Disclaimer: This is in no way meant to be political, so keep your thoughts about what should and shouldn’t be regulated to yourself. I, like many others, have been curious about what a “new normal” might look like.

I wanted to take this opportunity to share my learnings.

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The airport was slow as I passed through security for my 5:00am flight leaving Texas—the current COVID epicenter in the United States, tracking over 6,200 cases in one day just last week. After logging 100+ airline segments last year, I consider myself a frequent flyer and so does American Airlines. Like many other road warriors, I have been anxiously anticipating my return to the sky. 

I didn’t know what to expect and have heard from my teammates regarding what their experiences have been like over the last couple weeks. However, it was my time to experience this for myself.

Our current deployment required me to drive our company-owned pickup truck from Charlotte to Dallas so that a rotating team from the ISM Operations department could use it while we are deploying our Sun Media network throughout the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. My 17-hour drive was fairly stress-free as I listened to audio books and podcasts for most of the trip before partaking in an epic Yacht Rock-inspired karaoke session after one podcast host admitted that was his guilty pleasure. I subsequently went down a rabbit hole of 80’s spanning TOTO and Michael McDonald.

My week in Dallas was uneventful as I worked alongside a single teammate and had very little interaction with the outside world.  But since we were leaving the truck in Dallas, I had my first opportunity to get back on a plane.

The check-in process was painless and encouraging, as most people were abiding by social distancing protocols. The security screening process was conducted efficiently and judiciously (at the same time, I was surprised that I didn’t see a single hand sanitation station as I gathered my belongings off the X-ray belt).

I also found it encouraging that almost everyone walking through the airport were wearing masks. It was even more surprising that many of them were also wearing those masks correctly (my latest pet peeve is people who can’t figure out how to operate a mask). 

With the addition of masks and social distancing signage, everything looked  normal and felt safe—until the boarding process where the wheels came off the bus. In a pre-COVID world, everyone would lose their mind when the gate agent announced that flight boarding was about to begin. Evidently,  we haven’t found a cure for that either. Travelers immediately surrounded the boarding area with complete disregard for any social distancing standards. People continued to stack on top of each other inside the jetway and onto the plane as they walked down the center aisle aimlessly looking for their seats.

The American flight attendant in the front of the plane checked for the mandatory face covering as they asked guests if they “cared for a bag”  (I’m not sure that’s the most hospitable way to ask customers if they would like a complimentary refreshment care package since inflight service wouldn’t be available, but I suppose that’s why I am not in charge of the Guest Experience department). 

My flight was oversold and every seat on the plane was occupied including the middle seats. This was the biggest surprise to me as I, like many, assumed that airlines would  eliminate middle seats to keep their passengers safe and socially distant. 

All in all, however, my three-hour flight was pleasantly uneventful as American did what they do best and got me to my destination in one piece. I felt uneasy throughout much of the flight and persisted in feeling that way upon arrival as I made my way through a packed Charlotte airport to baggage claim. 

Since many in my community travel for a living, here are 5 simple tips that will help you prepare for your first flight:

  1. Purchase a high-quality, form-fitting mask. People were way too close for my comfort.
  2. Board last to alleviate having people stand 4” from your aisle seat as they cough above you on their way down the backed-up aisle. 
  3. Pay or pray for a first-class seat as that’s the only chance you have not to rub elbows with the passenger next to you.
  4. Be patient as everyone is stressed out and uptight. Have compassion for your fellow travelers as we are all in this together.
  5. Fire up the Yacht Rock playlist on Spotify and enjoy the ride.

See you in the air,

Michael

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