Travel Tips

Flying During the Coronavirus Pandemic…

Tampa International Airport 2 Hours Before Flight

Safety of flying during the pandemic…

Flying during the Coronavirus pandemic is a risky proposition. Seriously, the United States Government needs to send a message to airlines. “No stimulus money unless you reduce capacity on planes during the COVID-19 pandemic.” (And they should specify that capacity limit.) Without that incentive, they’re not doing it. This is despite the fact that getting on a plane is one of the most dangerous things you can do right now in the context of coronavirus.

Here’s how flying during the pandemic went…

I got on a plane during the Coronavirus pandemic. It was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. I would have felt safer taking ANY other method of transportation on my journey from Tampa to Toronto. In fact, I’ve been questioning why flights weren’t grounded at the outset of the outbreak of COVID-19. Let’s face it: people are packed in like sardines in a can on a plane. I can’t think of any situation where social distancing is more impossible than on a plane. I was in a must-travel situation: to be reunited with my husband. Prime Minister Trudeau finally exempted spouses and children from the border closure.

No other options besides flying during the pandemic…

My first choice would have been a road trip, but, alas, my car was stranded in Canada. So that was an impossibility. I considered taking the train, but Amtrak is not currently crossing the border. My only train option to get across would be a train to Buffalo and walking across the Peace Bridge. And there would have been a transfer in the New York City epicenter. I’d also heard the land border closure was more challenging to traverse than coming in through the airport. So I did something I never thought I’d agree to do and booked a flight. Prices were lower than usual – an indicator of low demand…? I would soon find out.

Tampa International Airport 1 Hour Before Flight

The airport was empty… temporarily…

When I first arrived at the airport in Tampa security was a breeze. I didn’t need to wait in line at all. But Tampa is one of the better airports in that regard with or without a pandemic in progress. When I got to the gate, very early, there was no one there. The seating was staggered with social distancing signs. Masks were not required, and only a handful of people were wearing them. Social distancing was easy.

The crowds picked up as the morning progressed…

About an hour before the flight more passengers began showing up, and right before boarding it was standing room only at the gate. This was concerning… how full was this flight…? I had multiple notifications on my phone from the airline, urging me to reschedule my “busy” flight. They were even offering future flight credit if I switched…

My Packed Flight Tampa to Charlotte

Reduced capacity flying during the pandemic?

I flew on American Airlines, which claimed to be reducing capacity by only filling 50% of the middle seats. This is interesting, because according to the airline’s app this flight had a waiting list. Once onboard I realized the plane was filled to 100% capacity. Luckily, I had managed to pre-reserve a window seat, which, according to doctors, is the safest seat on flights right now to protect yourself against COVID-19. I was appalled that the airline had no qualms about filling every seat on the plane at this time.

The on-board experience

Masks were required on the flight, and there was no beverage or food service. I’d had no warning from the airline that such services would not be available. I felt like cattle being shuttled from “point a” to “point b” on this flight – flight attendants were scarce and customer service was greatly reduced. I was flying to Charlotte because it is a hub for American Airlines, and would be transferring to another flight to Toronto there. Apparently a lot of other people were also catching transfer flights in Charlotte or flying there for other reasons.

Rainy Day in Charlotte from Plane

Transfer airport… very crowded…

It was a rainy day but I had a nice view of Charlotte from the plane. The airport was very crowded – so much so that even though I hate wearing a mask and they weren’t required, I was tempted to keep it on. Social distancing was very difficult. About a third of the people in the airport were wearing a mask. I was very uncomfortable with the crowds given the circumstances. I proceeded to the gate for Toronto and was presented a form to fill out for Canadian customs and asked about my reason for travel by the staff. This was due to the border closure. After another passenger argued with airline staff about why he was an “essential traveler” and they warned him he may be sent back at the Canadian border, I was cleared and good to board since my husband is a Canadian citizen.

Busy Charlotte Airport

Second flight… more breathing room…

The flight to Toronto was less full – at my guess about 75% full. I felt a lot more comfortable. It was enough to have to worry about the more stringent customs I would be facing at the Canadian border. I also had to worry about being crammed into a tightly packed plane in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic?! Again, masks were required on the flight and no beverage or food service was offered. I had purchased some over-priced snacks at the airport. While I had some appetite, the excuse to take the mask off for a few minutes and catch my breath on the plane was the more pressing reason for this shopping stop.

Toronto airport and customs

Masks were required everywhere at the Toronto airport. I was not used to such an involved customs and immigration experience, and I cross the border regularly. I had to fill out a declaration form at a kiosk, as usual. Then I was given quarantine information by two agents, and had to present evidence of my reasons for coming to Canada and quarantine plan to two more agents. Usually I only need to talk to one agent, and don’t need documentary evidence other than my passport.

If the flight wasn’t fun enough… quarantine!

Canada requires a 14 day quarantine for anyone, citizens or not, coming into the country. I didn’t view this as a big deal considering Canada had barely entered Phase 2 of coming out of lockdown restrictions, and there weren’t many places to go anyway. More importantly, I was just happy to be reuniting with my husband. It was a hectic day, and I’d set my cellphone down at one of the kiosks… I have never been happier to have the “locate my phone” app. Thanks to the app, border agents were able and willing to help me locate my phone after my initial panic. I’m very grateful for their consideration and help in that situation. I rarely misplace my phone… but I’m not surprised it happened this time given all of the stress and distractions!

Flying during a pandemic… and surviving!

Happily, I made it into Canada and have survived the two weeks of my quarantine, and miraculously I seem to have not gotten sick on the plane – or in the airport. Still – airlines need to be held more accountable for the safety of passengers during this health crisis. The complete disregard of passenger health was truly appalling. Would you fly right now? How do you feel about how the airlines are handling capacity during the pandemic? Please leave your comments!

Want tips on getting a great airline seat? I had an earlier post on the topic here:

Landing a Great Airline Seat for Takeoff! How to Get the Best Seats for your Flight

Please visit my YouTube channel for ALL travel, ALL the time!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures on YouTube!

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