Flying in the Time of Covid-19 (Reprise)

When my plane landed on March 7th, my mind was on mundane things: whether my son would be on time to pick me up, whether “our” friends I’d been skiing with would choose to remain “my” friends now that we were separated. (Yes, and no, by the way.)

I certainly wasn’t thinking that I wouldn’t be on a plane again for over half a year. I had six trips planned in that time. 2020 was going to be a continuation of the travel that had filled 2019.

We all know what happened after that.

The last time I was at an airport, at the end of March, I was dropping off my friend Scott. After being trapped in Canada when the border closed, as one flight after another was canceled in that early chaos, he was finally able to get a flight home to Cleveland. I wrote about it then.

Now I am at an airport again. After 6 months of not being together because of the closed Canada-US border, Scott relocated to Barbados and I am flying to join him.

Nervously setting out from Victoria

When I let people know what I was planning, many were horrified. “You’re crazy! You’d never get me on a plane!” And more gently, “Are you sure it’s safe?”

I wasn’t sure. But reading about airline measures, and realizing that transmission on airplanes didn’t seem to be happening anymore, I decided to take the chance. A friend gave me some N95 masks that I doubled up with cloth ones. I travelled with hand and surface sanitizers. I chose my seats carefully, and adjusted close to flight time when I saw which seats were occupied or empty.

It is 6 pm at Vancouver International. I have never seen it this empty, not even at 3 in the morning.

The first difference was when I arrived at the airport. My sister had to leave me at the sidewalk as now only passengers and employees were allowed in the building. There were no crowds. My first flight had been changed to an earlier one; when I asked the agent she told me their company had gone from 22 flights a day out of Victoria to eight. Even so, the plane was less than half full.

There were no young security personnel. Only those with many years of seniority were working. Signs for social distancing and hand sanitizer dispensers were everywhere. Most restaurants were closed and many of the few open only offered take-out.

One sit-down restaurant open at Toronto

And everyone was so damn serious. No more casual chat and sharing of where and why you were travelling. Maybe there were smiles under the masks, but I don’t think so. People looked up sharply if someone coughed.

I forget how many times I had my temperature taken and was asked if I had any of a list of symptoms. On the planes, there was no food or drink service, only a sealed plastic bag with hand sanitizer, mask, gloves, cheap earphones, a bottle of water and a bag of pretzels. I didn’t see anyone taking their mask off to eat them.

No need to wait for your flight to scroll up anymore

I am not doing this on a whim, or for a quick vacation, as I might have before. I will be here months, to make the risk, the testing and monitoring, and the quarantine on return worthwhile.

“Please pull down your mask so we can check your passport picture.”

I wonder what will happen to the air travel industry. Currently they are trying to lure people back with cheap fares and included insurance, but I suspect that soon prices will rise dramatically and schedules will be cut back even more. I have a feeling that air travel will not go back to the casual experience it was before for so many of us.

We will need to be a little braver when we travel.

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