Tag: airlines

Flying During the Coronavirus Pandemic…

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!:

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

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Airplanes awaiting takeoff at Reagan National Airport

Your seat assignment can make or break your flight every time, and the longer your flight the even more important it becomes to score the best seat possible. You may be wondering how to secure the best seats for your flight. I wanted to share some tips on recognizing a better seat, and to give some information on how some of the different major airlines work with regards to seat assignment, to help you in this quest! Nobody wants to get their travel experience off to a bad start before it even begins due to a loathsome seat assignment!

Consider pitch and width.

Pitch and width are the formulas that will help you determine which seats provide you with more space. Pitch refers to how far away the seats in front of you and behind you are, indicating legroom. Width indicates how much room you will have in the chair. This can differ from class to class, airline to airline, and airplane model to airplane model. It is also important to remember that some seats recline while others don’t.

Not all aircraft are created equal.

Different aircraft have different seat configurations. Visit seatguru.com to view detailed information about the seats on any plane. Enter the airline, date, and flight number and you will be advised on the pitch and width of each type of seat and the layout with which they are installed on the aircraft on a complete map showing where the exit and bulkhead seats are, how many seats are in each section of the cabin, and how many seats across there are in each row.

Not all airlines are created equal.

Airlines differ in a couple of ways when it comes to what kind of seat you can expect to get. The first involves which actual seat models the airline uses on their aircraft. For example, you can expect seats with 28 inches of pitch that do not recline on Spirit Airlines. The aforementioned resource, seatguru.com, can advise you on the seat pitch and width for each type of seat, and whether or not they recline, before you book the plane you are considering.

The second way the airlines differ is in their policy on how seats are assigned. My preference, and I contend it is the best way to assure yourself the best seat, is to book with airlines that allow you to reserve a specific seat at the time of booking at no additional cost. This has consistently been my experience on Delta and United, even when buying economy tickets. JetBlue also allows advance seat reservations. American, on the other hand, assigns the seats in economy coach; you do have the option when checking in (up to 24 hours in advance) to reserve a specific open seat, however, expect in most cases to be charged to do so. Southwest has a completely different policy – basically a free-for-all when you board. No coach seats are assigned and are first-come, first-served when boarding the plane. Your best bet if you fly Southwest is to check in 24 hours in advance (the earliest you’re allowed to!) so that you are assigned an early group number… and then hustle when that group number is called! Group numbers determine who boards the plane first, and those first to check in are placed in the early groups. NOTE: early check-in, with any airline, is always a good idea since the airline may begin giving upgrades to certain members of their loyalty program – making fewer good seats available to everyone else… at this time. It’s another good reason to reserve a specific seat at booking if you can!

Of course if you are flying first class, business class, or as a high-level member of an airline’s loyalty program you will receive priority. These guidelines apply to coach travelers, and, in particular, economy coach travelers.

Book a premium seat.

Some airlines, like JetBlue and United, offer seats with greater leg or chair room for a greater cost (JetBlue’s “Even More Space” seats and, for United, “Economy Plus Seating”). Different airlines will refer to these seats by different names; keep an eye out for a reference to greater seating space, particularly if you notice certain seats that come at a higher price point. And for even greater comfort, you can consider business and first class seats, where there are always fewer seats per row, much more legroom, and far wider chairs. Of course, you can expect these to come at an even higher price point. If you need even more space, some airlines will also allow you to book more than one adjoining seat.

Arrive on time.

You don’t want to go to the trouble (and/or expense!) to reserve a specific seat just to see it given away to a standby passenger because you arrived late for boarding! Try to arrive a half hour before your flight is scheduled to leave, when the boarding process usually begins… or as close to that time as possible.

Consider placement of seats on the plane.

Of course window and aisle seats are more popular unless you are traveling with a companion you want to sit beside in a middle seat. But there are other considerations. Seats near the wings are notoriously less turbulent than those further away from the wings, if that is important to you. If you have a connecting flight, choosing one closer to the front of the plane, so you can disembark more quickly, could prove extremely helpful.

“Bulkhead” seats or seats in the first row of the section, with no seats directly in front of them, can offer greater legroom but no personal item storage (expect to place it in the overhead bin). This may be an advantage or disadvantage to you depending on your priorities. And exit row seats have more legroom, but children are not eligible to sit in these rows, and you will need to adhere to the responsibilities of the exit row passengers as outlined by your flight attendant during safety instruction. Also, the exit rows may have a greater shortage of room in the overhead bin due to the storage of safety equipment.

Confirm your seat assignment before check-in.

If you made a seat reservation ahead of time, double check to make sure your assignment hasn’t been changed. In some cases the airplane scheduled for your flight may be changed to a different aircraft, causing seat reservations to be re-assigned unexpectedly.

Other considerations.

Consider congestion factors on the aircraft, such as the seats near the lavatories potentially being high-traffic zones. Also consider that seats closer to the door may be cooler if the weather outside is cold. And if you want to be served earlier during food and beverage service, flight attendants often (but not always!) start in the front and work their way back, especially on smaller planes (on larger planes more attendants may be serving and start from both front and back.)

If you want easier access to the restrooms you may want to go for the aisle – and, conversely, if you want to avoid having to get up and move for others in your row getting up, then the window may be better.

If you need access to your carry-on in the overhead bin during the flight, the aisle will be most convenient. The wall of the window seat can serve as a makeshift headrest, but the aisle seat can give you more opportunities to stretch out when people aren’t using the aisle. Finally, you can expect the back row of seats won’t recline, but you won’t have to worry about unruly passengers kicking your seat!

What about the “dreaded” middle seat?

Often the least coveted seat, the middle, does have a couple of advantages too! These include better access to the personal light and environmental controls, and often easier access to an outlet. It also will be easier to snag a middle seat in the front of the plane or an exit row if that’s where you want to be for other reasons. And if you’re a social butterfly, you’ve got the potential to make two new friends (or, on the flip side, enemies!)

If all else fails, ask again at the gate.

If you couldn’t get the kind of seat you wanted, assuming seats are assigned on your airline, try asking again at the gate. Loyalty program members may have been upgraded and their original seat assignments abandoned. This can translate into new, great seats becoming available at the last minute. Note that some airlines may refuse to accommodate this request if you are flying with an economy fare ticket.

I hope these tips will help you get the best airplane seat possible for your next flight! There are a lot of different factors to consider!