Even though the pandemic is not yet over, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think about what life will look like in the post-pandemic world.
This week I traveled from Michigan to Arizona for a pre-planned trip that I had between my winter and summer semesters. I thought about not going, all the way up until the very last minute. But then I decided that it seemed like things are the “best” that they’re going to get for a while and perhaps I should go before travel does pick up again too much.
As a fairly frequent flier before the pandemic hit, I have received many emails from Delta encouraging me to stay with them and explaining the steps they are taking to keep passengers safe and comfortable while on the plane. This includes, based on my observations:
- Limiting flight capacity by not booking any middle seats
- Deep cleaning planes between each use (the plane I was on was the cleanest I’ve ever seen a Delta plane)
- Boarding planes from back to front to limit people having to walk past each other, as well as encouraging social distancing while exiting the plane
- Requiring masks or facial coverings on board
- Greeting every passenger with an individual purell packet
- Removing the seatback magazines and having the seatback monitors off by default so that you wouldn’t have to touch it if you wanted it off
- Suspending all food and beverage service except for a premade bag with a bottle of water, cookies, CheezITs, a napkin, and a purell wipe
- Distributing free earbuds to all customers so that credit cards would not need to be handled for payment
- Having flight attendants walking up and down the aisles continuously to collect trash (I seriously have never been asked so many times in my life if I had any items to discard)
But the one thing that Delta did not prepare me for was the shock of what I would see and experience at the airport:
- When I parked at the park and ride, it only had about 200 cars in total. I even parked in the employee section of the lot. And the on-site parking decks at the airport were almost empty.
- Everyone was funneled through the Sky Priority lines to check their bags. It did go fast because eight agents were working. However, there was still only one line open. And that was strange to see, especially at an airport as large as Detroit Metro.
- There were only two TSA Checkpoints open – one for employees and one for everyone else. So, standard and Pre-check passengers were using the same line, but just being given an identifying pass to tell which screening line to go to once the TSA agent scanned their boarding pass. And this was a painfully slow process since only four people were allowed into the screening area at a time. Luckily, I have Clear, and it was still open, and so I was 4th rather than about 44th.
- The arrival and departure boards were almost empty. The volume of flights reminded me of what I would expect to see in Lexington, KY, not at Detroit Metro.
- Most of the convenience stores and restaurants in the airport were closed. Leo’s Coney Island was open for counter service only, and I saw one person with a McDonald’s cup, but I didn’t walk over to the McDonald’s to verify if it was open.
The good news for me is that the Delta Sky Club at Detroit Metro is still open. They had a Continental Breakfast available, including bagels, pastries, and whole fruit. Everything was either wrapped or prepackaged. Delta also had employees available to pour drinks, toast bagels, and put the food on a plate. It was well done and very well thought out.
And although Delta advised customers to prepare themselves snacks for the plane, I was not expecting things to be as bad as they were. It was an eerie feeling seeing everything look like a post-disaster ghost town. It wasn’t clear if I was walking among the people who couldn’t escape or the people who were coming back trying to rebuild. Walking by so many businesses and just seeing them closed was the scariest part for me. I can honestly say I’m now more worried about the economy than I have ever been before.
So, is it safe to fly right now? I think so, but I think it’s only because of the low volume of customers. So, would I recommend flying right now? No way. I think that flying will never be the same and that we will see an increase in people driving further distances instead. But first, I think we have a lot of other issues to deal with as we look to the future of how our lives will look in a post-pandemic world.