Sitting in an airport in mid-June with my husband, Brent, I peeled an orange, and then cleaned my hands with hand sanitizer for the umpteenth time that day. It turns out that, after many applications of hand sanitizer, anything you eat with your hands will taste like hand sanitizer. It was our first flight during the pandemic. We brought our own food. We wore masks.
Like everyone else, since the onset of the pandemic, we canceled many planned trips. But we decided against canceling this trip to the West Coast to visit family. In the months, weeks and days preceding this trip, we received a stream of emails from the airlines about our flights being cancelled and changed, which certainly made things more complicated than usual.
Some other things about the trip were unusual, while some were familiar. Two of the airports we visited were nearly completely empty and that was definitely unusual. At a connection in Charlotte, however, we found ourselves among huge crowds. Every seat at our gate waiting area was full and every seat on that flight was full. That leg of the trip was on American Airlines which we knew had canceled a high percentage of their flights so that their remaining flights were full.
Everyone was masked and I have found that that tends to make people quieter. So, even while seated on that crowded flight, practically no one was speaking (let alone singing or shouting), and certainly no one was touching each other, so I still felt that everyone’s germs were pretty safely contained in their own bodies.
Instead of the usual four or five boarding groups, the airlines divided passengers into nine. Since two of our three legs had fewer than 30 total passengers, that meant each boarding group included only a few people, which I guess was the whole point.
Nearly all the shops and restaurants in all the airports were closed. On board, no food or beverage service was offered, although on one or two of our flights, the crew did offer complimentary cups of water and cookies. In an effort to limit the number of things I touched and the number of times I would have to sanitize my hands, I declined these offers. Instead, our backpacks bulged with food we brought from home, including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (on bread I made from scratch, like so many other newly devoted bakers).
No one was allowed to bring carry-ons on board. Instead, we left our bags at the end of the jetway, where we retrieved them upon landing. It’s nice not to have to drag a carry-on onboard but doing so probably would have been less germy because, leaving them at the end of the jetway meant they were handled by several crew members, and it also created a pileup of passengers dropping and claiming their bags.
Brent and I brought three masks each, so we could wash them and give them a few days between uses, to let germs die. For our long days of travel, we wore our most comfortable and least-sweaty masks, but they were still sweaty and uncomfortable. For four nights, we stayed with family at their house and we spent one night in a hotel, where we wiped everything with our own spray disinfectant. Instead of a buffet breakfast, the hotel prepared grab-and-go breakfast boxes with fruit, hard-boiled eggs, a bagel, yogurt and more. Then it was back into our masks for the long travel day home.
So far, it’s been nine days after our return home, and we are still healthy, but we know coronavirus symptoms can take two weeks to show up. Our fingers are crossed that we will still be symptom-free by mid-July, when we plan to fly again.