Traveling During a Pandemic, Part 2

 - November 3, 2020, 2:53 PM
photo out of airplane window
Photo: Matt Thurber

Note: Part 1 of this blog covers the trip to France and can be read here

So here I was in Paris, in the middle of a suddenly imposed coronavirus lockdown on the entire country of France. Although I had planned to spend two extra days in France, it didn’t make sense to be stuck in a hotel room the entire time, so I rescheduled my flight back to the U.S. a day earlier, which ended up costing an extra $530.

After returning home, I called Delta Air Lines to ask why the day-earlier fare cost so much, and it turns out that if I had called on the phone instead of using the Delta app, the agent might have been able to lower the cost due to the lockdown.

The lockdown closed all restaurants except for takeout food, so it was room service for dinner in the hotel. On the morning of departure, I took a taxi to Charles de Gaulle Airport instead of how I would normally travel—via subway and train. There was very little traffic, being a Saturday and during a lockdown, although traffic had been heavy the days before because people were trying to leave Paris before everything closed.

At the airport, it was surprisingly busy. Other than everyone wearing masks, it was a normal experience, but there were no lines at immigration and security. No one asked for any paperwork or any questions related to the virus.

The Delta flight to Atlanta was actually somewhat pleasant. Again, the sole difference was the mask requirement, but with a 40 to 50 percent passenger load, we all had plenty of room to spread out. I had a two-seat row to myself, with no one in front of or behind me. The flight attendants were accommodating, flexible, and friendly.

Arriving at Atlanta, it was the usual drill: get off the airplane, find a Global Entry kiosk, go through security, find the gate, get some lunch. Once again, not a single question was asked about where I had been, whether I had received a recent Covid-19 test, or if I had any symptoms.

The only real anomaly on the return trip was seeing a group of four people without masks at the gate for my flight to Portland, Oregon. They sat for two hours without masking up, all the while a PA announcement kept reminding us that mask-wearing was mandatory. Apparently, no one has taken responsibility for enforcing the requirement because nothing happened the entire time. It’s kind of like the “don’t leave your baggage alone” announcements. No one pays attention, and when people do leave their baggage to go to the bathroom or get some food, there is no roving band of security people to do anything, unless someone says something. And even if a passenger wants to point out the issue, there is no official who wants to take responsibility for the lone-baggage security issue. The same is true of mask-wearing issues, and given the divisiveness occurring today, it’s likely that no one wants to wade into that hot mess anyway.

The Atlanta to Portland leg was equally sparsely populated, with plenty of open seats.

All in all, the trip to France was anti-climatic. I expected far more scrutiny regarding the coronavirus as well as logistical challenges, but it turned out to be relatively easy.

I am, however, taking precautions after returning home. I showered as soon as I arrived and avoided welcome-home hugs with my wife, and I’m sleeping in a separate room. I went for yet another Covid-19 test the day after I arrived, which was negative. The physician’s assistant at the excellent Legacy GoHealth urgent care facility pointed out that after exposure to the virus, it takes five to 10 days for the viral load to build to detectable levels. So that test was good for any exposures while I was in France, but I would have to wait a few more days to test for possible exposure during the return flight.

Overall, I feel like the trip was worthwhile and that if companies that need to travel want to return to doing business, then people are going to have to be willing to get out of their homes. Notwithstanding lockdowns that prevent people from traveling, it seems like the time has come where we need to seriously consider saying “yes” to an opportunity to travel that will benefit the business. During the pandemic, it’s easy to say “no” to everything that could risk exposure to the virus, but it seems that with reasonable precautions and care, we might be able to get out there more.