Seriously, the United States Government needs to tell 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, 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.
Getting on a plane during the Coronavirus pandemic 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, given the fact that 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 after Prime Minister Trudeau’s exemption for spouses and children to the border closure. My first choice would have been a road trip, but, alas, my car was stranded in Canada, making that an impossibility. I considered taking the train, but Amtrak is not currently crossing the border, so my only option to get across would have been to take the train to Buffalo and walk 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.
When I first arrived at the airport in Tampa security was a breeze. No waiting in line, although, 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. 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 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, and 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. Masks were required on the flight, and there was no beverage or food service. 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.
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 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. I was cleared and good to board.
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. Again, masks were required on the flight and no beverage or food service. I had purchased some over-priced snacks at the airport.
Masks were required everywhere at the Toronto airport. Customs and immigration in Canada was definitely more involved than I’m used to. 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. Canada requires a 14 day quarantine for anyone, citizens or not, coming into the country. No big deal considering Canada’s barely entered Phase 2 of coming out of lockdown restrictions and there’s not many places to go anyway.
Happily, I made it into Canada and have survived one out of 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!