Flying during the pandemic: Scary and stressful… Yeah, a little bit. But a taste of adventure, a weekend out of your house, and time to visit family and friends – or just to get some fresh air in a new place on your own – is vital to keeping up our spirits and mental health right now.
Wondering what it’s like? We got you. We’ve flown twice this summer – once with Southwest and once with Delta. We’ve been to six airports. Here’s what we’ve seen:
All six of the airports we traveled to – Northwest Florida Beaches (ECP), Detroit Metro, (DTW), Nashville (BNA), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta (ATL), Salt Lake City (SLC) and Helena Regional (HLN) – require masks. But you’re probably wondering, are people actually participating?
Overall – Yes! We give it a 9.5 out of 10, which is MUCH better than your average trip to the grocery store in Florida. We can count on one hand the number of people NOT wearing masks at each airport and on our flights. I think we saw three people total in Nashville not wearing masks and that was the most out of six airports. In flight, we saw one or two people take their masks off… but other than that it was only when passengers were eating or drinking.
We traveled in mid-July and late August, and if it weren’t for the masks, extra hand sanitizing stations, and intercom messages referencing COVID-19, you wouldn’t think we were in the midst of a pandemic. Airport crowds are so similar to what they were pre-pandemic. We saw huge crowds in the middle of the day in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and Nashville, and passenger numbers at the smaller airports in Panama City and Helena were about the same as usual, which is good considering we flew out in the mornings and got in late at night.
While it was occasionally uncomfortable to be among the crowds with nowhere to run – with good mask participation, attempts at social distancing, and plenty of hand sanitizer – it was honestly so nice to feel the energy and excitement of travel again among so many people. We like to see people getting back to enjoying life.
We didn’t notice any timing impacts because of the pandemic.
You might be wondering about security… I mean who doesn’t think about (and dread) the potential of quelling the excitement of travel while having to wait anxiously in those long lines before getting in the air. Good news (I think) – the lines are the same. With crowd sizes about the same, you likely won’t experience shorter lines, but there’s no added wait because of pandemic procedures.
You’ll see social distance markers on the ground throughout the line, so make sure to keep your space! No one’s going to cut you in line and the line’s not going to move faster just because you’re up in someone’s bubble.
There might be an added five seconds when the TSA agent asks you to briefly pull down your mask to check your face against your I.D., but this makes no difference when it comes to the airport experience.
One other note – if you frequent certain airports a lot, you’ll notice many of the restaurants you love are closed. This being the other tell-tale sign of the situation we’re in. There’s enough food open to get you through the day…But if you’re looking for something other than Burger King (me) in Nashville or looking for that refreshing Pinkberry treat in Salt Lake City, for now, it’s not going to happen.
Delta vs. Southwest:
We’ll preface this by saying these are the only two airlines we’ve flown this summer so we can’t comment on what the others are doing.
Sanitation and Social Distancing:
Both Delta and Southwest get an “A” for these categories.
Every passenger who boards a Delta flight is given a sanitizing wipe when they walk onto the plane. Although everything is sanitized in-between flights, it’s nice to wipe your seat, seat belt, TV screen and tray table down yourself… And know others have the tool to do it too.
As you can imagine, social distancing on a plane is hard… if not impossible. But both Delta and Southwest have eliminated middle seats – meaning a “completely booked” flight is when all aisle and window seats are booked. You can only sit in the middle if you’re sitting with your group.
Remember the days where you crowded the gate because you were in Delta’s Zone Two but you HAD to be the first person from Zone Two on the plane? Or remember the lineup of 60… YES 60… people on either side of a pole for a Southwest boarding group? Well, those days are gone amid the pandemic and that’s a good thing.
Southwest is boarding in groups of 10 now. So, if you’re A11, keep your seat for a hot minute. Delta is boarding from the back of the plane to the front in an effort to keep people from breathing on each other while struggling to get bags in the overhead bin. Delta does make exceptions for first class, passengers needing special assistance, and former or active military members – so if you’re in the last row, you will see some people on board first.
Both airlines get an “A” and these new boarding policies definitely help keep people spread out, and we’re hoping they continue after the pandemic is over. They’re more efficient and keep the impatient traveler out of your face.
All in all, we felt very safe while flying during the pandemic, and the mental health recuperation we got from taking a break and traveling was needed and worth it. We hope this helps ease your nerves about getting out and exploring what you can during these times. And if you’re still not comfortable, we’ll continuing wishing for brighter days ahead so we can all get out and adventure together again.
Thanks for reading, stay safe, and travel on!
-K & P