I spent March 16, 2020, flying cross-country, from LAX to RDU. The Coronavirus outbreak has changed a lot of things, but flying home was a relatively normal experience. Here’s what it’s like to fly in the time of Corona.
Why would you be traveling during the Coronavirus outbreak?
There are many reasons people might be flying despite all of the concerns surrounding COVID-19. For me, and I think for many of the people at the airport on Monday, the reason was returning home. I was originally scheduled to be in the LA area through the end of the month. With pandemic news breaking almost hourly, it seemed like getting home as soon as possible was the wisest choice.
How easy is it to change travel plans during the pandemic?
The difficulty or ease of changing travel plans will vary widely depending on what you have planned and who you are dealing with. For me, I was lucky enough to have only my flight home on Delta to change. As soon as the decision was made for me to return home, I visited the Delta website. Delta has updated its website to allow for online changes to current flights. I had an error message when I tried to rebook, so I had to call in. The wait time was projected to be six hours long and there was no longer the usual “we will call you back in the order your call was received” option available. I was disconnected after two hours, so I decided to send a DM on Twitter. I was booked via Twitter DM on a new flight the following Monday, all in about 20 minutes. Delta recommends that contact attempts be limited to those with travel needs 72 hours out or less. If your needs aren’t urgent, waiting should help with these long hold times.
What are things like at the airport during the COVID-19 outbreak?
The biggest difference at the airport, at least from a passenger’s perspective, was the lack of people. LAX is typically packed. There was only one person ahead of me at bag drop-although I was admittedly in the Sky Priority line. (There were only three people in the main Delta bag drop line.) When I walked up to security I had to show my boarding pass to be directed to the TSA Pre-Check line. There was no one in the Pre-Check line when I arrived. I tried to scan my boarding pass when I walked up to the TSA agent and he told me it wasn’t necessary. (There was actually a piece of paper covering the scanner.) I was the only one in line to put my bag through the X-ray and walk through the metal detector.
When I made it to my gate, the area had more people than I expected, but things were definitely not as busy as normal. Many people were wearing masks. One thing remained exactly the same-there was still a line for the women’s restroom. I noticed a woman putting on makeup in the bathroom, including rubbing foundation on her face with her hands. Otherwise, I didn’t see anyone lingering in the restroom for any longer than they had to.
What are things like in-flight during the Coronavirus pandemic?
The big difference on my flight from LAX to RDU was the number of empty seats. The plane has 160 seats, and according to the Delta app, 75 were still available at takeoff. I was upgraded to First Class, which as a Silver Medallion almost never happens.
On the flight itself, almost every passenger was wiping down their seats and everything around them. The flight attendants did trash runs up and down the aisles to pick up the wipes before we ever left the gate. When it was time to present the snack basket (which happens in First and Comfort Plus classes on Delta), the flight attendant asked me to tell her what snacks I wanted and she would hand them to me. You usually take them yourself from the basket.
In an email, Delta’s CEO related their commitment to stepping up cleaning at both the gate area and on their planes. They have also begun fogging transoceanic flights, with plans to increase their capacity to do this on more flights. And no, I have no idea what exactly they mean by fogging other than it’s some kind of disinfectant process.
How were things after we landed?
Back at home, my airport was fairly empty. At baggage claim, bags took longer than is typical to arrive, but the wait was still under 40 minutes.
I was a little worried about getting a ride home from the airport, as I didn’t know if the number of drivers willing to work for Uber and Lyft would be diminished. I was able to request a ride without issue and without a surge fee. My driver reported that things had been very slow for him all day since people were opting to stay home.
I fully appreciate how lucky I was to get home so easily, especially after seeing the long wait times international passengers are experiencing at customs. If you have any necessary travel in the coming days, I wish you an experience as smooth as mine. And if your upcoming travel plans are not necessary? Please stay home and stay healthy.