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Flying in the Age of Covid-19

I recently had to fly to Ohio to fulfill a speaking commitment I made back before the coronavirus insanity swept the nation. Since this is the first time I have flown in the age of Covid-19, I thought I would issue a report of my experiences to help those who are thinking about flying anytime soon.

I flew on American Airlines from Orlando to Dayton with a stop in Charlotte. I returned to Orlando on Southwest Airlines from Columbus with a stop in Chicago (Midway). My itinerary sounds convoluted, but after numerous flight changes and cancellations, it was the best I could do.

There were signs on all of the entrance doors at the Orlando airport about maintaining social distancing and that wearing a mask was recommended. I made no attempt at social distancing and did not wear a mask.

When I checked my bag with the masked American agent (curbside check-in was closed due to the coronavirus), she did not inform me of the American mask policy. According to the American website:

A face covering is required while flying on American, except for very young children or anyone with a condition that prevents them from wearing one. You also may be required by local law to wear a face covering in the airport where your trip begins, where it ends or where you connect.

  • Please bring your own face covering to use while traveling. While limited quantities of face coverings may be available at the gate, they will not be available for every customer on every flight
  • Be sure your face covering is on before you board the plane and wear it during your flight
  • Your face covering may be removed to eat or drink, but please put it back on when you’re done.

Keep in mind, a face covering can be a mask or any secured cloth like a scarf or bandana that covers your nose and mouth. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for more information.

The security line in the airport had signs throughout reading “Travel smart, stay six feet apart.” All of the TSA agents were wearing masks. Since the airport was not busy, I saw more TSA goons standing around talking with each other than checking bags and groping fliers. I saw some TSA personnel on break sitting in various places around the airport. They either wore no mask or wore it below their mouth like a chin strap.

The Orlando airport was deserted—a sight I have never experienced. As I walked around the airport, I noticed that none of the pilots who were walking around were wearing a mask. Regarding the airport personnel who did not work for the airlines, some had no masks, some wore masks, and some wore their mask below their mouth. Only about half of the travelers in the airport were wearing a mask. Most shops in the airport were closed. Just a few fast-food restaurants were open. When I bought a coke at Wendy’s, the girl behind the plexiglass shield wore neither mask nor gloves. Good for her.

When I got to my gate, there were regular announcements from American that wearing a mask on the plane was required. But the announcements also basically said to be respectful of those who may not be wearing a mask because of some condition that prevents them from doing so. About half of the people waiting for my flight were already wearing their masks. Most of the rest had their mask below their mouth, hanging from their ear, or in a pocket.

When it was time to board the plane, no social distancing was practiced by anyone, and neither was there an announcement from American about the need to practice it. I put on a mask right before I scanned my boarding pass, and then lowered it to my chin as I walked on the plane. Once in my seat, I put my mask (which I had cut slits in so I could breathe if I was forced to wear it) in my brief case. Since I boarded almost last, I could see that everyone was still wearing their mask on the plane.

The plane was about 80 percent full. No seats were blocked off. I was assigned to sit in 22B, a middle seat. Someone was in 22A by the window. No one was in 22C so I moved over to the aisle seat. So much for social distancing by the airline.

Although the stewardesses all had on masks and gloves, I could see that the pilots had neither. Stewardesses walked by me many times before and during the flight. Not one said anything to me about my not wearing a mask. No passengers on the plane gave me a dirty look for not wearing a mask like I get when I go into Walmart. I saw only a couple of people around me lower their mask once the plane took off. I was near the back of the plane so I could not see what people were doing toward the front of the plane. Of the passengers who passed me on their way to the lavatory, only one was not wearing a mask.

When the plane landed in Charlotte, there was no announcement about practicing social distancing when exiting the plane and no one practiced it.

In the Charlotte airport, which was much busier than the Orlando airport, there were regular announcements by the mayor about the importance of face coverings and social distancing. Most of the people I saw in the airport were wearing masks. Like Orlando, most shops in the airport were closed and just a few fast-food restaurants were open. However, there were long lines. Of the pilots I saw in the airport, about half of them were wearing masks.

When I boarded for my next flight, I only put on my mask when I had to scan my boarding pass. The American agent standing there had his mask pulled down to this chin. Good for him. Before I walked on to the plane, I removed my mask. After I sat down on the plane, none of the stewardesses said anything to me about the absence of a mask. From what I could see, everyone on the plane was wearing a mask. After the plane landed, there was an announcement about maintain social distancing while exiting the plane. No one paid any attention to it. I also heard some people behind me mocking the idea that they just sat next to a stranger for two hours but were supposed to maintain social distancing as they left the plane.

My return flight was out of Columbus. The airport was not very busy. Most shops were closed. I only saw a couple of fast-food places open. Thank God I had already eaten. Most everyone in the airport was wearing a mask. The TSA personnel I saw on break throughout the airport were not wearing masks. The masked TSA goon I had to deal with as I went through security asked me if it were okay to pat down my shoulder. I asked him whether I had a choice. He replied in the affirmative. He then told me that I could choose not to be patted down but then he could not let me through security. I replied, “Sounds to me like I don’t have a choice.”

I was on a Southwest flight this time. When I checked my bag, the masked Southwest worker did not inform me of the Southwest mask policy. According to the Southwest website:

Customers are required to wear a face covering in the airport and on the plane. Customers will be required to wear a face covering in order to board the plane beginning May 22. If you forget your face covering at home, a mask will be available for you.

Acceptable forms of face coverings

In accordance with the current CDC guidance, any well-secured cloth or mask that covers your nose and mouth will be accepted.

Exemptions to face coverings

  • Young children who may not be able to keep a face covering on.
  • Customers who have a disability or underlying medical condition that may prevent them from being able to wear a face covering.
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing, is incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance.

When we expect Customers to wear face coverings

In accordance with the current CDC guidance, Customers will be required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth at all times during their Southwest travel experience—while checking in, boarding, inflight, deplaning, retrieving baggage; and any other time they may engage with a Southwest Employee or another Customer. Customers will be required to wear a face covering in order to board the plane beginning May 22.

There may also be times when a Customer needs to temporarily remove their face covering, for instance, to eat or drink. However, we expect Customers to put their face covering back on as soon as possible.

Customers should also remove face coverings if a decompression event occurs and they are asked to use an oxygen mask, or in the event a Customer is supporting an onboard emergency, like performing CPR.

Only ten people at a time were allowed to board the plane. I did not wear a mask when waiting for my flight, scanning my boarding pass, or sitting on the plane. No one from Southwest said a word to me about not wearing a mask. The Southwest magazine, which I usually enjoy reading, was not to be found. “Because of the coronavirus,” said the stewardess.

When the plane landed in Chicago, everyone exited the plane as usual, but it was only about 20 percent full. Most of the pilots I saw walking around the airport were wearing masks. Not a single shop or restaurant was open in concourse B. I had to make a long walk to concourse A to find something to eat. There were only two fast-food places open, both with horrendous lines. I saw only one shop open.

Again, I did not wear a mask when waiting for my flight, scanning my boarding pass, or sitting on the plane. This time, however, after I sat down on the plane, a stewardess asked me if I needed a mask. I answered in the negative. She never said another word to me. And unlike my previous Southwest flight, there was an announcement this time before the plane took off about wearing a mask being required, and how if you need one, one will be given to you for free. I did not take up Southwest on the mask offer.

My advice to those of you who have to fly in the age of Covid-19 is this.

  1. Eat and drink before you fly. The airport bars are all closed and there are only limited places to eat—with long lines.
  2. Don’t wear a mask. You might want to bring one, and also a copy of the airline’s mask policy since they all allow exceptions for medical conditions. I had a copy in my brief case but never had to pull it out and argue with anyone about not wearing a mask. To avoid a confrontation, the easiest thing to do is just put on a mask to board and then take it off.

Every airport is different, every airline is different, and every flight is different. Don’t let the coronavirus insanity keep you from flying. We shouldn’t have to go through this nonsense when we fly. Just like we shouldn’t have to endure the TSA security theatre when we fly. But that is not my point here. I just wanted to provide some information and recommendations.

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