Wow. Things sure do change quickly.
Just four weeks ago, I survived my first pandemic flight and told you all about it — the good, the bad, the ugly. In early June, lifting myself off my couch and venturing out of house arrest to take a trip on a plane seemed downright radical.
A month later, you probably know people who have flown or are planning to do so. Maybe you are one of them. Here’s how things have changed as Americans have returned to the skies en masse over the past four weeks.
Planes and Airports are More Crowded than Ever
Four weeks ago I was shocked at how crowded terminals, planes, and airport lounges were during a pandemic.
Now? Expect even more company.
Numbers from TSA indicate that passengers screened at their checkpoints have increased by 400,000 — more than double — in the past month. And more and more are taking to the skies every day, despite a surge in coronavirus cases.
Look. We’re Americans. Our local, state, and federal governments have locked us in our homes for long enough. It is time to get back to life, virus or no virus.
And of course no one wants to admit this, because it would mean they wrecked our lives and destroyed the world economy for no good reason, but the millions of coronavirus deaths the “experts” predicted when they strapped us to our couches four months ago turned out to be a tiny fraction of that.
In fact, if you are under 65 and in good health, your risk of dying from the coronavirus is about the same as the flu.
Americans aren’t stupid. They know when they are being lied to. And they want a summer vacation — now more than ever.
So if you are heading to the airport, expect lots of company. And forget about social distancing.
More Masks, Less Social Distancing
Remember social distancing?
That’s SOOOO June 2020.
This is July 2020. Social distancing is out, compulsory masks are in.
You see how that works? June was about the responsibility of the airline to choose to give passengers some breathing room and the responsibility of the individual to choose whether to wear a mask.
Choice and responsibility are now gone. In exchange for taking away your personal space, American Airlines and United Airlines are taking away your freedom to choose how to protect yourself.
American and United — the two airlines nearest to insolvency — announced they will begin packing their planes to maximum capacity in a grab for short-term cash.
Of course you could always choose to fly Delta, Southwest, or JetBlue which are playing the long game in a bid for loyalty by guaranteeing an empty seat next to you on the plane.
But good luck with that. Those available seats are few and far between as travel demands far outweigh the supply of available seats – leaving American and United as the only affordable option on many routes.
American Airlines made no effort at social distancing on either of my two recent July flights. No change in boarding procedure. No spacing on the jet bridge. Both planes filled to capacity.
Everyone is back to that annoying phenomenon of crowding the gate because they know the overhead bins will be full and no one wants be left with no space when the music stops.
This Will Go Down on Your “Permanent Record”
To compensate for strangers crowding and bumping you, two weeks ago all the major airlines banded together to crack down on masks.
One month ago, masks were “required,” but not enforced.
This is no longer a choice. No, you cannot board without one. Yes, you will be dragged off the plane if you refuse. If you take it off in mid-air, you could be banned from flying for life.
Many passengers have already been banned as we’ve reported here at Proud American Traveler.
Masks are ubiquitous everywhere now.
A month ago, most people in the airport didn’t put on their masks until boarding and many took them off once in the air. Now everyone wears a mask and no one takes it off under threat of punishment.
New Rule: Contamination of All Personal Property Now Required
As I reported last month, the TSA has made zero attempts to accommodate social distancing. Not surprisingly, the only change between early June and early July is one that makes the screening process EVEN MORE annoying, as if that is possible.
The TSA agent told me that I was now REQUIRED to remove my belt and my watch and place them in the communal plastic bins touched by millions “because of COVID-19.”
“Huh? You want me to place items touching my body in a communal bin during a pandemic?”
The blue gloved dictator told me, “Yes.” Removal of watches and belts is now required to avoid any possibilities of an alarm which would necessitate a physical pat down.
I subject myself to the TSA almost every day. Not once has my belt or watch caused an “alarm” on the naked scanner.
My suggestion? If you know your belt and watch don’t normally alarm, wear a long untucked shirt with sleeves to hide your contraband belt and watch — and just lie and say you’re not wearing one.
Don’t Bother Paying for First Class
The other big change over the past few weeks is that in-flight service has gotten even worse. Actually, it’s now non-existent.
On my two American flights I was fortunate to get last minute upgrades to first class.
Congratulations on your first class upgrade: we will be providing zero service.
A month ago I scored a bag of pretzels and a Goose Island IPA in American’s first class cabin.
Needless to say, please do not pay to upgrade to first class. You will get nothing in return except for a slightly wider seat.
The Lounge is Now Open – With Lots of Rules
About the only improvement on my American flight was lounge access while connecting in Charlotte.
A month ago, Delta’s lounges were open. American’s were closed, despite an airport teaming with passengers.
Charlotte Airport was just as packed as it was in June, but fortunately the Admirals Club is now open — with assigned seats.
Yes. If you are an Admirals Club member you will be escorted to your seat by a masked attendant who will write down your seat number and return to sanitize your seat after you leave.
I’m still not sure I understand the logic on this one. Maybe I’m missing something.
Couldn’t the attendant just jot down the seats that are currently occupied from a safe six foot distance? Why the personal escort like you are attending the opera?
The floor of the lounge is now decorated with those one-way arrows like at your neighborhood Safeway. And all self-serve snacks have been removed.
A month ago at the Delta Skyclub, it was business as usual. No masks, no escorts, no assigned seats and no change to the help-yourself snacks.
And that serves as a pretty good metaphor for the changes air travel has undertaken just in the past four weeks. As more and more Americans head to the airport to return to a destination of normalcy in their lives, the airlines are responding with more rules, greater inconvenience, and even fewer of the small perks that made air travel more tolerable.
Welcome to the “new normal.” You may start missing your couch sooner than you think.