Stay Home and Stay Healthy, the Washington State’s COVID-19 emergency order, began a little over two months ago. But it seems like it was a completely different time—a time without Zoom and face masks, and when five feet did not seem like an unsafe intrusion on personal space. While it has been frustrating to build new routines and redefine our “normal,” the Stay Home and Stay Healthy order is working; it is keeping us, and our community, safe. Being a Public Health employee, and knowing the importance of Stay Home and Stay Healthy, made my decision to KEEP my Memorial Day travel plans incredibly tough.
Like many others, I booked airfare and solidified travel plans in early fall of 2019. And then COVID-19 happened. Unlike many others, my flight did not get canceled. It did get rescheduled several times, but never canceled.
Picture me singing Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash in my head. Because that is exactly what I did. “It would be wrong of me to go,” I thought to myself. “This trip isn’t technically essential…I could risk getting others sick.” I worried and I felt guilty. However, after weighing the pros and cons, and speaking with family and co-workers, I decided that going was the right decision for me.
I knew that my travel destination/plans were fairly low risk. I would be visiting two national parks, both of which had protocols in place to keep visitors safe during the pandemic. But getting to and from my destination—spending time in an airport and on an airplane—made me nervous.
My Experience in the Airport and Beyond:
I was pleasantly surprised! When I first arrived at the airport, it was empty…or almost empty. There were a couple of people but not many. It was very easy to maintain a six-foot distance from everyone. Also, almost immediately upon entering the airport, an announcement coming from the PA system stated that “masks are required.” I took a couple more steps and saw visual signs mirroring the same message. I looked around and sure enough, most people were wearing masks. I let out a sigh of relief and kept walking.
I walked up to one of the Alaska Airlines kiosks with the intention of printing my boarding pass. It was closed, and so were the surrounding kiosks. Experiencing some confusion, I asked for assistance and was directed to a specific section of kiosks that were open and being wiped down between users. After I printed my boarding pass, I walked straight through security. Literally, there was no line. A TSA agent did confirm my identity and in doing so, I had to remove my mask. Given that there was no one around me and my mask was off for less than five seconds, I felt safe.
While sitting at the gate, an Alaska Airlines agent announced that masks are required on all Alaska flights. This message was reaffirmed by the flight attendants and we were asked to keep our masks on during the entire flight unless eating or drinking. Bottled water and a snack mix were distributed. However, no beverage or snack cart services occurred. To help with social distancing, all passengers were given an entire row to themselves unless traveling with a family member. Therefore, I stretched out, watched some Netflix and before I knew it, arrived at my destination. My experience flying back to Seattle was nearly identical.
Tips or Things to Think About when Flying/Traveling during COVID-19
- Plan Ahead.
While airports may have implemented strict protocol for keeping passengers safe during COVID-19, not all states have. Some states are still “open” which means people may not be taking the same safety precautions you are used to. Research your destination and the state’s current COVID-19 plan/order. The CDC provides a list of questions to reflect on, that may help you decide if traveling is the right choice for you and your family.
If you decide to travel, protect yourself and others during your trip. Use your best judgement—social distance (keep six feet of physical distance from other), wear a mask, practice hand hygiene and cleanliness, even when others are not!
- Be Flexible.
Airlines are doing their best to keep everyone safe during this difficult time. This may result in flights being canceled or changed. So, it is extremely important to be flexible, check your email and flight reservation regularly. My flight departure time changed three times and reduced the length of my trip by seven hours.
Depending on the airline and your desire, you may be able to cancel your flight and be refunded, given a voucher or simply change your day/time of flight without paying any additional fees. However, this is not guaranteed.
- Come Prepared.
Airports and airlines have implemented protocol for keeping passengers safe during COVID-19. But this does not mean that your risk of exposure is zero. Come prepared and stay safe with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, a water bottle and snacks.
- Wearing a mask was required in the airport and during my flight. Bring a mask/face covering! If you do not have a mask, come prepared to ask for one once you arrive at the airport.
- Airport bathrooms are often spread out and hand washing stations are not always close by. Try not to touch your face. But if you are like me, and not touching your face is nearly impossible, make sure you have hand sanitizer and use it frequently! You may also find yourself sitting in a seat, or touching surfaces that have not been recently cleaned. Along with hand sanitizing, bringing and using disinfectant wipes may be beneficial.
- Do not assume that all stores and restaurants within the airport will be open. From my observation, about 50% of them were closed. Also, the airline you are flying with may not providing in-flight beverage and snack services. So, fill up your water bottle after going through security, and bring snacks if you think you’ll be hungry.
Find more advice and Travel FAQ’s here
If you feel sick prior to traveling, stay home. From my observation, airlines are being more accommodating than normal regarding cancelations, refunds, vouchers, and flight changes.
If you feel sick during or after traveling, self-isolate and get tested. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, please consult your primary care physician for advice on next steps.