To put things into perspective, normally I fly four or five times in any given year. In 2019, I flew to Hawaii, Peru, Wyoming, and Nebraska. That was a light year because I was able to drive to my half marathon in Delaware, otherwise that would have been another flight. In 2020, I flew just once, to St. Petersburg, Florida in February before the pandemic truly hit and state shutdowns began. Little did I know then that would be the last time I would board an airplane for another 15 months.
I had plans to fly to southern Spain and Portugal in June 2020 that I pushed back to August, only to cancel for good. I also had plans to fly to Yosemite National Park in California in August and that was also cancelled. Oh, and flights to New Mexico, Iowa, and Minnesota were also cancelled during the pandemic. Luckily, the airlines were all generous in their cancellation policies because that was five flights that were all cancelled and otherwise I would have been out of a lot of money.
By the summer of 2020, I had begun to get a bit stir-crazy but flying didn’t seem like a great idea so I took some road trips, first to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee (Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux) and later in the summer to the coast of North Carolina (Fun in the Sun in the Outer Banks, North Carolina). That August, my daughter started online school and all vacations were put on hold.
With spring break of 2021 approaching and the state of the pandemic starting to improve as more and more people were getting vaccinated, I began searching for safe places to travel to. I had also gotten vaccinated myself, which helped ease my mind. When I would see an article online about state requirements for travel (basically stating if you were required to quarantine upon arrival or not), I would scour the list.
Florida kept looking better and better. They were ahead of the curve when it came to vaccinating their people, had no mandates regarding travel or quarantine upon arrival and I knew I could get a short direct flight there. Finally, flights were dirt cheap. I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, bought my airline tickets with Delta, and hoped for the best, knowing I could easily cancel and get my money back or at least a voucher for a future flight if I had to. Also, I only made reservations at hotels with generous cancellation policies, allowing me to cancel the day before if necessary.
The final couple of weeks before my vacation, I was overly cautious about who I was around. Even though I was vaccinated and my chances of getting COVID was minimal I knew there was still a slight chance and it would have been devastating if that were to happen. Also, my daughter, who isn’t yet 16, isn’t eligible yet to get the vaccine, so she could have gotten sick. She also limited her exposure to other people in the time before our vacation.
Finally the day of our flight to Tampa arrived. My daughter and I were both healthy and excited for some time in sunny Florida. We were also excited to learn we had been bumped-up to comfort+ seats, which are just a step below first class. Bonus!
So what exactly was my flight experience like? I’ll break it down completely here to those that are curious or nervous about flying during the pandemic. First off, the airport was moderately busy, I’d say. Not empty but nowhere near busy either. Since this was during spring break, in a normal year, the airport would have been packed. Everyone at the airport was wearing a mask or face covering of some sort. We only had a short line to go through security, which was no doubt faster because we didn’t have to take off our shoes or take liquids out of our carry-on bags.
Delta was one of the few airlines still blocking off the middle seats on the airplanes at the time of our flight, so the plane still had plenty of empty seats because of that. At no point did anyone take our temperature, either at the airport or any time before boarding the plane, but I did have to answer the usual series of questions about COVID and our general state of health when I checked in for the flight.
The airplane was boarded from back to front to limit exposure and everyone was handed an individually-wrapped wet wipe upon boarding. We were all told we had to keep our masks on unless we were actively eating or drinking. Once we reached altitude, the flight attendants handed out a small plastic bag with a small water bottle, a wet wipe, a bag of Goldfish crackers, a Clif mini-bar, and a napkin. We were supposed to put all of our trash back into that bag and hand it to the flight attendants when they picked up the trash.
Never once did I feel unsafe either at the airport or on the airplane. I felt like everyone was adhering to all of the guidelines, wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet from people not in their household or group, and washing hands or using hand sanitizer/hand wipes. I also know (well, I have read and I guess I assume it’s true) that Delta’s airplanes are being deep-cleaned regularly. The airplane seemed cleaner than ever to me, compared to previous flights, where I would often find trash left behind in the seat from the previous flier.
The return flight from Tampa back home to North Carolina was similar with one tiny exception. The TSA agent in the Tampa airport told us we had to remove our shoes but could leave liquids in our bags. Still, the line for security went quickly and smoothly. Also, a nice bonus was we were upgraded to first class on the flight back home. This was a first for me and I enjoyed the cushy seats and tons of leg room. I’m 5’8″ so I’m always a big squished in economy seats.
As before, everyone in the airport wore a mask, some seats in the airport were blocked off to help with distancing everyone, and hand sanitizer was plentiful and more importantly being used. The middle seats were also blocked off on the airplane, as before. To deal with this in first class, which only had rows of two seats, versus three seats in a row for comfort+ and economy, only people from the same household could sit together in first class.
I realize everyone’s comfort level is different now during the pandemic and some people either are high-risk or have high-risk family members. Some people are also not able to get the vaccine for various reasons and may not want to fly for that reason. By no means am I saying everyone should go on a flight now. As I said in the beginning, I just want to let others who haven’t flown in a long time and are curious know what my personal experience was like. Other people’s experience may of course vary depending on which airports they go to and which airline they fly with.
Have you flown during the pandemic? If so, what was your experience like?