Have You Flown During the Pandemic?

On September 17, I entered an airport (and then an airplane) for the first time in 2 years.

The St. Louis airport wasn’t particularly crowded–we made our way through security within 10 minutes of arriving–but we were suddenly indoors around thousands of people, which was quite new to us.

I wore two masks: A heavy-duty mask underneath and a more colorful cloth mask on top. I’m not sure what good it did, but I held my breath whenever I needed to take a sip of water or eat a nibble of food.

The 4-hour Southwest flight to Sacramento was particularly enlightening in terms of just how uncomfortable I was. We were packed into a very tight space (i.e., the airplane) with hundreds of strangers, many of whom didn’t seem to understand that a mask needs to cover one’s nose to be effective. The flight seemed to take far longer than 4 hours.

Usually I don’t like layovers, but the two shorter flights on the way back were more palatable (despite me not removing my mask even for a second for the first leg, as the person next to me barely wore his mask–the flight attendants were well aware of it and never said anything). My only reassurance was that airplanes are apparently really good at cycling air.

My two biggest takeaways were:

  1. I will avoid air travel at all costs until many more people are vaccinated and COVID is much more under control.
  2. I hope masks become the new normal on airplanes, but not necessarily double masking. I have no problem wearing my cloth mask for long periods of time, and it’ll be nice to safely take it off for a few minutes to eat or drink, but the rest of the time it seems so much more sanitary when you’re packed into a metal tube with 300 other people for a few hours.

Have you flown during the pandemic? How was your experience?

8 thoughts on “Have You Flown During the Pandemic?”

  1. I have made two round trips by plane during the pandemic. The first one was at Thanksgiving. Southwest wasn’t selling the middle seats at that point which was great but there were no vaccines at that point so was nervous. Less so for my sake , more for my parents. But they had the antibody test done right before I came ( they both had COVID prior) and their doctor said that based on the antibodies still present, it was safe for me to come. My second flight was this past June for my nephew’s high school graduation. Much more crowded on the flights made me nervous but I always have traveled with Clorox wipes ( long before the pandemic) so I wiped my arm rests, seatbelt and tray tables down as per usual. The guy sitting next to me asked if it was a new habit – nope! During my layover I walked nonstop so that I wasn’t near anyone for any length of time. I’ll likely be traveling again for Christmas depending on how things are going. It’s a tough decision. I will probably always wear a mask when I fly. These were 2 of the only times I didn’t come down with something after my trip.

  2. Jamey,

    I really appreciate people still being careful like you are being.

    One of the things that is important to me as the world ‘gets back to normal’ is that people remember that this should be a “new normal” and that anything we can do to be a bit careful can only protect the lives of others and the people we love.

    I’ve not flown at all during the pandemic and — honestly — I feel a bit weak talking about this from Australia (at least my state, which has largely been COVID free, I still try my very best to do all the right things, even if I don’t ‘legally’ have to do them and even if they are a bit of a pain.

    What Shari and I did do for the first time in two years the other day was experience a crowd. The Perth Royal Show is running this week, and even though they are limiting numbers to 60000 per day in a largely outdoor venue (the 32-acre Claremont Showgrounds — which is right in the middle of one of the wealthiest parts of our city — I have no idea how it wasn’t sold off for housing decades ago and moved to the outskirts of Perth somewhere — I love the place and hope this never happens, though… so many memories), that’s still a lot of people when you’ve been trying to social distance for the past year.

    The Royal Show is a bit like a state fair in the US, with a heavy emphasis on all the farming and agriculture around our state. On a good year it pulls in 600000 or more people in the week that it runs. We absolutely love going to see all the displays and after it was cancelled for the first time since the war last year we were excited to go again – both to support the Royal Agricultural Society, and due to our love for the event. We first went on Saturday, opening day. A major sporting event (The AFL Grand Final) was running that day in town, and I expected crowds to be low. How wrong I was. After 20 minutes we found ourselves boxed in and unable to keep our space. We decided to burn the $50 entry fee and bail — we went back on Wednesday when it was raining a bit and the crowds were much more tolerable… but I still did find myself dodging around people.

    Even though I stand by the safety measures that I take — insisting on social distancing at work — wiping down our groceries — obsessing over hand sanitiser — I almost feel ashamed about how jumpy I am compared to what you guys have to deal with over there. I just know that it could come back (as it has in New South Wales and Victoria) and I don’t want to be part of the problem that causes it to spread if it does. Does that seem mad to you? Virtually everyone I know thinks we’re nutcases — but I wonder if it’s seeing what my wife’s family in Texas is living through that makes us extra cautious and… respectful of the situation.

    I have to say that I’m more than a little bit nervous about growing calls to “open our borders to international travel” and have to cope with actual cases in the community. We haven’t really had to deal with that here, and it’s quite a scary prospect, even fully vaccinated.

    • That’s a lot of people, Mike! I’m glad you were able to attend safely. I think it makes perfect sense that you don’t want to be part of spreading a deadly, highly contagious disease.

      • It’s just a bit hard to get people to continue to take it seriously when you’ve had no cases in so long.

        Half the people seem to think we’re bullet proof, and half seem to think that the virus is not a big deal because we’ve only had 9 deaths.

        Still – I guess mine are the COVID equivalent of “first-world problems”.

        I do think that this thing has changed me forever. It remains to be seen what some of my friends and colleagues end up making of that change. 🙂

  3. Have flown once, to my son’s college graduation in Texas in May this year, after I was fully vaccinated. Was uneventful and even had empty seats next to me on a pretty full flight, just got lucky.

    Did take three long road trips from the SF Bay Area. Twice to Chicago and once to Banff.

  4. Hell to the eff to the NO. I’m barely comfortable with grocery shopping and outside dining. I understand people are fatigued with all this pandemic stuff and want to get back to traveling, etc. However, I also have had several coworkers (most of them vaxxed) return from some vacation with Covid in tow. I haven’t been going to weddings or restaurants or concerts or movie theaters… I didn’t have a 50th bday celebration (or a 51st for that matter) nor did I attend any such events. Those who did attend such events ended up with Covid. They say it’ll be a covid-compliant event, but then post videos of people from different households drunkenly singing karaoke duets face-to-face. Ew. No.

    If the airline required tests and proof of vax, sold every other seat/every other row, and people kept their masks on properly, I’d consider it. However, you just described how people keep their dang noses hanging out of their masks. Or they take it off from the time they order their food to the time their tray gets taken. Add to that all the horror stories you get about unmasked people wanting to yell/spray their fumes all over the plane in protest. I just can’t.

    People were selfish and gross before all this. Now they’re dangerous. Maybe I won’t get a bad case (or any at all) from being vaccinated. Or maybe I will get a “mild” case and will be a long-hauler. I’m not interested in testing it out no matter how much others apparently seem to insist I should.

  5. Jamey,

    I’ve only taken one trip, for work, in which I left on a Sunday and returned on a Wednesday. The round trip to Detroit from D.C. proved unexciting and as the flights weren’t full, I had no issues and experienced no drama of folks getting into verbal or physical altercations with the airline staff or other passengers. As I’m fully vac’d, my concern and why I wear a mask in these environments is for those who can’t yet get vaccinated. My sympathy for those who can get vaccinated and choose not to, is non-existent.



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