#ENDALZ, Life Lessons

Air travel March 2020 vs. March 2021

The Coronavirus pandemic has certainly altered travel, air travel in particular. While we were accustomed to flying frequently with our boys, even when they were young we’ve literally been grounded for a full year. With several members of our family living in Arizona this has been really sad and frustrating for the boys not to see some of their cousins, aunt, uncle and grandparents. I know that we aren’t alone in not being able to see family and travel, so this isn’t a boo hoo you can’t fly/travel post. Rather, it’s a post comparing travel during the same weekend one year apart. What a difference a year makes.

Let me take you back to March 14, 2020. This is the time when literally information was updating by the hour as to what you could and couldn’t do, what you should and shouldn’t do and anxieties were really high about making the right choices when in all honesty we didn’t really have all the information we needed. The plan had been for me to fly to Arizona with the boys (at the time 4 and 6) on Saturday, March 14 and return on Wednesday, March 18. I went from being nervous about flying with both boys by myself to concerned that air travel might get grounded while we were away. This wasn’t so out of the realm of possibility as international air travel had been halted. What to do? If you’ve read my other posts you know that my Dad suffers from Alzheimer’s. Between school schedules, crazy hot summer weather in Arizona, etc March is the ideal time for us to visit and generally when we do. We considered moving the trip to the summer. But in my gut, I knew that if we didn’t go in March I wasn’t quite sure when we would have the chance to get the boys out there to see him. Thank goodness we went, come June the metrics were off the charts in Arizona and there would have been no visit!

Backing up a little bit and to give a point of reference, I flew on October 11, 2001. Yes, literally one month after the tragic events of September 11th. The airports were eerily quiet. And there was still a great deal of uncertainty, new security measures were being introduced. It was a very different time in air travel. Now back to 2020. I was filled with nerves about traveling. We of course were not at this point wearing masks. And as we know, kids touch EVERYTHING. So I was like a drill sergeant in the airport. Some might say this isn’t much different from my normal approach in the airport. We were trying to sit as far away from people as possible. Wiping everything down with Clorox wipes, sanitizing the boys’ hands after the touched anything. On every TV were updates about Coronavirus that just added to my concern in taking the trip. The airport was significantly quieter than usual. Clearly people were staying home! While that made things easier for me, it also made me question what in the world I was thinking flying with the boys. With the concern that flights might be grounded I rented a car in Arizona for the day we were scheduled to return. I was planning ahead…you know in case I had to drive from Arizona to Maryland with my boys. While this sounds like a great adventure, can we think just for a moment what that would have been like?? Thirty six hours in the car…oh my!

Ok, so back to March 14, 2020. No masks. No new purifying systems on airplanes. No new sanitizing procedures. So I just wiped everything down when we got on the plane and literally hoped for the best. To be fair, at that time I really didn’t have a full appreciation for COVID, none of us could have predicted the tremendous impact that it would have on our lives or the number of lives that would be lost. We flew Southwest and so I flew three across with the boys. We were somewhat protected as we didn’t have anyone else in our row. Snack and drink service still happened. Fast forward to March 18- four days later. We are still not wearing masks. Trying to stay as far away from people as possible. Hand sanitizing and wiping things down like crazy people. Here’s the first change- no snack/drink service on the flight. Changes were afoot to keep social distance and safety while in the air. This is somewhat laughable considering how close together we all sit on an airplane but it was the first step. In hindsight I feel extremely fortunate that we made this trip. It was like the last hoorah so to speak before we would hunker down and be home for months on end.

For the last year, we have literally gone no where. I mean, not no where, but beyond our pod family we haven’t seen anyone inside without masks. But for going to school, we haven’t been going other places. I rarely go into a store. Online shopping is my jam. We are one extreme in regards to staying safe and stopping the spread. But it became time that I needed to make that trip to Arizona again. So it meant that I was going to have to fly. Cue all sorts of anxiety. I haven’t been that close to people other than my family in a year. And let’s be honest, I was never too excited sitting that close to people anyway. Fortunately, in my role as a substitute teacher had the opportunity to get vaccinated. So in essence, I know in my mind that I should be protected, but again I feel like we don’t really know about the vaccine and ability to transfer the virus, whether you can still get the virus and be without symptoms. I worried about bringing Covid home and giving it to my family. Needless to say, the weeks leading up to what would amount to less than two days on the ground in Arizona were stress filled with what ifs and concerns about flying. Of course this is Spring Break time and everyone is apparently ready to go on vacation.

My flight to Arizona was on Friday, March 12. Why is this significant? Literally one year ago that was the last time the boys were in school for that school year. The two weeks to flatten the curve that turned into home until August. There have been so many reflections on what the year has meant and how are lives have changed. I subbed like usual and then drove to the airport. You know, how I recently posted talking a good game about not having mom guilt about traveling. Yeah, I’m still working on that one. I was filled with mom guilt about leaving. Yes, I knew they would be fine and have fun with my husband! When I got to the parking garage I noticed how crowded it was, like “normal.” Ugh. I masked up and headed to the terminal. A pleasant surprise there was NO ONE in the security line. As in not another person. Amazing, maybe the airport won’t be so crowded I thought. One noted change in the year since I had flown- rather than had you ID to the TSA Agent you slide it into a card reader. An image then appears on the Agent’s computer. He asked me to remove my mask to compare the photos. I took my ID and I was on my way. Now to get something to eat. The tables in the food court area were more spread out. There were of course reminders to wear your mask and keep your distance. There were dots to stand on to order food in an attempt to keep people distanced. I’m not going to lie, some of this seemed silly to me. I 100% understand keeping distance, but seriously we are about to all sit on top of each other on an airplane. I quickly got my food and rather than sit at a table picked a bench further away from people so I could hurry up and eat. I had pre-packed snacks for the flight but stopped to get water and a soda for the flight. As I approached the gate areas I noticed it was VERY crowded. Lots and lots of people!! I detoured to get an “adult beverage” and sit away from the gate for a bit. FYI it’s against federal air regulations to consume your own alcohol on a flight. Before I knew it, it was time to board. My goal was to make myself seem undesirable to sit next too. I joke, but seriously, I really didn’t want that middle seat to be full. Jokes on me because it was a FULL flight. Out came my face shield. While it was definitely toasty in there, I felt like it was providing an extra level of protection that put me a little more at ease.

I must say that plane itself felt the cleanest I’ve seen a plane in a long time. With that said, I tried to touch as little as possible. I only removed the bare necessities from my bag to use during the flight. Some of this, I’m sure is just my personality. Others were completely comfortable with flying. There were even families with children. The flight crew were clear about expectations regarding wearing a mask and that means over your NOSE and MOUTH. The only food service provided was water and pretzels/brownie bites. I’m not going to lie, it was the longest five and a half hours of my life. I was ready to jump off the plane when it landed. Again, the jokes on me as they had trouble getting the cabin door open. It’s much funnier now, then it was at the time!

Sunday, March 14 time to fly home. This flight was at 1:20 PM Arizona time. I was curious to see what I would find in the airport at a “prime” flying time. While the airport was crowded, security again was light and quick. Unlike in Baltimore, I had to hand the TSA Agent my ID for him to examine. Mask down to confirm I was the person on the ID and then through security. The terminal was PACKED with people. Again, I grabbed a quick bite to eat and tried to get as far away from people as possible to eat. As luck would have it this flight was also FULL. I was feeling a little less anxious about it as I knew I was just over four hours away from home. Face shield on. Kindle out. Let’s do this. I must again commend the flight crew as they were diligent in making sure folks kept their masks on properly. The limited service of water and a snack were offered. No problems with the door when we landed to I hit the ground running to get out of there! Much to my surprise at 8:30 at night (which felt like midnight) the airport was hopping. The main security check line was LONG. I was truly surprised to see so many people in the airport.

I recognize that others have been flying for work and pleasure without having missed a beat over the last year. But for someone who has basically been no where but home this trip felt like flying for the first time all over again. I must admit that I’m curious to see what precautions stay in place going forward with air travel. I imagine that it will continue to get more and more back to “normal.” I’m just not certain what “normal” looks like in a post Covid world.

I’d love to hear, have you been traveling? How have you found the experience? Share in the comments below!