I flew last week for the first time since COVID arrived. It was great, and I would do it again.
Do you want to know what it was like?
On the creepy side…only one entry door was available for entering and departing the airport, which was empty (we were flying from Newark, New Jersey, to Denver). Well not entirely empty, but empty like when your plane is super-delayed and you arrive at two in the morning and everything is closed. The only stores that were open were the newsstands so you could buy a bottle of water, magazines and snacks. I never buy anything anyway, so it didn’t matter to me.
When we arrived at Denver Airport around midday, it was much quieter than usual but not the emptiness of the early morning at Newark. Most stores were closed—onlya few fast-food places were open, but none of the nicer restaurants where we usually grab something before and after we fly.
And, yes, everyone had to wear a mask from the time they entered their departure airports until they left their arrival airports.
I will get to the experience on the plane in a few minutes, but first, here are the really awesome parts of the trip: No lines, no waiting…anywhere. No traffic on the 65-mile trip to the airport—this can be a torturous drive from Connecticut to Newark, depending on the time of day. The parking lots were empty. No lines at TSA in either direction, and the planes took off right on time and landed early at both ends. Not bad!
Now for that on-plane part…
We flew on United Airlines. The employees were extremely gracious and appreciative of our business from the moment we arrived until the moment we deplaned. I had received an e-mail before the flight that detailed all of the airline’s safety measures and “reassured” me that they were keeping the plane’s middle seats empty in order to provide some semblance of social distance. So I was quite surprised when the plane we flew out on was over 90% full and almost every middle seat was taken. Surprised? Yes. Dismayed? No—unlike other people who were “more scared of getting on a plane than going into the hospital.”
I frankly was happy to see that people wanted to return to some semblance of normalcy and were eager to travel…especially due to the financial devastation of the travel industry because of the pandemic. As an aside, according to the United rep that I spoke to when booking tickets, the airline is flying approximately 10% of its normal schedule. Can you imagine if your business had to operate at 10% of revenue? For months on end??? It is not sustainable, so I was happy for the glimmer of hope that those filled seats symbolized for me. When I read the articles in the news about upset people on similarly “crowded” flights, I was struck by this perfect example of how some see the glass half empty and some see it half full. I’m a half-full kind of gal. It works for me.
On our return flight, after being publicly “spanked” on social media, the United staff was tripping over themselves to demonstrate their concerns about social distancing and germ control. We received a Purell wipe as we entered the plane, and we were repeatedly told to maintain space from the people around us in order to socially distance.
But here’s the thing. There’s no such thing as maintaining six feet of space from other people on an airplane, no matter if the middle seat is empty or filled. As you walk up the aisle, you are within six inches of those who are seated. And with the width of a seat being approximately 18 inches, you are approximately two feet from your aisle mate or the person in front or behind you. Unless the planes want to fly with only two people in every third row, there simply is no six feet to be had. So stop pretending. If you’re that concerned about germ transmission, then you may want to wait a while longer before you return to the air.
One other thing that actually made me feel good on my flights: Whereas when I go to the grocery store at home I feel like I’m in the land of the zombies with everyone hiding their eyes for fear they will get eye-COVID if they look at you, the plane passengers were not afraid. They were masked, but they were relaxed and “normal” behind the mask—talking…smiling eyes…excited to be going someplace. And like so many, happy to be not quarantined.
Reopening the country is a complicated process filled with unique circumstances and varying points of view. While I don’t agree with all the decisions and rules being placed on each of us (is there really any reason to screen for fevers when over 50% of those who have tested positive for COVID either had no symptoms or they were so mild that they didn’t know they had it??), I appreciate the efforts being made by all in charge to do the best they can under unique circumstances.
But life must go on, and mankind is not designed for sitting in isolation to prevent the risk of ever getting sick again. We need physical activity and social interaction too much. Each person must choose what is right for him or her with regard to how quickly and how far they jump back into life. For anyone who wants to jump on a plane, there’s no lines…no waiting.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.