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Flying in a time of Covid-19: US Domestic

I know that a lot of people have been really nervous about traveling right now, even for essential travel but since I had to make the cross-country trip, I thought I’d share my experience with the airports and airplane.

My flight out of Seattle was at 7:15AM so that may have contributed to how empty the airport itself was, although usually on a Wednesday morning it would be crowded with business travelers. There was no wait to check a bag and no wait to go through TSA Precheck. The TSA agent did take my ID from me and inspect it like normal, although there is a plastic “wall” up between you and the agent. They do ask you to pull your mask down to compare your photo to your face.

Not much was open – mostly coffee shops, but again, it was 5:45am so that wasn’t too much of a surprise. I went to Starbucks and it was pretty busy. I got a bagel with cream cheese and they gave me a plastic knife that wasn’t individually packaged that I forgot to wipe down and ended up freaking out over but hopefully it’s all okay.

There were actually more flights going out than I thought. But, at the gate, everyone took care to sit at least a few seats apart (see photo below). Oddly enough, even though there were announcements every 10 minutes or so stating that everyone needed to be wearing a mask in the airport, a lot of people took theirs off wandering around and/or sitting at the gate. There was only one person in a suit talking on the phone – everyone else was casually dressed and appeared to be traveling for personal reasons rather than business, but I suppose you can’t judge a book by its cover especially in an airport.

Boarding the plane was interesting. You can see from the screenshot the latest version of "your flight is boarding" notification that Delta is sending out.

They started with the back and moved their way forward allowing on about 4-8 rows at a time depending on how full they were, however they allowed first class and diamond medallion flyers to board any time. This basically meant all of the seats in first class, and most of their comfort section were already boarded by the time I got on for row 13. Kind of defeated the point in my opinion but oh well.

You can see from the picture that they’ve added social distancing measures even in the jet bridges.

Also interesting thing to note was that one woman in the line in front of me had to have her passport checked because she was connecting on to Colombia so apparently international travel isn’t completely dead, although I know Delta told me that they’ve cancelled all flights into/out of Brazil for the time being.

Once I got on the plane, the flight attendants were standing at the door offering individual Purell wipes to each passenger to wipe down their seat area. I looked around to see if everyone was opening their vents since a lot of travel advice now that I’ve seen on social media suggests that’s a good idea, even though some aerospace manufacturers are suggesting this isn't a great idea. However, it didn’t seem to be a common thing. Most people had theirs open a bit but not all the way.

As far as passenger count, my flight and all of the Delta flights direct to Detroit that day had first class and comfort+ sold out (obviously aside from the middle seats). Economy class wasn’t very full on my flight but I checked open seats for the other two directs that day and they were much more full. Keep in mind Delta normally runs probably 6+ direct flights from SEA to DTW every day, and right now they’re only flying 3, and they’re all in the morning.

I did notice that the upgrade list length really hadn’t gone down too much – around 20 people on a flight with probably <75 people on it, so I think a lot of the people traveling are their frequent flyers. Since it’s supposed to be only essential travel, I was a bit surprised but I suppose it makes sense. I have friends that have flown Alaska from Seattle and California to NYC, and they are MVPs but whatever the lowest tier is and they got auto-upgraded to first class on both legs of their flights.

As far as masks on the plane go, they did recommend everyone wear a mask at all times, but I saw multiple people pull theirs down for an extended amount of time. The flight attendants wore theirs the entire flight. They did give out individual baggies with a small water bottle, a Kind bar, and cheez-its so people had to take masks off to eat that.

Delta does actually start the flight now with a video that talks about how the airplanes have filtration systems and are cleaned thoroughly, but there was no diagram or anything. Just a statement in their opening video before the safety video. If you're looking for more details on how air flows throughout the airplane cabin, Airbus has put out a decent video on YouTube and Boeing has a "Confident Travel Initiative" that explains it all in detail for you.

Once I landed, they came on the PA asking that people not stand up until the row in front of them had reached the boarding door or 6ft away from their row, but no one seemed to want to follow that advice, and no one enforced it.

Detroit airport was even more empty than SeaTac which was weird for me, but some of the restaurants were open for dine-in. Even still, you can see how empty the baggage claim area was and that area on the right side of the picture on the “second” floor is usually a very busy TSA check in spot but there’s no one there now. And there were hand sanitizer stations everywhere (at both airports).

Hopefully that helps some of you plan a bit for traveling. As flights get more and more full, you can assume that they'll get even more restrictive when it comes to face coverings. We've even heard rumors of some airlines testing for covid and/or requiring tracking once you've landed.

If you're interested in more reading on the topic and on what airlines and airplane manufacturers are doing, there's a ton of information out there. You can check airline instagrams, airplane influencer grams, OAG reports, and any of the popular aerospace magazines. Everything from UV robots in the aisles, to blood testing is being thrown around right now.

Happy and safe travels! As always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out here or via instagram!

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