Many of you are probably weighing if and when to travel by plane, so I thought it’d be helpful to share my first experience which was just last week. Plus, at the end you’ll find a link to a guide to the “Best US Airlines of 2020: Who is Doing it Right in the COVID-19 Era”. For those of you on the fence about airplane travel, here’s an account of my experience with tips on how to be safe on an airplane.
What made me turn the corner about flying? Several friends who imposed a strict self quarantine while in Miami took their first “outing” with domestic flights and, several weeks later, are fine. I had read a lot about airline precautions and felt the major airlines had safety protocols under control, though admittedly some airlines are better than others (like Jet Blue and Delta have been keeping the middle seat open in economy for more social distancing).
So off we went to Philadelphia, our choice because of its exceptional art and history museums, fine restaurants, great place for walking, a short flight from Miami and much more. Plus, it was part of a nostalgia trip which I’ll explain in a post on the trip itself.
PRE-FLIGHT SAFETY MEASURES
First off, we ordered a face shield as an added protection, important for how to be safe on an airplane and in the airport itself. Some friends advised on using gloves, but we opted to just stock up on extra hand sanitizer which we were committed to use liberally. We booked seats on American Airlines in one of the first rows in economy, and planned to board last to avoid having people pass us on the way in. This way we could also be among the first to leave the plane. At the same time, we requested using credits for an upgrade which are obviously easier to get because of very little business travel. American Airlines sent us an email advising that our flight was full, and giving us an option to change. Since we had timed museum tickets, we opted to stick with our original flight (plus, the new choices involved one stop). It turned out we were upgraded both ways, especially good news.
THE AIRPORT EXPERIENCE
Our departure from MIA was Friday, traditionally a busy day for travel. At the airport there was probably 30% of the usual traffic which meshes with official statistics on airline passenger loads. Most of the food and beverage outlets were open, happily the Cuban coffee places, along with the American Airlines Admiral Club lounge. At the lounge strict safety protocols were in place with staff to guide at each step of the way, though it was practically empty. Importantly, everyone in the entire flying experience was wearing a mask, and a few had the face shields. At each gate American had a hand sanitizing station, a welcome addition.
WHAT HAPPENS ON BOARD
Boarding was easy, though there was no social distancing while waiting to board, nor were passengers temperatures taken at any point in the journey (by TSA or the airline). Given that American Airlines has no social distancing in boarding, it’s best to wait as long as possible before boarding to avoid the crowds. On entering the plane passengers got a plastic bag with a small bottle of water and package of biscuits. Business class is offered beverages and a sandwich or meal inflight. Business and economy class were full. Note that procedures vary by airlines and airports. For instance, a friend who flew Jet Blue said they boarded the back rows first, five rows at a time. And then while boarding, passengers had to stay 6 feet apart.
SAFEST DAY TO TRAVEL AND CHEAPEST TOO
On our return flight from Philly to MIA mid-afternoon, our terminal had a lot fewer travelers, only about 5 going through security with us, and most of the eateries were open. Seating areas were marked for social distancing and the flight in economy was only half full. A lower load factor was owing to our traveling on Tuesday which is one of the best days to fly as it’s the slowest day of the week for travel (it also means airfares are usually lower). Business class was full, most likely with upgraded passengers. The flight landed 45 minutes early since the weather was good and there was no problem in having a gate for our plane. We landed at a gate in front of the baggage claim exit and got our luggage 10 minutes later. Hands down it was the smoothest operation at MIA I’ve ever had.
Bottom line, we were pleased with our first flight experience and are already planning our next!
GUIDE TO THE BEST AIRLINES NOW
For a guide to different airlines and their safety protocols for how to be safe on an airplane, check out what excellent frequent flyer site The Points Guy has to say, Best US Airlines of 2020: Who is Doing it Right in the COVID-19 Era. (dated July 27, 2020)
Hope this is of help and stay tuned for a report on Philadelphia.