It was not planned, but I ran into an urgent need to make a short trip and actually fly during the pandemic. I thought this was not going to occur until I had a vaccine, most areas are no longer locked down, the herd immunity was in place…but we must all be agile sometimes.
I will share some of the good, the bad and the ugly from my experience.
First the good: Delta has a great model and policy for booking flights with a 24 hour risk-free guarantee. When I was unsure if I will have to fly the next day or not, I was able to book a flight immediately at the best price, reserve a seat and then have the luxury of cancelling just a few hours before the actual flight and get a full refund.
Next, the Delta SkyClubs were open. I should have taken a picture, but they were a pleasant and safe place to stay distant, yet still have a quiet place to eat food that is conveniently pre-packaged for you to eat. I found the variety to be quite good and generous in options. I found most people wore their masks and only took over their masks when eating.
In Washington state, the current (regulations) do not allow alcoholic beverages to be offered or consumed in the airport. In Colorado, there was no restrictions, so a full bar service was available in the Denver SkyClub. Naturally, I did observe that when alcohol is available, most people were not wearing masks most of the time in the club. Coincidence? Probably not…
I found the people and setup in the Seattle airport to be quite safe. Despite a typical weekday afternoon timing, I found most people stayed very distant from each other, 99.9% were wearing masks except when they were clearly eating and everyone was very careful to stay distant from each other.
In Seattle, the TSA were very efficient and were pretty good on keeping from being bunched up together in line or waiting for a long time in a confined space to complete the security checks. It was great to be enrolled in Clear as that made the line time to be very short.
I have to say, it was a very different story for when I arrived and when I departed the Denver airport. I found some gates were CROWDED and over a hundred people were sitting right next to each other waiting for a flight to Orlando…they were all wearing masks, but they were very crowded. It was uncomfortable to see.
In Denver, like many large airports, they sometimes have “trains” or subways to transport people between gates or terminals. In Denver, despite the reduction in air travel, there was a lot of people in the airport and the trains were often very crowded. People often did not seem to be “close” and had no inhibitions of being inside very full train cars. You had to be very careful and avoid trains that were full of 25+ people or wait for when the next train arrived to avoid a large comingling of people. It was also uncomfortable when seeing 1 out of 20 people not wearing masks on the trains and everyone not minding to be close to them.
When departing Denver, I was very thankful to have Clear in Denver as well as the TSA lines in Denver were long. It was a busy airport and people do bunch up and stay close to each other for a long time. Is it because Denver is a major hub?
When boarding the plane, since there was not many people actually flying, there were no long lines of people queueing to board the plane. They actually take extra time to clean and sanitize the plane and casually distance passengers to board with social distancing. Well done!
When you board, they hand you Purell wipes and will give you a small bag of water and snacks. No complaints here.
The one question that comes to mind: Why do they not take temperatures at security or certainly boarding a plane? The numbers are so small, why not take quick temp checks? That might be a reasonable safety precaution IMHO.
It was great that the plane is mostly empty and people are distanced. The downside is that with very few people, everyone wants or “is” upgraded to first class. It is still spread out and a lot of empty seats, but if you want a lot of distance, you must sit in the back of the plane.
There is no hot food on the plane and no formal drink service, but they will offer some limited packaged drinks and snacks. They are not heavy or fancy, but they were decent choices for short flights. Recommendation: during these times, make sure you eat your full meals, etc. before you fly.
Everyone wore their masks the entire time and I could not see or observe anyone that was taking their mask off. The exception is when they are eating or drinking. I found most people would pull their masks up and down when grabbing a chip or sipping a drink. This was good. This is where a mask choice/type comes into play.
What do I mean by that? Some masks have cords to adjust size, length, tightness, etc. Let me warn you: this will become very painful on the ears when you pull them up and down a large number of times. Not a good choice.
I recommend softer cloth masks with soft ear bands that will not irritate or be uncomfortable to be stretched or moved multiple times.
I only had a short stay and only needed to stay in a hotel for one night, so I chose the Westin airport hotel connected to the airport. Very convenient. Great staff, all guests and staff remained comfortably distanced. No crowds, very quiet and hand sanitizers were everywhere. The restaurant, store and Starbucks were all open and everything was strongly distanced. I felt comfortable having breakfast as the tables were in excess of 10 feet apart and the staff very accommodating to provide good service, and keeping everyone safe.
Update: One person asked, what about transportation to and from the airport? Fortunately, in Denver, I was able to walk to the Westin hotel which made it very convenient and no risks. That is one of the reasons I chose it.
The challenge was travelling to the Seattle airport and back. I had very little notice, so it was a gamble between driving myself with traffic and parking or not. I chose to take the risk of taking Uber. The drivers were clearly masked and in interest of keeping safe and we kept the window(s) slightly open to keep a good airflow. One of my drivers was in their residency at UofW medical school and already had their vaccine. Fingers crossed on this one!
Summary: I think you can travel safely right now, but you must remain conscious and diligent as not everyone will apply the same precautions and distance as yourself. I feel much more comfortable than I did previously, but I now know that travel is safely possible again. It is clear both Delta and Marriott are doing a good job to provide the best possible service and safety to their customers.