My three month “house arrest” finally ended last week. I actually got on a plane and flew from Florida to San Francisco – and back again.
Like everyone else under government-mandated quarantine, I’ve had plenty of time to watch the news and research the so-called “new normal” from my living room couch. Flying in a cramped metal tube for eight hours was never going to be the same.
Or so we were told.
Most of these anticipated changes filled me with dread. But frankly, there were a few I was actually looking forward to. I was wrong on almost every count.
Like a bird leaving the nest for the first time, I was actually excited about hitting the road. I blasted Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” on the drive to the airport.
“For I must be traveling on now
Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see”
You have to understand, I’ve spent the past 25 years of my life flying from city to city in this great country of ours. I’m gone three, four, five — sometimes six days per week. Every week.
And I’m fine with that.
So is my wife. Let’s just say we each appreciate our “alone time.”
The last three months?
Let’s just call it “NOT alone time.”
It had been a month since I had pulled my car out of my driveway. Two months since I had driven across the bridge that leads to our town.
And it had been three months since I wore a pair of shoes or pants.
Or eaten a fast food burger. Or drank a beer that couldn’t be bought in the lousy Publix beer aisle.
Sometimes It’s the Simple Things You Miss the Most
Yes, I was looking forward to my freedom. Even if it was only a 48 hour trip to the riot-torn, still-under-lockdown, leftist hellscape of San Francisco.
Visions of Russian River Brewing Pliny the Elder and an In-N-Out double-double on the bedspread of the San Francisco Airport Best Western danced in my head.
But first I had to get there.
An eight hour Delta flight, including an obligatory connection in Atlanta, was the best of my limited options. The only return flight available was an eight hour American flight with a connection in Charlotte.
The research I read from those few brave pioneers who flew during the depths of the pandemic in April didn’t make the experience sound like much fun.
Sort of like a clandestine reconnaissance mission across the rubble-strewn landscape of a zombie apocalypse with dangers lurking everywhere.
We were told to expect:
- Completely empty planes with every meager perk purged from the flight experience
- Desolate airports with an unending annoying loop of dystopian COVID-19 announcements over the P.A. echoing through empty terminals
- Fellow passengers filled with the zeal of newly converted germophobes scolding each other behind their masks
Sounds like hell at 38,000 feet.
Is It Possible Some Things Might Actually Be Better?
On the other hand, there were a few aspects of the “new normal” flying experience I was actually looking forward to.
I can’t remember my last flight where there was even a single empty seat. A virtually empty plane would be almost euphoric.
And being the super-duper elite Million Mile flyer I am, I would be treated like royalty!
After all, the only people flying on a Sunday afternoon during a global pandemic are a few adventuresome Millennial bargain seekers with no status. I’ll have zero competition from frequent business travelers for a precious upgrade.
Heck, I was half anticipating a ticker-tape parade down the jetway right to my first class seat once Delta noticed one of their best, most elite customers was actually coming out of quarantine to fly again!
Flying eight hours across the continent under these circumstances may sound like torture to most, but doing it in a nice, big, first-class seat with a bottomless supply of Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale would definitely take the edge off.
Social Distance from the Petty Dictators in Blue?
And finally I had heard that TSA had succumbed to the reality of social distancing.
My research led me to believe there would be no handing over my ID – just flash it to the agent for a touchless inspection and scan the mobile boarding pass on your phone. TSA was discouraging people from using those nasty plastic bins touched by thousands – and their smelly shoes. TSA even relaxed the stupid liquid rule so you can bring 12oz of hand sanitizer.
And surely they would discontinue the ridiculous ritual of manhandling all my stuff after I strategically placed it all on the conveyor.
Thank goodness. Less contact with the annoying petty dictators in blue will be a great improvement!
I quickly discovered that the misery of the TSA experience has undergone exactly zero changes.
As I held up my ID for the agent to inspect, her greasy blue glove reached up and snatched it out of my hand. She dutifully gave it a thorough inspection, rubbing it between her fingers and then thrusting it back into my once sanitized hands.
And there was no relief from the plastic bins or the conveyor belt dictator rearranging every one of my bags with his dirty hands to justify his union-inflated salary.
Take Your Seat in Coach
As if that wasn’t annoying enough, imagine my irritation when I got to the gate and found out that my super-duper elite status meant nothing on this flight (or the next one, or the next one, or the next one) because first class was full.
In fact the entire plane was booked “to capacity.”
I put “to capacity” in quotes because Delta has a pandemic policy of leaving all middle seats open – which is fantastic. I am all in favor of a rare empty seat next to me, pandemic or not.
But like every other Delta flight I’ve ever flown on, every other seat available for sale was filled on both of my flights.
So much for the euphoria of an empty plane.
And forget the ticker tape parade. To maintain “social distancing,” Delta now boards from the rear forward. So elite frequent flyers are no longer allowed to board early.
Everyone is a Germaphobe Now
Fortunately, most of my fellow passengers seemed pretty chill. No mask shaming or social distance scolding.
Extroverts might find the eerie silence disconcerting but I was thrilled that no one wanted to strike up a muffled conversation with strangers while being gagged by a cloth mask.
Of course Delta requires everyone to wear a mask when boarding and during the flight.
Like TSA “security theater,” the entire mask thing appeared to be nothing but “health theater.”
Most put their masks on for boarding, but a few rebels like me ditched them once we were in the air. Those who did wear a mask were constantly adjusting it, touching their faces, defeating whatever purpose the mask is supposed to serve.
The Delta flight attendants handed out Purell wipes to everyone as they boarded the plane.
Most people used them to wipe down their tray tables, seatbelts, and cushions.
Instead I found it more effective to arrange my carry on, fasten my seat belt, raise the window shade, adjust the air vent – and THEN simply clean my hands with the wipe. Once your hands are clean and you don’t have to touch anything the rest of the flight, you don’t have anything to worry about.
Delta also hands out snack packets in zip lock bags. The packets include Cheese-Its, Biscoffs, an 8oz. bottle of water and more Purell.
Overall, I’d give the Delta pandemic experience a passing grade.
Now…For a Totally Different Business Model
American Airlines, on the other hand, deserves an epic fail.
At this point it is pretty clear American Airlines desperately wants to maintain its reputation as being the worst of the “Big Four” domestic airlines.
Flying American home on Tuesday you would never know there was a global pandemic. Like the TSA, absolutely nothing has changed.
No Purell wipes when you board. No snack bags.
Heck, on a five hour flight I was only offered 3 ounces of watered down Coke hand-poured by a flight attendant who had already served 100 passengers before she got to my row.
I politely declined.
Most irritating of all, American has no interest in even attempting to accommodate social distancing.
Unlike Delta, American is not changing its boarding procedure and is NOT blocking middle seats.
In fact, American is doubling down on its practice of punishing passengers who buy so-called “Basic Economy” tickets with middle seats in the back of the plane – even when there are entire rows of empty seats in the middle section of the plane.
If you want an aisle or window seat on American, you have to pay for it – even during a global pandemic.
My connecting flight from Charlotte to Jacksonville was booked solid – almost every seat on the plane full.
Is This A Pandemic or the Busiest Travel Day of the Year?
The Charlotte Airport looked like the day before Thanksgiving, even though the Admirals Clubs were all closed.
Zero places to sit. Zero “social distancing.” The lines at every restaurant were stacked dozens deep.
The contrast between Delta and American couldn’t be starker. My advice? If you are planning to fly this summer, choose Delta.
Overall, my much anticipated 48 hours of freedom was relatively uneventful considering the circumstances.
I had three successful business meetings. I got my In-N-Out fix. I drank some quality California brews. I even squeezed in two hours to hike up Milagra Ridge to watch the sun set spectacularly into the Pacific Ocean.
Oh, and I managed to avoid having my head bashed in by Antifa rioters.
But most importantly, I proved to myself that it is possible to restore some semblance of normalcy to my life, even if the media elites keep reminding us about all this “new normal” crap.
Hey, nobody enjoys having change imposed upon their lifestyle by government fiat. As Lynyrd Skynyrd sang,
“Cause I’m as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change”