An experience flying from coast to coast
The option to travel during the pandemic is not ideal with the rise of Coronavirus cases, but sometimes that is the only option with outside circumstances. This was the situation for me, so I packed up and headed to the airport. Let’s just say traveling from coast to coast involves a lot of hand sanitizer, masks, and people partially practicing social distancing.
I left at 3 a.m. with shields and masks in hand, unsure if the Sacramento International Airport would be hectic or deserted. The flights and airports going from Sacramento to Chicago, with one layover in Denver, were three different experiences based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
Southwest Airlines sends a Health Declaration before each flight stating that flyers will wear a mask and monitor their symptoms days leading up to the travel day, and flyers must sign the form. The Health Declaration is just the beginning of cautions from travelers and airlines. Regardless of the forms being signed, it felt like I was trusting complete strangers to follow these protocols and keep everyone safe.
The preparation before flying through the sky was also extensive, as I combed through many articles about how to take precautions to avoid any extra germ contamination. The main suggestions listed from the CDC include: researching hot spot areas, wearing a mask or shield, washing your hands constantly, and turning on the air vents in the plane.
Now let’s talk about the airport. It was surprisingly busy for a red-eye flight. The check in line winding past the kiosk easily had more than twenty people waiting. For the most part, everyone was wearing masks because they are required at the Sacramento airport, which was being said on the loudspeaker every fifteen minutes. While most people had masks on, some of the masks rested at the wearers’ chins or didn’t cover their nose — defeating the purpose of a mask. There were a select few without masks at all, and no visible repercussions were implemented for not wearing masks. There was one person who chose to forgo the mask going through security, and the only consequence they received was dirty looks from everyone following the guidelines.
While the bag-check line was long, the security gate was short and easy to navigate because only an ID was necessary to get through, not proof of a boarding pass. Not having to show my boarding pass was one of the biggest differences I noticed while traveling.
I soon discovered that I was not the only one who did research before traveling. Right when the plane boarded, everyone around me turned on the vents to keep the air circulating. It was reassuring that most people were being cautious with travel (minus the guy from the security line).
Now Denver was a bit different. In Denver, I was in terminal C, which contained mostly Southwest flights. It was the busiest terminal and looked like a regular day at the airport — aside from the masks. But even though CDC has highlighted the fact that keeping a six foot distance from people will help stop the spread of the Coronavirus, many clusters of people filled the airport seats closer than six feet (most groups were centered around the electrical outlets).
The majority of food options were also open in Denver with restricted hours. Again, all employees were wearing masks. While I was waiting in line for lunch, a young man cut me in line without any mask or face covering to ask for a refill. I was curious to see if the worker would say anything since there were four signs stating that a mask was required to order food. The worker spoke up and complied with the regulations, but the man simply grabbed his tank top and covered his chin (problem solved, right?)
As for the plane ride itself, Southwest declared that each flight would be under full capacity with all middle seats empty in an effort to follow CDC guidelines. This practice was implemented successfully on both flights, along with all air vents being turned on to keep the circulation flowing.
Traveling by plane while being prepared was doable and not too overwhelming of a situation. But, would I recommend this as a first choice to someone who is at risk for getting Covid-19? Definitely not.