This past Monday, I took my first commercial flight since the start of this pandemic...and guess what? It was fine. Now let’s be clear. In the US, most domestic flights are six hours or shorter. My flight was 90 minutes wheels up to touchdown. It was in a non-stop flight from Newark Liberty to McGhee Tyson (Knoxville, TN) on board an Allegiant A320. In short, the flight, service, crew interaction and actual flying went even smoother than I had expected. So here’s the rundown.
One of the first differences with this flight was my preparation. Because I work in the travel world, I had already read articles about travel during this pandemic. I did check luggage for this flight and only carried on my soft-sided briefcase. My laptop was not needed but I packed three facemasks, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer and a pair of disposable latex gloves (just in case).
My children were on this trip with me. They are under the age of 12 and we had honest conversations about their fears or concerns. I also opted to ask them to “play a game” with me and see if we can make it all the way to our seats without touching anything. We made it fun.
I was expertly driven by my friend Trevor who owns his own transportation company. Each time Trevor and I cross paths, we always hug. Not this morning. Although we noted the spirit of reconnecting was alive and well. Our travel time to Newark was about 25 minutes (from Northern Bergen county, NJ). Trevor, my children and I were not wearing masks. Although we did ask permission to be maskless for the short black suburban ride to terminal B.
My check in with Allegiant was pretty standard. The agent was pleasant and efficient and the checked bags shizzle was effortless. The airport itself was moderately busy. The stores were shuttered which made for a surreal march through the terminal. No browsing for unnecessary accessories. No loud conversations bellowing out from the bars and no long lines at the “whatever is hip at the moment” fast food places. Just a sense of procedure. I avoided the men’s room and my children and I waited patiently to board. And we did...on time.
On Board Allegiant
The equipment was an A320 which is a single aisle airbus with a three and three, single class configuration. The crew was pleasant, mask-clad and ready for the tasks at hand. This crew flew up from Tennessee in the morning and this was their return leg. 99% of the passengers wore masks. After the passengers were seated, the captain's voice bellowed over the speakers. “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain...” He explained we’d be taking off ahead of schedule with an anticipated smooth flight path. He also explained that the airplane was equipped with HEPA filter technology so the air would be completely replaced and recycled every three minutes. In other words, breathe easy...through your masks :-)
The flight itself was uneventful. When I asked, the flight attendant reported there would be 109 empty seats on this flight. She was pleasant and even offered some extra antibacterial wipes if I needed them for my children to use. We wiped down our seats, seatbelts, tray tables and air vent knobs. I was also pleasantly surprised at the full beverage and snack service being offered during the flight (for purchase).
The only issue I can see in the commercial aviation business these days is consumer confidence. The airlines have contracted, the airports are adjusting, the TSA has updated protocols, the only missing element is us. We are still terrified to fly and that must change immediately. We must return to aviation normalcy even if we have to wear a face mask to do so. We often forget that airlines are owned and managed by people. The entire airline business is staffed by people such as gate agents, ticket agents, baggage handlers, ground crew, maintenance folks, pilots and cabin crew. They are all going through the same pandemic we are. At the same time, airlines are trying to stay in business...not an easy task these days. They also are bound to make marketing or operational missteps as they navigate these uncharted waters. I say, we give them a little latitude in the short term so they are still operating in the long term.
I am happy I took this flight and I am looking forward to the next. Sure, it’s a little surreal, but this too shall pass, in time.
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!