These days, no one wants to set foot on an airplane. Fear surrounds travel of any kind for obvious reasons. But, thanks to a very good friend in need of a road trip companion, I found myself Thelma and Louise-ing it from Parkland to Los Angeles despite any concerns from those around me. Six grande caramel macchiatos and one grande speeding ticket later, it was time to fly home...on a plane...during a global pandemic.
Clenching my luggage tightly, I entered LAX with my bag of Clorox Wipes, antibacterial hand wipes, latex gloves, and two sanitizers—one for back-up. As I ventured inside, I was pleasantly greeted by a voice overhead explaining the current climate.
“Travelers, please adhere to social distancing guidelines, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, avoid touching your face, do not give handshakes or hugs, and stay at home unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Every 15 minutes or so, passengers were reminded of the state of the world as if they hadn’t noticed the flash sale on flights. As a bonus, I can now say “pandemic” in five languages.
Security went fairly smoothly, aside from the plastic germ-filled bowl for my phone. Thankfully I had my COVID supplies handy to tackle those germs.
While I maintained a six-foot distance, avoiding contact with anyone whatsoever, I couldn’t help but notice some of the other travelers and I were not on the same page.
The club lounges were closed, but the coffee in the terminal was brewing, and there was a long line for those in need of a fix. I caught myself more than once sneaking a peek at the various strategies people employed to drink around their masks.
The airport was rather entertaining. At one point, I saw a group of twenty-somethings, straight out of Mean Girls—coordinating outfits, luggage, even masks, and gloves. I witnessed a family of four approaching the gate with their takeout meals, and I wondered how and why they were going to eat at the airport. I saw a kid with a face shield and thought for a minute about whether or not his parents had convinced him he looked like a superhero by wearing it.
As for my attire, a good friend and ICU doctor said my basic PPE wasn’t “going to fly” and gave me an N-95 mask to stay protected. She made me promise not to take it off from the moment I set foot in the airport, and I obliged. The snug fit with two straps around my face left no room for the powerful airplane germs to sneak by.
Unwarranted advice for my trip came freely. A friend in Los Angeles told me to avoid eating or drinking, so I wouldn’t have to use the lavatory. Another advised me to try to relax and only breathe through my nose on the flight because mouth breathing is much warmer. Others suggested I only fly Jet Blue since they were the only ones blocking off the middle seats on the planes.
Nose breathing, no drinking, and no American Airlines. Got it.
Looking around at the gate, there were some interesting people watching. Yes, most were social distancing, leaving a few empty seats between each party. But, as for the mask guidelines, these folks were not in compliance.
According to the CDC, people should wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.
Hello people! An airport is basically a giant petri dish. Put on your masks!
The cloth coverings hung around people’s necks as they drank their coffee, some with their noses exposed, and others flat out, ignoring the rules by holding them in their hands. I observed a few with face shields, and some sporting gloves, as I channeled my seventh-grade self on frog dissection day. All in all, it was a sad attempt.
Boarding, on the other hand, was pretty organized. The crew loaded the plane from back to front to help with social distancing requirements.
With my bag of disinfectants in tow, I stepped into the aircraft, and to my surprise, it looked cleaner than I’ve ever seen. As I boarded, the crew announced how everything had just been sanitized in between flights, and whether true or not, it was a nice touch.
According to Trevor, one of the flight attendants, my five-hour trip to Fort Lauderdale was at 60 percent capacity with 75 passengers. Currently, the aircraft had a maximum occupancy of 90, but typically (pre-COVID-19), they can seat up to 160.
Breaking news: Trevor also mentioned Jet Blue would continue their middle seat closure through September 1, based on an email he had just received.
Upon reaching my row, I wiped down everything. This was before I noticed the man in the window seat was a nose exposer– cue the Psycho violin screech. Now, I know people haven’t flown much lately, and I hate to break it to you, but from seat, 7A to seat 7C is not a six-foot distance.
Avoiding eye contact with the passenger, I politely asked Trevor if I could switch rows.
Bingo. Bulkhead all to myself. Time for more Clorox.
Pre-sealed snacks soon arrived with small bottles of water instead of the standard beverage service, which complimented the mini bottles of alcohol the couple across from me snuck on board. Seriously– are we in high school?
During the flight, people got way too comfortable. Masks were a forgotten thing of the past. Other than taking inconspicuous photos of the culprits, I kept still, following the rules mentioned above– nose breathing and starving myself.
Before long, it was time to land. I looked around and noticed at least three more people in my vicinity had ditched their masks. I somehow missed that memo.
A short while later, I was finally home in Parkland. Before touching anyone in my family, I pretty much scrubbed in for surgery. I’ve never washed my body so thoroughly in my life.
Next on the schedule– Krispy Kreme and a COVID test or as we called it– family fun day. After waiting four hours for someone to ever-so-gently swab my nasal passage, I’m happy to report the results are in, and I tested negative.