relief. Even though I know that the virus is transmitted from prolonged close contact most frequently, sometimes that paranoia takes over and brings irrational fears.
What is your experience with air travel during Covid-19?
Edit*** The flight back home on Spirit had a few extra safety briefs about cleaning than the flight out, and the plane was much tidier. The Spirit crowd is rough, though, and the attendants seem much less bubbly than those on other carriers. They do have a certain spunk that makes me think drinks in the airport lounge may be hella fun.***
I would not say I regret either experience. You need to know what to expect when choosing an airline because there are some significant distinctions. All airplanes utilize HEPA filtration, so the air is being constantly filtered. Next month I will update this post to give information on American Airlines. I expect that they will be like United. In the meantime, safe adventuring, and remember to wear non-vented masks on the airplane.