When the pandemic first broke out, I had a burning urge to travel everywhere because of how cheap airline tickets were. But, for the sake of the greater good of humanity, I decided not to travel—the United States was not well-equipped to handle COVID-19, and me moving around would only serve as a vessel for COVID-19 to transfer to others. I stayed at home and quarantined, just like (almost) everyone else.
Now that we’re months into the pandemic, people are responding appropriately to minimize the coronavirus’ virality. It is commonplace for everyone to wear masks, hand sanitizer is plentiful, and most people distance themselves from others as much as possible. Even though the wave of cheap airline tickets is now gone (seeing as the supply shrunk drastically to accommodate for the decreased demand, and pricing has readjusted), I figured now is no longer considered a maximum-risk time period to travel anymore.
If you’ve been keeping up with my other blog posts, you know that I’ve traveled back and forth a few times to SoCal to visit Tempo‘s studio and team house, but those were road trips. This was my first flight since traveling to PAX East in early March 2020.
My adventure starts at my condo, where I called an Uber. Usually, I find a ride within several seconds and my ride arrives within a few minutes—one of the perks of living on the Las Vegas Strip. For this trip, I guess there were so few Ubers available at 10:30 AM PDT that it took several minutes for my app to finally find a driver, then an estimated 14 minutes for arrival… which ended up being closer to 20 minutes.
After I got to the airport, the environment I felt is something that I had never experienced before at an airport. It wasn’t completely empty, but it was obviously nowhere near where it usually is.
I received an email from Delta alerting me that McCarran International Airport’s wait times were higher than usual and that I should arrive at least two hours before my flight, but when I got to TSA PreCheck, I was the only one there and I was in and out of screening within a couple minutes.
The best way that I can describe the mood of the airport is “apocalyptic.” People were wearing masks and distancing away from each other, but that definitely wasn’t the reason for the strange environment—most people were doing this everywhere else in Las Vegas too, but nowhere else that I had been to had this vibe to it. It felt almost as if everyone had no more energy left, and everyone was waiting for the world to end.
A vast majority of the stores were closed and barred shut. People on the airport slot machines seemed to have a zombie-like glaze in their eyes, as if they were gambling away their money because there wasn’t going to be anything else for them to spend their money on after the world ends. There was usually a subtle sense of rush in the air, but this time, it felt like everyone was moving at a normal pace, something very out of the ordinary for an airport.
The lounge was still open in Concourse D, so I stopped by The Club at LAS with my Priority Pass Select to grab some free food before my flight. Normally, the lounge has a buffet-style food retrieval set-up, but in order to avoid people from coming into contact with others’ food, they converted it to a restaurant style where employees collect and distribute food on your behalf.
Boarding the flight was also a different experience than usual. Normally, people are prompted to board by group, which generally goes by order of loyalty status and upgrades, before calling the main cabin, and saving basic economy for last. However, this time around, first class was still first to board, while everyone else boarded in reverse order of seat row number, presumably to minimize the number of people who would have to walk past other already-seated people, thus minimizing potential contact.
The flight itself was pretty empty. I had a Delta Comfort+ seat in row 11, and I had the whole row to myself, in addition to row 10 being empty. I took advantage of this by reclining back and stretching my leg out into row 10, constructing my own makeshift business class seat. (I fell asleep like this and woke up with terrible lower back pain, so maybe this wasn’t actually really the greatest idea.)
In-flight service was also a bit different. Instead of coming around for regular drinks and snacks, the flight attendants had pre-bagged kits available that contained some Cheez-Its, a granola snack, bottled water, a napkin, an advertisement, and hand sanitizing wipes. I was in the section of the plane that receives free alcohol (though I don’t drink alcohol so I didn’t actually order any), but I was never offered a selection of any drinks apart from alcohol, so it was ultimately inconclusive as to whether or not standard soft drink service was even available.
After a surprisingly quick flight of about four and a half hours, I made it to my destination, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. It was a little after 8 PM EDT when I arrived, but the airport was already pretty empty—almost as if midnight had decided to relocate itself four hours earlier on the clock. However, JFK didn’t have that eerie apocalyptic feel to it like LAS did; it just felt like a calm airport with not many people.
And thus was my experience traveling in the middle of a global pandemic.
I realize I’m not setting the best example by choosing to travel for non-essential, leisurely purposes, and I encourage you to avoid doing what I did. However, if you choose to do so anyway, make sure you wear a face covering, regularly wash and sanitize your hands, stay away from other people, avoid making unnecessary contact with unsanitary surfaces, and just be conscious and aware that you do not do anything stupid that may compromise the health of those around you.