The last time I was on a plane was our flight home from New York, on February 18th. A lot of things have changed since then. I had one friend who flew in late March and said her plane was pretty full. I had another friend who flew in early April and her plane had maybe a dozen people on it. Over time I’ve read about the continuation of gate lice that eventually gave way to stay in place until your row was called. I read about having to wear a mask, not getting food or beverages, and middle seats that were used, then not used, then charged for, then not, all while IATA doesn’t recommend not using them.
But I hadn’t heard anyone say what it was like to fly nowadays. Until now.
It’s one thing to read about the “new normal” of what flight is going to be. The increased prices we’ll have to pay if middle seats won’t be used. Delta’s new boarding process. Having to wear a mask for the whole flight. It’s another to experience it, and most of us, so far, hasn’t.
But McKay Coppins, a staff writer at The Atlantic, just did. And his latest piece is all about the experience. Not so much about what we’ve read to expect as passengers, but about the contact with our fellow passengers.
I really enjoyed the piece, even though it was more disturbing than I anticipated (even with the admittedly clickbaity title).
I mean, he mentioned the touch screens at check-in. True, touch screens have always been one of the most germ-laden things (along with these) at airports. And you could always use this trick to cut down on the risk of cooties. But now you look at them, and all the people who have touched them and the perception of danger has gone up several notches.
Even how many people were on his plane. I mean, I get it; if planes aren’t as full as possible, the airlines will lose even more money on top of however much money they’ve already lost. But when you start thinking of each other passenger as a potential person to give you the virus, it’s, well, disturbing. Of course, his seatmate was the epitome of the Freudian id; the animalistic “I’m trying to survive (so don’t sit next to me).” It sounded like the tenseness Joe and I experienced on our first flight, to NYC, after 9/11.
The things we miss most about our pre-pandemic lives—dine-in restaurants and recreational travel, karaoke nights and baseball games—require more than government permission to be enjoyed. These activities are predicated not only on close human contact but mutual affection and good-natured patience, on our ability to put up with one another. Governors can lift restrictions and companies can implement public-health protocols. But until we stop reflexively seeing people as viral threats, those old small pleasures we crave are likely to remain elusive.
He’s 100% on point, and it’s very true for traveling. Unless you’re in a private plane, you’re going to be flying with a whole lot of people who, in the past, were on a curve between delightful and hateful. Now virtually everyone is a potential threat. Who has it? Who doesn’t? Is the person next to you positive and asymptomatic? And heaven forbid anyone coughs.
Traveling had its good points and a whole lot of crappy points. Until we have a better handle on this, in the form of antiviral treatment and/or a vaccine, I suspect a good percentage of us are going to think of our fellow (wo)man as a threat for illness. And as social species, I think that’s a shame.
Just throw it onto the huge pile of reasons why I hope modern medicine comes through for all of us more sooner than later.
*** Feature photo (cropped): David Woo/flickr
#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary