• Courtney Phillips

Flying in the times of COVID-19

I assume, many of you have not left your homes in weeks maybe even months at this point, and may be curious about the state of air travel these days. I’m actually typing this on my MacBook from 36,000 feet on a flight from D.C. to Houston, so I am uniquely positioned to “spill the tea,” so to speak.

First of all, let me back up and let you know why I’m up here in the first place, I’ve found myself in a bit of situation being in Northern Virginia, between jobs and living alone in my new condo, as the Coronavirus stay-at-home orders swept the country. I assumed I’d manage and adapt like everyone else. I’ve done my therapy sessions as telehealth and finished moving in my place, but beyond that my entire routine completely slipped through my hands.

I found myself walking Lily and in tears for no reason this week. I was homesick for my family and my friends and my life – like everyone else. It just all hit me at one time – the job, the new condo, the pandemic, the singledom… I made the decision two nights ago with my family to come home in a safe way (masked, covered in antibacterial, and whipping everything down in Clorox wipes along the way).

So, what has the day been like? Well, my Uber driver insisted that Terminal A was closed and all flights were being directed out of Terminal B, even though I insisted I was Terminal A and that Southwest would have emailed that kind of change. He “knew better” as he made multiple drop-offs each day, and I trusted him…

Guess what? He was wrong! Are you surprised? I had to walk all the way to Terminal A, which if you’ve ever been to DCA, is a bit of a hike. If I had been on time for my flight, this would not have been a big deal, but Ubers take FOREVER right now, so I was less than an hour checking in.

It turned out to be one of the first ones off!

They let me check my bag, but could not guarantee it would make it onto my flight. “Ma’am there are 10 people on my flight. Is this real life?” is what I wanted to say. But you and I both know, I just said, “Ok. I’ll cross my fingers and hope it makes it. Thank you.”

As for security, there is no pre-check right now. There is ONE line and no one is in it. Hmmm. No big deal you'd think. [Or actually I did!] Well, you’d be wrong. They handed me a laminated piece of paper to signify that I was pre-check, which I then set down on the counter and went about my business like an idiot.

“Why don’t you have your electronics and liquids out? Why are your shoes on?” You can imagine my confusion after five years of pre-check. “Oh, I set down this paper over here. I didn’t want to get more germs.”

And then of course because it’s not the pre-check TSA screening process my purse was pulled and they took out my expensive hand lotion that I’ve had in my bag for my last 10-20 flights… “Just take it. I should have removed it,” I say as I think, “these mother effers… where are my pre-check friends?”

Of course, as you can expect, most of the restaurants and shops in the airport are closed except for the grab and go. I normally travel with my refillable water bottle and use the refill stations at airports to be more environmentally conscious, but decided that was probably a major no-no right now (sorry Planet Earth). So, I grab a bottle of water and GUESS WHAT THEY HAVE, Clorox

wipes, masks and hand sanitizer at normal prices! I almost bought a lifetime supply but realized that I would then be part of the problem. [I would like to note to those reading not in the D.C.-area that DCA is officially the only place that has these items in stock and that includes Amazon.com.]

For the boarding process, the poor airline agent tried her best. She kept saying as clearly as she could for people to maintain a six-foot distance and only calling 10 numbers at a time to board. And people were crowding in more closely than they normally do. I mean I bought my flight the day before without checking in 24-hours on time and I was still A-36. This is not a fight for middle seats, folks!

I just held my breath for about 20 minutes and turned blue, until I was safely six feet away from those mouth breathers on the gangway again. They ask that there be only one person in each row – unless you’re traveling together – and holding the first and last three rows for the flight attendants. There is no food or drink service. They said the flight attendants are onboard strictly for safety purposes at this point.

I took my container of Clorox wipes and wiped down my entire seat, the entire window, the back of the seat in front of me, and all my personal belongings after being searched by TSA. I had a fairly nice flight considering I had my purse in the seat next to me and Lily under the seat next to me. There were approximately 45 people on our entire flight, which is more than I’ve heard on some flights. But it didn’t feel crowded or like we were too close. My only main complaint was with the changes in flights I had to take a layover as there aren't any direct flights offered right now. They are doing their best to stay in business and move people around that are still needing to travel.

Tips for traveling during the pandemic

So, if you are getting on a plane right now, here are some suggestions to help:

  • Bring snacks from home and buy water at the airport. I was late and didn’t even think about grabbing food at the grab and go. They aren't doing food or beverage service. So, come prepared. My flight went from 11 am – 3 pm, and luckily, I had that water and a protein bar in my purse!

  • Wear a mask to the airport. It’s policy not that you can’t go into any airport without one. I wore one in the Uber, too. I'm pretty sure that's the policy there now as well.

  • Bring antibacterial and Clorox wipes. You touch way more than you realize. I’ve always coated myself in antibacterial when I fly, and now the Clorox wipes make so much sense. It was lucky they had it at the grab and go in DCA, but your airport may not.

  • Arrive earlier than you think you need to. My experience was way different than usual. I’m normally waiting forever for my flight because check-in and security go so quickly. But between having to go through normal security – and getting searched – and my Uber driver and the wrong Terminal, you never know what will happen when it’s not normal operating procedures.

  • Be kind to the airline workers. They are on the frontlines and doing this to make money for their families and to help you and I get to where we need to be. Listen to their directions and thank them for what they’re doing!

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