Finally, I got to travel. I haven’t been on a plane since February 2020 when I came back from a ski trip to St. Moritz in Switzerland. With things are getting back to a more normal situation and having a client that needed my assistance to tape a segment on the show New To The Street (airs on Newsmax TV Sundays at 10 AM), I headed off to New York. I was very curious to discover what changes had occurred in the world of travel due to COVID.
I booked my flight on my go-to airline, American. Some people I know will book with any carrier if they can get the cheapest flight, but I have long been an American supporter in part because many years ago I received my Gold status in the American Airlines frequent flyer program, and apparently, I have that status for life, even though some years I don’t travel that much. I did have United Airlines premier status about fifteen years ago but one year I didn’t travel much and United took it away from me. Gold status doesn’t give me the perks it used to give me, but at least I typically get preferred boarding (first group right after business and first-class board) and every once in a while, I am able to upgrade to business.
I arrived at the airport ready for anything, or everything. I had my driver’s license, my passport, my COVID vaccination card, my booster shot card and four masks. I checked in at the premier check in area using one of the kiosks. I could have gotten into the line to check in with an agent, but there were a number of people in the line and using the kiosk I thought would be faster. I can’t remember what the premier check in area was like before COVID, but I was glad to see that the American check in area at LAX has plenty of kiosks, and within minutes I had printed my boarding pass, printed my baggage tags, and was handing my bag over to the agent at the bag drop counter.
I handed the agent my driver’s license and boarding pass. He checked them and handed them back. He did not ask if I had been vaccinated nor did he ask to see my COVID vaccination card. On the way home a couple of days later, same thing. At no time did anyone at either LAX in Los Angeles, or JFK in New York, ask to see my vaccination card.
Within the airport itself masks are mandatory, and I had to wear a mask from the time I entered the airport, all through check in and security, and then walking to the gates. The only time I took the mask off is when I sat down at the bar for a pre-flight cocktail. No one at the bar was wearing a mask, the seats were right next to each other, and many passengers were engaged in active conversations with their neighbors.
After boarding I did notice a few things had changed. For the first time ever, I saw a number of people who brought with them their own cleaning supplies. A few of them had packages of disinfection wipes and were using them to rub down all the surfaces on and near their seats. One lady had a small bottle of alcohol, and she was spritzing all the surfaces and rubbing them down with a rag.
Now with COVID American Airlines says it has adopted an “enhanced cleaning” protocol that states “We clean and sanitize high-touch surfaces in the airport, like kiosks, ticket counters and seating areas. On our planes, we deep clean tray tables, seatbelt buckles, armrests, window shades, seatback screens, doors and overhead bin handles.” I worry that if people start cleaning their own seats the airlines might expect all of us to do that! Interestingly enough only one person I saw performing their own seat cleaning was old enough to be in the “high risk” for COVID category.
Once on the plane and in my seat, I had my cell phone ready for any unruly passengers. Unfortunately, there were no scenes for me to tape of passengers punching flight attendants or passengers arguing with flight attendants or passengers being thrown off the plane. There goes my chances of Tik Tok fame.
The captain came on the PA system and stressed how important it was for us to always wear our masks (other than when eating or drinking) and gave all manner of threats about not obeying the Federal Mask Mandates for air travel. For the people I could see, everyone was wearing a mask and willingly complying with the rules (although there was one guy a few rows ahead who kept taking off his mask to blow his nose).
At least the masks were on until the flight attendants started the food and beverage service. Once people had a sandwich and drink in their hands, masks came off. I am not a scientist but if everyone on a flight takes off their masks for one to two hours while they are eating and drinking, are the masks doing any good?
Something that surprised me was that in the main cabin the flight attendants were not serving alcohol. I asked about this, and one attendant told me that was the policy since the beginning of COVID. However, she admitted to me that the whisky and wine was still liberally flowing in business and fist class. Makes you wonder if this was a COVID decision, or just another one of the continual pair backs in service we have seen with airlines over the years. (A week later I flew on Alaska air up to Seattle and alcohol was available for the asking.)
I observed two other mask related behaviors. I young lady sitting next to me kept her mask on while eating and drinking. She would pull her mask to the side, take a bite of her sandwich, and then immediately cover her mouth with the mask while she chewed her food. I guess she was hoping for well trained COVID germs that would only pass by when the mask was on.
The other behavior I noticed was that some people took a very long time to finish their meals. Were they slow eaters or were they intentionally eating slow so as not to have to put on their masks? One guy had come onto the plane with a large Starbucks coffee in one of those clear plastic cups. Five hours after the flight began, he still had about a quarter of his coffee left and he didn’t wear a mask for most of the flight. I guess he was still drinking his coffee.
While wearing a mask for hours on end is a nuisance, it certainly was not enough to keep me from flying. It was just a minor inconvenience, and really, flying is all about minor inconveniences anyway.
Once in New York I had a chance to check out the bars and restaurants. During my two days stay I visited four sit down restaurants, two bars and one counter service deli. In each of the restaurants and bars I was required to show my ID and my vaccination card. However, my vaccination card is on my phone and is very small. I have a very hard time reading it unless I expand the image size on my phone. Only once did the person check my card and ID asked me to make the image larger so she could read it. And in one restaurant the guy checking the cards said, “Any form of ID will do, including a credit card.” While I had my vaccinations it certainly seems to me that anyone who wanted could easily use another person’s card, or create a fake card, to get around this checking process without much trouble.
Of course, in the restaurants and bars no one was wearing a mask and in typically New York style, these places were very crowded. In one restaurant there was standing room only at the bar with people rubbing shoulders.
I did stop by a deli to pick up a croissant and even though the place was crowded, no one checked for vaccination cards or ID. I figured that was because most people were taking their food to go, however the deli did have a few tables and some people were sitting at those tables after their purchase, maskless, chomping on their food.
My conclusion is that travel in the age of COVID is just filled with the a few more inconveniences than that those that existed before COVID. They are not enough to discourage me from travel, but they are illogical enough to make me wonder how people who are as intelligent as we humans are can come up with so many illogical rules and regulations. Remember, even though cars started to be delivered with seatbelts 60 years ago, at the beginning of each flight, the flight attendants still demonstrate how to use one.