Safety Mesures Take Off: Travel During a Pandemic
Historically low ticket prices; empty corridors; lineless security checkpoints; vacant rows of plane seats; crowd-free baggage carrousels; sound like a dream? This seemingly breezy atmosphere is the reality of travel during our current pandemic. Of course, this dream also includes all the eerie accoutrement of virus prevention: medical attestation forms, ubiquitous masks, closed restaurants, and strict social distancing guidelines. On a recent flight out West, I was struck both by how surprisingly pleasant and how spookily abnormal the whole experience was. Arriving late to the airport, I ran to the security line—lo and behold, there was no line. I sailed through and made my gate with plenty of time to spare. There, travelers sat distributed in pods across a carefully redesigned seating area, made to keep six feet of distance between folks. It all felt very safe, if quite strange.
There does seem to be some variation among transportation companies as to their anti-COVID safety protocols. My local bus service to the airport reduced its passenger capacity to 50%, installed plexiglass barriers between each seat, and required that masks be worn at all times. By contrast, the airline I was flying now allows almost full capacity—though the flight remained half-empty. The airports themselves follow nationally set guidelines, which mandate mask wearing indoors, increases cleaning, and limits indoor dining and social crowding.
On the plane, the flight attendants informed us that the cabin air was changed every three minutes by a state-of-the-art filtration system. Though I knew this before I decided to fly, I was comforted to hear it again. It was also pretty amazing to watch how smoothly the flight attendants blended Covid protocols into their already long safety spiels and checks, as if they’d been checking for masks and talking about air filtration and quarantine restrictions for years. Though hopefully, this is a skill that won’t be needed for much longer.
From what I can gather, flying with all the safety protocols and technologies in place has been proven a relatively safe way to travel during the pandemic. And if you are frantically wondering, like I was, whether you are allowed to quickly pull down your mask to snag a drink of water, the answer is yes: by the rules you can pull down your mask when actively eating or drinking—though it certainly seems safer to hold off on a long meal till after you’re out of the plane.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused massive changes across our day-to-day lives—often ones with tragic consequences. The travel industry is no exception. After a year of tight travel restrictions, we are hopefully nearing a phase of this ordeal in which vacations and visits to family will become easier. Recognizing this, the airline and travel sector have totally adapted their protocols and passenger guidelines to ensure the health of travelers. The result is a safe, if bizarre, experience that relies on all of our participation for it to work.