Traveling for the Holidays? Here’s My Experience Flying in 2020

posted on November 17, 2020 | by Heather Bien

Traveling for the Holidays? Here’s My Experience Flying in 2020

Most of us are probably a little bit uneasy about flying in 2020…and likely into 2021, vaccine pending. The thought of being packed into a metal tube 37,000 feet above the ground with a number of strangers for hours on end sounds like a nightmare for many who are trying to keep their distance on the ground on a daily basis.

So what happens if you find yourself in a situation where you need to or are choosing to fly? We, of course, believe everyone should take all precautions necessary given the pandemic and limit leisure travel, however, we know situations will arise where you may need to book a flight –– and, to help you assess how you can best prepare, we’re sharing our experience taking to the skies in 2020.

Is it Safe to Fly Right Now? Here’s What the CDC Says

First, let’s kick this off with wise words from the experts. The Center for Disease Control advises that travel does increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19, so it should be no surprise that they advise the best and only sure way to protect yourself is to stay home. 

They recommend common sense precautions: do not travel if you are sick. Do not travel if you have been exposed to someone who is sick. And wear a mask. However, when it comes to air-travel specific recommendations, they advise the following: 

“Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.

Also consider how you get to and from the airport, as public transportation and ridesharing can increase your chances of being exposed to the virus.”

So, as someone who may find yourself flying in 2020, how should you interpret those recommendations? Stick with what you feel comfortable with. Know that you can feel good about the precautions that airlines and airports are putting into place but, at the end of the day, you’re still putting yourself in a position where you may be seated close to others for an extended period of time.

From Someone Who’s Been There, Here’s What to Expect Flying in 2020

Now, let’s talk about what it’s really like from someone who’s been there.

I’ve flown twice during the pandemic, once in August and once in September. My August flight was on Southwest, which isn’t filling middle seats, and was perhaps the best introduction I could have had back to flying in a pandemic world. We arrived at the airport wearing our masks and spotted a display of medical masks for sale –– including KN95 masks, which offer close to the same protection level as N95 masks. Snagging one of those might have been the best $4.95 investment I’ve ever made, if only for my peace of mind. I doubled up the KN95 with my fabric mask and sat at the gate, counting those around me, trying to gauge how many other passengers might be on the plane. 

I have A List boarding so I was one of the first to board and I grabbed a seat towards the back, feeling fairly confident we had a light flight ahead of us. Sure enough, there were fewer than 40 passengers on our plane –– so few that the flight attendants had to move passengers to account for weights and balances, something that I’ve never seen done on a 737. 

Once we were in the air, the flight attendants came around only once to deliver water and a snack. No choice of soda or juice, it’s a super straightforward and quick beverage process. We were so far from other passengers that I felt fine taking off my mask for a quick drink and bite but all passengers are required to keep their masks on otherwise. When we arrived in Austin, Texas, the airport was a ghost town. I’ve never seen it so deserted. But, hey, that’s exactly what I wanted to see for my own personal safety.

My September flight was on Frontier…and that was a different story. While I do appreciate that they are the only airline taking temperatures as passengers board, I felt immediately anxious when I saw that the flight was completely full. Passengers were required, as they are on all airlines, to keep their masks on throughout the flight, except when eating, and there is no complimentary beverage or snack service. However, my seatmate sat down and promptly started a full meal that she’d brought on board.

Rationally, I knew that keeping my KN95 on throughout the entire flight should protect me from others, whereas a fabric mask does more to protect others from you, but that didn’t do much for the uneasiness of being packed in with 200 strangers during a pandemic while the woman next to me noshed on a burger and fries.

On both flights, I found that most people were respectful of social distancing, being careful to keep 6 feet apart when boarding and on the jet bridge. However, expect that people will stand up and crowd the aisles once you’ve landed and are waiting to deplane. 

What I Would Recommend if You Have a Flight Planned In 2020 or 2021

If you do have to fly during the pandemic, remember to look at the updated CDC policies as they are subject to change at any time. As we look towards a possible winter surge, it’s likely quarantine restrictions could be put into place in many regions.

Before you book your flight, you may want to consult the most updated information on precautions that are in place with each airline –– The Points Guy has a super easy-to-read roundup. Want the CliffsNotes here? Delta, Alaska, and Southwest are still not filling middle seats at this point. 

Additionally, I would recommend booking at an off hour and on a weekday if possible. Just like during normal times, you’ll have better luck finding a non-crowded flight if you’re flying on a Wednesday morning rather than a Friday afternoon. If you’re super flexible, wait as long as you can to book and check out what the seat map looks like to assess how many people could be on your flight. 

Don’t forget your masks –– medical-grade, if possible –– and bring hand sanitizer and wipes to have on hand for high-touch surfaces. Lastly, this isn’t the time to spend a few hours leisurely drinking at the airport bar. I try to limit my time at the airport as much as possible, which is easy to do given that the security line is a fraction of what it typically is. 

And, remember, you don’t have to fly to go somewhere awesome, we have driveable weekend trip ideas no matter where you are across the country.