A Southwest Air 737-700 seen at BDL. - Photo: JL Johnson

A Southwest Air 737-700 seen at BDL – Photo: JL Johnson

A few weeks ago I posted about how I was ready to fly. This is a follow-up to that story. You can start there (link opens in a new tab), or this story can also stand on its own.

I recently completed my first COVID-era trip. My AvGeek wife and I flew to Connecticut on Southwest with the following routing: MCI-MDW-BDL-BWI-MCI. Two years ago our trip wouldn’t have been noteworthy nor deserving of an AirlineReporter piece. But here we are. Everything is different in our new reality and frankly any chance to fly (even to cold places despite a brutal winter) is special.

Once the lockdowns began and the reality of the pandemic set in, I decided I needed to remain grounded until a vaccine became available and I had it in my arm. Not for risk to myself, but to protect others and not allow myself to be an unwitting vector for transmission. My decision came with a serious sense of FOMO (fear of missing out.) Airfares plummeted, airlines were flying planes nearly empty, terminals seemed abandoned, and hundreds of planes were put into storage. Heck some planes were parked on perfectly good runways for lack of space elsewhere. I say all of this to underscore a point. There were many reasons why I really wanted to get out there. But I resisted.

As I booked my first trip in over a year I wondered if upon getting back out there I would regret waiting to be fully vaccinated before flying. Perhaps all of the PR that airlines, airports, and their lobbying groups had pushed could be trusted? Maybe it was indeed safe to fly?

A credit to Southwest and all four airports, there was no absence of reminders.

A credit to Southwest and all four airports, there was no absence of reminders

I’m glad I waited to be vaccinated before flying.

It felt amazing to walk through the doors of my home airport for the first time in over a year. Shortly after I heard the voice of MCI welcoming me back. It feels corny to write this but it very much felt like reuniting with an old friend. We made it through TSA PreCheck in record time and were grateful to see that it was still in operation despite low passenger volumes. After gawking at the new terminal build progress we found a spot near our gate which would allow for some distancing. Everything was incredible. It was good to be home.

I was pleased with the signage and announcements providing the necessary nudges on mask compliance. I was particularly impressed with a screen on the Southwest app that required me to acknowledge COVID compliance requirements and agree to comply before being allowed to check in. On three of our four flights, the flight attendants gave passionate and stern compliance messages as part of their announcements. Problem is, enforcement in general was lax.

Then it happened. Someone walked past without a mask. She was awkwardly holding a coffee in-front of her as if to broadcast that by carrying a drink the mask mandate did not apply. As we waited for boarding we witnessed more non-compliance. The sole sales-bro in the area came around with his mask around his chin yelling into his phone insisting that he had indeed “sent that email.” There were more than a few my-drink-is-a-pass-ers spotted in the hour that we waited. Perhaps the most disappointing sight was an airline employee whose nose wanted to play a game of pandemic peek-a-boo. This occurred ironically while a gate agent announced the mandatory mask measures which apply on – and off – of the plane.

I don’t care about electrostatic disinfectants and HEPA filters.

Airlines and some flyers alike have made a big to-do about electrostatic disinfectants, increased cleaning, and HEPA filters. Notice the word filters is plural as to suggest multiple. How many HEPA filters does a typical 737 sport? American Airlines says two. Two HEPA filters near the middle of the cabin. Airlines are quick to note that most planes receive a full exchange of air every roughly three minutes. Is that enough assurance to protect you against the person next to you not wearing their mask?

Quick snack, or free pass to go mask-less?

Quick snack, or free pass to go mask-less?

On two of our four legs my wife or I had someone seated next to us who did not think the rules applied to them. On both of those flights our flight attendants let it slide. For our MCI-MDW flight I had the guy next to me milk his pretzel snack and few ounces of water for a solid 30 minutes. Impressive for such a short flight! What really surprised me is that not only did our flight attendants let it slide, they engaged with him and offered him refills.

No mask, no respect for others. Photo: - JL Johnson

No mask, no respect for others – Photo: – JL Johnson

I snapped the above photo above on our BWI-MCI leg. My wife and I scored the “LUV seat” on a 737-800, the exit row with two seats and an opening. She was in the aisle, as was the fellow who didn’t think it necessary to wear his mask. That’s right around two feet of separation. If my wife had not waited to be fully vaccinated before flying, that risk level would not have been acceptable.

Conclusion

When I decided to wait to be vaccinated before flying, I was worried I would miss out. I was concerned that I was overreacting and that upon my return, things wouldn’t be “as bad” as I thought they were. Being from Missouri (the “show me” state) I wanted to see first hand. I’m sorry to say that things are as bad – or worse – than you might imagine. If you are worried for your health, work in a public-facing job, or have concerns about aiding in the spread of the virus I’d suggest you hold off and wait on flying until vaccinated. By all means, book that flight now. But wait until you’ve had your shot(s) to have that extra layer of protection. And by golly, mask up. The sooner we all comply, the sooner we can put this whole pandemic thing behind us.

Managing Correspondent - Lee's Summit, MO. JL joined AirlineReporter in 2012 and has since become one of our most tenured and prolific writers. His passions include catalyzing AvGeek passion in others, spending too much time on Twitter, and frequent travel. While he's always looking for the next big adventure, home is with his growing AvGeek family in Lee’s Summit, MO, a suburb of Kansas City. Email: [email protected]

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38 Comments

Excellent article. Really enjoyed and appreciated it. I too have not flown since the pandemic. Your story and photos confirm what I have seen and heard about current air travel. That is why I am going to wait until I feel safe and comfortable exposing myself to be around those who do not seem to care about the health and safety of themselves and others. I care about my health enough that I do not want to be sick with covid and I certainly do not want to hospitalized or die from it. I will continue to take all measures necessary to protect myself, my family, and those around me. I also do not have the financial resources to pay for the expenses related to hospitalization and recovery from covid. So good luck on your travels and I hope to join you one day. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you for reading and for taking the pandemic seriously. Things will get better I’m sure. But only if we stay smart.

Very disappointing to hear that the flight attendants didn’t enforce the mask requirements. Did you send your comments to the airline? I’d be interested to know their response.

Hey, Stewart. Thanks for reading.

I didn’t bother to complain to the airline directly. The airlines and airports did a great job with messaging including during boarding and as a part of the briefing. Anyone not complying knew exactly what they were doing and was likely looking for a pass or to make a scene. I imagine the flight attendants are tired of it. To be clear, it’s their job to be the enforcers, but I don’t want to make a bad situation even worse. Particularly with the problems they’ve been dealing with, with reduced hours, hostile customers and risk to their own health. That might not be the “right” approach but it’s the one I’m going with. I feel for them, and hope they continue to push as far as they feel they can.

Interesting, I have been on two round-trips from EWR to Florida on United Express (Republic), one in October and one in January, and encountered virtually none of the behaviors you did, either on the ground or in the air. Part of that may be that we in the NY/NJ area were hit very hard in the beginning by Covid and tend to take it pretty seriously. Also, I have a friend who recently did some work for Republic and said they take more precautions than United itself does.

In any event, I did not feel unsafe on any of my “Covid-era” trips so far (except for feeling like I needed to be very careful using airport restrooms!)

That said, if I had your experience I would have likely felt a bit differently about it.

Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. I’m glad to hear yours was different than mine and I think there is something to be said about people from areas that were hit harder taking things more seriously.

Great article. My wife and I had to travel last fall and chose Southwest because it was the only airline still keeping middle seats open. We were shocked by the lack of enforcement of the mask policy and experienced something eerily similar to what you described. I wrote to Southwest about it, and received an apologetic response saying they’d reinforce things with their crews. Obviously, that hasn’t happened.

Thanks for reading, and the comment, Jason. It’s a shame to hear you had a similar experience. As you may know, I’m Southwest’s number one fan but they are missing the mark here.

Anonymous

Ive has Covid 2xs. It was not good the first time with breathing issues and needing extra tp. The 2nd time was more like a head cold that made me lose my taste and smell for 2 weeks. That being said, your body will acclimate to this virus. Also, I’ve lost 2 loved ones to this virus, but they both had different underlying problems that were the real issue. That being said, I’m hoping people like you will stop judging other people. “Milked eating his pretzel snack”.. Let them live the way they want to live. Everyone one is suffering because of fear. Through all of this the suicide rate is higher because of other people and their opinions of people who just want to live. Losing my brother to suicide this year was far worse than losing my other two loved ones to Covid. This pandemic took peoples lives away with no jobs, no home, no food, finding themselves with nothing on the street. Too much pride to ask for help, then suicide seems like the answer. And you’re complaining about flying unsafe? Please stop writing articles that make you sound judgmental. If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.

This isn’t about being nice. It’s about having decency to respect others and not be a vessel for transmission thus allowing the virus to continue to spread. I’m sorry for your losses I really am. But it pains me that you don’t seem to care about the risk of loss that others might feel. This misguided streak of independence places risk not just in them but more importantly on others.

Sue Ulloa

“Let them live the way they want to live”!!! Great, as long as they aren’t breathing into my airspace without a mask! No one “needs” pretzels or a drink that bad.

Bill Helbig

I really don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with masks. They don’t “protect” anyone. A Danish study demonstrated in spades using a real life study, not an experiment done in laboratory conditions. People with masks contracted the virus at the same levels of those without. Masks “help”, but there’s no data as to how much. And how much of the virus does one need to be exposed to to get the virus? No one knows. I was both an Air Force and commercial pilot. Did you notice either of your pilots sporting a beard? An FAA reg prohibits having a beard. There’s no seal between the O2 masks and a beard. So it’s not a matter of masks “helping”. The toxic fumes will be inhaled if there’s no seal. Same with the virus. So don’t kid yourself. Masks must also fit properly which most don’t.

Second there’s little if any “filtering” of cabin air while the engines are not operating. So if the boarding process is 45 minutes with lots of passengers, you’re had a huge risk of catching the virus. You have both “intensity” and “duration”.

Third, if you touch your mask, you’ve potentially contaminated your hands. Forget about pretzels. Who doesn’t fidget with a mask when wearing one. You also need to change your mask every hour. Who does that?

Fourth, Fauci just said the other day that 3 ft is fine for “social distancing”. It turns out that he or one of his minions discovered the 6 ft distancing metric from back in the 19th century. It was merely an anecdotal hunch at the time with regard to “protecting” people from a disease.There’s no science whatsoever behind distancing.

Fifth, do you realize that these vaccines are classified as “experimental”? I will defer for a long time coming my participation in medical experiments. They have no idea how long the vaccines are effective nor do they know anything about the long term adverse effects. So far 1600 deaths and counting from vaccines administered for the virus. The WHO is denying any “evidence”. They’re all coincidental I suppose.

I for one will never again board an airplane with the current draconian and anecdotal rules that airlines have put in place. They’re senseless and dehumanizing to a society. This virus will NEVER go away. Only small pox and a horse related virus has ever been eliminated in all of human history. But the really bad news is that there’s more viruses to be released by the Chi Coms in the coming years ahead. So place your tray tables to the upright position, put away all your loose items and for God’s sake, stow your ridiculous face mask in the nearest trash receptacle.

I’ve flown in early Jan. I only felt uneasy in the airport itself. I didn’t see any noncompliance on board. In defense of the flight attendants, what are they to do , once in the air? I certainly don’t want these nonmaskers sitting near me, but I don’t want an unruly, spitting idiot on my flight for hours before I land either.

Agree, it’s a tough position for them to be in. I would like them to at least attempt to be more firm, though.

Thanks for reading!

The Vaccinated one

The vaccine won’t stop you from contracting or spreading the virus. As a firefighter all 25 of us have been fully vaccinated since late January and as of now 7 have tested positive since and 3 of them have spread it to their family’s. If you feel better being vaccinated then do it but in the end it will not stop or slow this new soon to be common flu.

I’ve flown 4x for work during covid. I did encounter people eating inside the airport(s) and therefore no mask. I avoided them. On the plane, I never encountered a “mask violation”. Thankfully. I commented because I want to let people know things arent all bad out there.

I’ve been flying every week for months for work. First of all, you flew the wrong airline. Delta is the way to go. Much more stern about passengers not following mask rules.
Second of all, they are the only major US airline still blocking seats.
Had much better experiences on Delta than any other airline, especially during the pandemic.

Wearing a mask, even if you don’t believe it works to protect, is simply being considerate. If it quells others fears and no more than that, why not be kind? It’s not a big deal. Getting your anger stoked by this is a rather perplexing reaction.

mrbill757

Here’s the definition of “considerate”. careful not to cause inconvenience or hurt to others.

See Garrett, I don’t “hurt” anyone by not covering up my God given identity. The virus hurts people at times depending on their biological makeup. I don’t go around hurting people. This virus will do what it wants. And I will do what I want. If you’re too scared to get on an airplane then stay home. This masking of one’s face is actually hurting the person wearing it as well as others who have to look at faceless blobs shuffling around like zombies. Cases of bacterial pneumonia are off the charts and small kids who scratch their faces because the mask they’re wearing is itching end up with staph infections. It’s also causing huge dental problems. Research that. But you’ll never hear of the harm masks are causing since it ruins the liberal narrative. Then there’s the plastic issue of those silly blue masks. But research that yourself as well.
Needless to say those stupid blue surgical masks that doctors wear during surgery prevent bacterial spread to the open wound on the patient. They weren’t designed for containing viruses. The mindless wearing of masks has resulted in creating a crisis that no one anticipated.

What if it makes me feel better to not wear one? Wouldn’t it be nice, and considerate to allow me that then?

Absurd. Im sorry you live in such fear and place such faith in masks and vaccines. We have lived life since the ” pandemic” started, flying and everything else. We don’t wear masks unless required, and guess what.. we’re healthy, as are our 6 children, 1 of whom has down syndrome and has never been sick. Everyone around me, my family, friends, ect, are the same…and all healthy . The mask is nothing more than a ” virtue signaling ‘, that if you wear a mask you care about others…not true, and im sick of it. Live in your fear bubble, but don’t make everyone else be in it with you. If you put as much into a healthy lifestyle as you do waiting for the vaccine and mask wearing, you’d have much less to worry about.

And there’s the problem in a nutshell. The masks are thought to help insure mass safety. An opinion that they don’t is insufficient impetus to possibly endanger others.

Exactly. Not sure why it’s so controversial.

You should have stayed in your great bubble longer. The rest of us will be less stressed without you around.

Tamara L Oliver

I flew in September, November, and January. I wore a mask and practiced social distancing however plenty of others did not. No Covid after all my travels. Getting ready to go again in April. I watched a passenger board the plane with those that needed assistance. She wore 2 masks, a shield, she sprayed the seat with lysol, she wiped down the armrests, walls, window, and tray with disinfectant wipes. Then she placed a trash bag over her seat, top and bottom, and she put on a rain poncho….if your that worried, you should stay home

We just did FAT-LAX-ZIH and back last week on Alaska. Notifications, signage and verbal announcements were ample and clear, and virtually all passengers were in constant compliance. The return flight had quite a few Mexican nationals onboard, and they were all in compliance as well. We noticed the FAs having to “remind” a couple of passengers to put their mask back on. The outbound LAX-ZIH flight was completely full, the return flight was probably 65%. Wearing masks for us was inconvenient, but complying with federal law, and yes, now, social convention, was well worth a relaxing vacation!

Thanks for reading and adding your experience to the conversation.

JL, I’ve been following AR for years, and I absolutely enjoy the posts from you and your team. Keep up the good work. I’ll bet you didn’t anticipate stirring up some obviously emotional reactions from others, I sure didn’t.

Great feedback, and thanks for coming along for the ride.

Maureen Allenza

Thank for this article! I wish that I could say that I’m surprised many people are not wearing masks, but I’m not! There are so many who do not take Covid seriously. I am surprised and disappointed the flight attendants are not more mindful of public safety. Tamara you should not judge. Maybe this was a high risk person who had a family emergency and no choice but to fly. I’ve been in the house for 1year only doing drive-tru. The few times I saw live people I wore two masks, gloves and a shield. I have severe lung disease.

Maureen Allenza

Will, why so mean? People need to do what they need to do! It sounds like you are lucky and not in a high risk group. I can tell you as an RN, Covid is an awful way to die! As I have severe lung disease my whole life has been upended this past year. And I am grateful because I want to live! I also love to fly. Inconvenience now, but when this is over I’ll fly as much as my lungs allow!

Using My Own Brain

If you are so afraid of traveling and don’t think you and your body is healthy enough to fight of a simple virus than stay home and don’t enjoy your life. If the numbers are right why don’t you see people dying all over in front of you. Why don’t you hear sirens from ambulances going all the time and why don’t you see hospitals full of patients? Come on get real and stop being like a cow and following your masters and use your own brain.

maureenlovesjetblue

Using my own brain, I don’t know what news you watch but people ARE, AND HAVE BEEN DYING ALL OVER THE PLACE! Now you’re going to say % of the population that’s not that many! Well, as an RN and former airline employee, I think over 500,000 people in just the US alone is too many. I have dedicated my life to saving life. So I find it offensive that people will not do their part and wear a mask.

mrbill757

Actually Maureen, people aren’t dying “all over the place”. This isn’t one of those apocalyptic movies like “Pandemic”. If you have comorbidities as you know, are old and frail, have diabetes, cardio or pulmonary issues, or in a nursing home, or one foot in the grave, there’s a lot greater chance for infection and subsequent death. Cardio and pulmonary pulmonary deaths in 2020 are way down since they are now counted as CCP deaths. If airlines got rid of all the fake ways of “protecting” people, their load factor would skyrocket. I for one will be greatly anticipating the total nation wide body count for 2020 and compare it with 2019. It’s hard to hide deaths but easy to cook the books. So these numbers might well become quite debated when they do come out.

maureenlovesjetblue

We will respectfully disagree. Your opinion would be more appreciated if you weren’t so sarcastic. You are being very rude to older people and those who weren’t lucky to have perfect health.

I agree with you Maureen.  He obviously knows everything there is to know about COVID and isn’t afraid to spout off his sarcastic opinion about it.  I simply reported my experience about the flights on my vacation, and all of a sudden I’m on his #$#& list……which is fine with me.  I had a great vacation, played by the rules and whether I agree with all of them or not….was worth it.  Good luck to you and your travels!

maureenlovesjetblue

Thank you for your lovely response. Intelligent……..and compassionate.

Skylar Cook

Could have written this myself as I’m typing this from my first flight since CoVid. The people although disappointing, do not surprise me. I had to move in the waiting area bc a woman was shouting her relationship status into her phone with no mask on site. Keep your aerosols and personal business to your self please ma’am. There were more masks under noses than on. Not surprised, but disappointed.

The most disheartening thing I’ve seen however, (even after a year into this thing) is THE AIRLINE STAFF THEMSELVES CANNOT WEAR A MASK PROPERLY! The SW captain today was chatting mask down while we boarded with the flight attendant whose cloth mask had a huge gap between her face and nose. I would feel so unsafe if I wasn’t yet vaccinated (and also have covid antibodies from my own infection) and frankly it’s just frustrating that these folks aren’t setting good examples that could help us get back to normal quicker.

Rant over. Glad there’s a light at the end of the tunnel but wouldn’t recommend flying until vaccinated bc people gonna people.

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