By Sydney Moxley
Eight months ago, COVID-19 put the world on pause. As the realization that life as we knew it would change forever, the priority became staying at home as often as possible; travel was the last thing on our minds. Since then, there’ve been more than 220,000 deaths and over seven million cases in the United States alone, making it seem like air travel is as dangerous as ever. And if you’re brave enough to take a flight, your trip brings with it a certain stigma of recklessness, even despite precautions.
I myself have taken four trips via air, as well as a few small road trips, since March, which may very well make me seem careless or ignorant of the pandemic ravaging the world right now. However, let me assure you that I’ve taken great care in my travels to keep myself and everyone else safe. With the holidays fast approaching, you may be wondering if flying could be possible for you now that regulations are being lifted. I believe that with the proper safety measures, travel, specifically air travel, can be possible for many.
As a note of caution, this is a very personal decision that takes into consideration many factors, including age, pre-existing conditions, duration of flights, accommodations while traveling, and much more. I can’t make any recommendations for anyone; I can only say what I’ve done and experienced. Please do what you personally feel is best when making the decision to fly this holiday season to keep you and your family safe and healthy. If you’re in doubt, consult with your physician.
Safety at the Airport
Because the pandemic has left many unwilling to fly, airports have become quite pleasant. Nashville International Airport (BNA), although still undergoing renovations, has been easy to navigate while practicing social distancing, and as a side note, the new Terminal D is very nice (RIP BNA carpet). At security, you’ll be asked to uncover your mouth to check against your picture ID, but that’s the only time you should remove your mask during the process. Be advised some dining is still closed, so keep that in mind as you’re planning meals. The good news is that you may need less time than normal to get through security and get to your gate, so plan accordingly.
Many gates are practicing social distancing by blocking off every other chair. I found most people respected mask rules, except while eating and drinking. When boarding, the airlines called for smaller boarding groups than usual to stagger entrance onto the plane. Some airlines even board in reverse order to reduce people passing each other in the aisles.
On the Flight
My first few flights during COVID in July were the best flights of my life because of how empty they were! On the first flight, there were only 15 people; the second flight had just 23. Since then, flights have been getting fuller as restrictions are starting to ease and people are becoming more comfortable. Some airlines intentionally leave the middle seat open when booking to keep social distancing measures while others book the entire plane.
All airlines I’ve flown have mandated passengers wear their masks the entire time, except when eating or drinking. Speaking of which, what’s become of snack and beverage service, you may ask? It depends on the airline. Southwest gave out water and pretzels only; Delta passed out pre-packaged snack bags, which included a bottle of water, chips, cookies, napkins and hand sanitizer. Other airlines do not offer any refreshments, but you can bring your own if you wish. Overall, I didn’t feel like anyone was taking advantage of this exception and I myself tried to pull my mask back up when chewing or between sips of water to be courteous to others.
At Your Destination
When you’re at your destination, you’ll find that not much has changed regarding social distancing and wearing masks. Although you should research your destination’s specific requirements, there’s generally not much difference in regulations, especially in larger cities. However, there are a few differences you may need to be aware of. For example, some states, such as Massachusetts, require either a two-week quarantine OR negative COVID-19 test results upon entering. Some cities require mask-wearing outdoors, while others do not. Some attractions may be open, while others might be closed. You’ll need to do your research beforehand to make sure your trip is safe and fun, and that there are no surprises that could jeopardize your trip.
I think the strangest part of traveling during COVID is when cities don’t have as strict of rules as Nashville. For example, I went to a gun store with my mother in a small town in Texas, and we were the only ones wearing masks. This felt alarming to me! My advice in these situations is, do what you know is right, and don’t let laxer regulations or other’s disregard make you question that. Wear a mask, socially distance, use hand sanitizer and be cognizant of others, even when others aren’t. If anything, you should be peer-pressuring others to stay safe!
If you are traveling to visit family, talk to them ahead of time about their comfort levels. Do they want to give hugs or would they rather give an elbow bump? Will you maintain six feet of distance the entire time? Will you wear masks indoors to protect elderly relatives? There are a lot of considerations to discuss before your arrival and planning them in advance will ease discomfort and ensure there are no awkward situations due to different expectations of contact.
What to Pack
There are some things I found particularly helpful when traveling, whether via plane or car. First, bring extra masks! Although you can find masks almost anywhere these days, I’d pack a couple of extras in your luggage in case you lose one and to swap out when dirty. Also, I love having hand sanitizer in my bag! I always feel good when I put it on after touching door handles or retrieving my luggage from baggage claim. Another wonderful thing I discovered were small packs of facial wipes. Wearing a mask can get hot, especially when running from one gate to another for a connection and facial wipes are a nice treat to have to clean your face and cool you down.
Whether you are traveling by plane, train, or automobile this holiday season, it’s easier to stay safe and keep others safe than you may expect. As stated before, it’s a personal decision that only you and your family can make, but it’s a decision that you shouldn’t feel bad about with the right planning and precaution. I hope you all have a safe and enjoyable holiday season and that these tips can help you as you plan your future travels during this pandemic.