Last weekend, I took a quick trip back to New Mexico to see friends - my first trip back since the move, and my first flight since the start of the current pandemic.
Background: I've had these flight plans for months. Originally, the trip was scheduled around a former coworker's wedding. Unfortunately, due to COVID19, the wedding was postponed. But given that flights were fairly inexpensive and I hadn't seen my NM friends in close to a year, I decided to keep the planned trip & burn a few vacation days.
Before I left, a few of my coworkers had asked if I was nervous about flying given current circumstances... but I had told them that I was no more worried about coronavirus than I was about the plane going down. We recently reported on all of the precautions airlines were taking to help prevent the spread of the COVID19... and airplanes are likely cleaner now than they've ever been. (Something I witnessed first hand - more on that a bit).
Below is my experience flying to Albuquerque from Austin - in the middle of the pandemic.
I took an Uber to the airport Saturday afternoon, about an hour and a half before my flight. Unsurprisingly, the airport was a ghost town. Very few people were there... and the departure drop off lanes were empty.
Once inside, I used a self check-in kiosk at the Southwest counter. I printed my boarding pass and tagged my bag. As soon as I walked away, there was a Southwest attendant spraying the screen I had just tapped, wiping down the entire counsel. She wasn't messin' around - speedy little thing!
With my bag checked in, I wandered over to the security gate only to see one person scanning IDs/boarding passes. There were only about 6 people in line, all 6 feet apart. It actually only took about 15 minutes to get to the front. Once there, the officer had asked me to pull down my mask to see my face while checking to make sure the ugly mug on my ID was actually me. Lol - it was. And she let me through.
The security process was as pretty close to normal as I remember pre-COVID --take off your shoes, put bags in the bins, nothing in your pockets, etc. I was wearing a mask through this entire process, and one of the TSA officers did ask to see the inside of my mask once I walked through the metal detector. But I didn't consider that a big deal.
I waited at my gate for about 45 minutes before the attendant got on the loudspeaker and informed us that they would only be boarding 10 people at a time. (For those who have never flown Southwest, they typically call up ~60 people at a time, lined up in numerical order given the time you checked in. But now, in order to prevent grouping, only 10 people are asked to line up and they called groups every 10 minutes or so in order to prevent congregation within the tunnel to the plane.
Once on the plane, we were told to spread out and avoid middle seats - windows & aisle seats only. I found a window seat in the middle of the plane, set my purse down and began the process of cleaning my seat. I came armed with a mask, gloves, hand sanitizer and wipes. So I wiped down everything... and I mean EVERYTHING. Seat, arm rests, window, air vent, tray table... ALL. OF. IT. And as soon as it was dry enough to sit, I took off my gloves and whipped out the hand sanitizer.
I didn't take my mask off the entire flight. (Mostly because I fell asleep halfway through... but also because I didn't want to take any chances.) I had a layover in Dallas with no plane change. It was then that most of the passengers deboarded... and a cleaning crew came on and wiped down every seat, window and tray before the Dallas->ABQ passengers were allowed to board. (Pre-COVID, I had seen flight attendants to a walk-through to pick up any trash of belongings left-behind... but I'm not sure I've ever seen a crew take cleaning spray to the inside of the plane and wipe down every unoccupied seat. I was impressed.)
The flight from Dallas to Albuquerque was normal, nothing out of the ordinary. But once landing in ABQ, I de-planed into an entirely empty Sunport (Albuquerque airport). Not a single restaurant, gift shop or mini-market was open. It was eerie. I walked to the bathroom and changed my shirt (just in case I missed a germ on the seat or something), then walked downstairs to pick up my bag.
The arrival lanes were just as empty in Albuquerque as the departure area in Austin. Only a few cars - no buses, shuttles or taxis.
Fast forward to the trip home, the experience was about the same. The Sunport was empty, my layover in Las Vegas was quick, and the flight home to Austin was easy. It's been about 24 hours and I don't feel ill or anything out of the norm. Texas has no mandated travel quarantine so I went back to work this morning. I did my best to maintain social distancing at work - and I'll probably make a conscious effort of that for the next several days (just in case).
Bottom line - I didn't feel "scared" or "nervous". Sure, there were things I had to do different. And I didn't see any problem with going over the top with wipes, gloves, sanitizer once on the plane. The only thing that really got me was the emptiness of the airports, parking garages, planes, etc. Big buildings, few people, weirdly quiet. Airports are some of the busiest places in the world. But not in these times. Not now at least.