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Necessary Travel in a time of COVID-19

International Travel

Airline Passengers in an International Airport

At long last, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that he will finally exempt spouses, children, and parents of citizens and permanent residents from the COVID-19 border closure with the U.S. Since my husband is Canadian and in Ontario right now, and I’m American and in Florida right now, this is news we have been anticipating in agonizing fashion. Immediate family is no longer “non-essential,” (note to government officials – THEY NEVER WERE.) So now that I have necessary travel to embark on the question is, in this time of Coronoavirus, how can I traverse across a continent safely? My car is stranded in Canada, so a road trip, which would be my first, and the safest choice, is not an option. One bit of good news is that ALL of the below options have ramped up deep cleaning measures on their modes of transportation.

Option 1: Air Travel

Air travel is the type of travel I’m most leery of right now from a health standpoint. Airlines originally promised to leave middle seats empty, but have proceeded to fill those seats and pack the limited number of planes they have running as full as possible to help recoup their losses – despite the danger they’re placing on their customers. I’ve never been one for flying, unless I was crossing an ocean and had no choice. Being crammed in a tightly cramped space with random strangers, some of whose behavior and hygiene left something to be desired, and dealing with endless lines at security checkpoints, was never my idea of a “good time.” And now, with the news being inundated with reminders of social distancing, staying six feet apart, and even laws requiring the aforementioned, it has made me wonder for a while now why airports are not closed all together. It is the single type of business still open where it is literally impossible to social distance. Do I really want to place serious risk on my health, and that of my husband, getting on a plane? Or risk denial of entry into the country because I’m “showing symptoms?” According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and you may have to sit near others (within 6 feet), sometimes for hours. This may increase your risk for exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.” (cdc.gov) Airlines scoff at the idea that it isn’t safe – but it doesn’t take a PhD in rocket science to see the risk factors. Masks are required, but if people are allowed to take them off during food and beverage service, what’s the point?

PROS: Air is well ventilated and circulated. Travel between destinations is fast, reducing your exposure time-wise. The only option (besides car) that is currently crossing the U.S./Canada border.

CONS: Extremely close quarters, zero control over social distancing for the passenger, zero control over what other passengers are in near proximity (if you’re seated next to someone coughing, you’re out of luck!) Least amount of personal space and freedom to move about. The aggravation of dealing with airport security checkpoints.

Electric passenger train drives at high speed among urban landscape.

Bullet Train

Option 2: Train Travel

I have another option – train travel on Amtrak. Although Amtrak has temporarily halted service to routes crossing the Canadian border due to the limited categories of people currently allowed passage, I could take the train to Buffalo, New York and cross the Peace Bridge on foot, where my husband would be waiting on the Canadian side in his car. (Service to Niagara Falls, with a shorter pedestrian bridge, is also suspended.) On a train, you have the most freedom to move around. Even if you’re seated near people in the main cabin, you can try to find a better spot in the Observation Lounge, or head for the cafe or restaurant. And even if you remain in your seat, your “personal space” is greater than on a plane or bus. You also avoid standing in potentially crowded security checkpoints. Masks, again, are required – but, again, people are allowed to take them off while eating and drinking. The downside? LONG travel times. According to Google Directions, my train trip from Tampa Bay to Buffalo would take two days, as compared with a couple of hours on a plane. The route would require going up the Eastern Seaboard rather than a more direct route. And the layover point is in the COVID-19 epicenter: New York City. While a train ticket would be cheaper than an airline ticket, I would expect to be exhausted upon arriving in Buffalo – and would definitely reserve a hotel room for that point in the trip. This would jack the cost up beyond the cost of an airline ticket.

PROS: More room in your seat. The freedom to move around, and go to a completely different area if you find yourself near someone you consider a health risk (or annoyance!) Avoiding long lines at customs security checkpoints potentially with no social distancing measures. Most appealing option for my work as a blogger and YouTube creator.

CONS: Increased potential exposure due to long travel times. Long travel time to arrive at destination. No ability to cross the border by train. Short layover in the Coronavirus epicenter.

Greyhoundbus2

Greyhound Bus

Option 3: Bus Travel

Greyhound Bus has also suspended travel across the border, so just like in the aforementioned train option it would be necessary to ride to Buffalo and traverse the Peace Bridge on foot. Greyhound is “encouraging” physical distancing on the bus, and requiring masks (again, while not eating or drinking…) But of all of these options, the bus is the most likely to experience delays, and long layovers, which they are notorious for. The bus takes a more direct route than the train, because there are many more interstates in the U.S. than train tracks. But there are other potential risks in taking the bus. The low cost of the bus can attract some individuals who may pose a threat to you or your belongings, and many bus stations are in more dangerous neighborhoods of town – a place you can be stuck for hours waiting on a late transfer. You do have more room than on the plane, but less room than on a train. It does not have the freedom to get up and move to a different area that the train offers. As with the train option, I would most likely get a hotel for the night upon arrival in Buffalo.

PROS: Lowest cost (besides car travel), more personal space than on a plane. Avoidance of airport security checkpoint lines.

CONS: Less freedom of movement than on the train, long travel times. Other potential hazards unrelated to health.

Conclusion

I was hoping that by the time I reached the conclusion, I would have made up my own mind! Alas, I have not. I am leaning in favor of train or plane, because the bus’ biggest advantage is price and that isn’t my highest priority right now. And while all three options involve a customs security checkpoint for crossing the border, the land crossing is likely to be far less congested, since very few people are allowed to cross, and there’s only one, compared with two at the airports. I plan to buy a ticket on one of the above five days from the date of this post – please leave your comments with suggestions below! What would you do? How has your experience been on these different modes of transportation? Remember, my car is stranded in Canada and “road trip” is not an option. Obviously, that would be the most convenient and safest way to travel, with unlimited personal space, total social distancing, and the ability to cross the border. Thanks for your suggestions!

 

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