Culture / Travel

The Unexpected Problems of Flying During Coronavirus — Crowded Airport Trains and Rental Car Buses Negate Social Distancing Precautions

Lessons From a Carefully Planned Trip That Required Adjustments

BY // 07.23.20

From the start, it was a bold move on our part to fly commercial this summer at a time when fear of contracting COVID-19 has crushed air travel by as much as 90 percent. The smart people were staying at home or taking driving vacations. I, on the other hand, felt I could outsmart the challenges inherent in air travel in the summer of 2020.

My husband and I had considered making the 18-hour drive from Houston to Colorado Springs as we had occasionally done in the past. So I bought pillows, sheets and pillowcases and ordered two of those portable UVC sterilizers to make our overnight on the road as safe as possible.

But the more we (we are well past our we-can-drive-anywhere 30s or 40s) thought about it, the more dismal it sounded. So, I called United Airlines.

Typically, we would fly nonstop to Colorado Springs on one of those little jets operated by some minor league carrier. That small plane with little separation between first class and coach, I thought. No. Bigger is better and snagging the first row of seats in first class on a big jet would be the ticket — to Denver where we would rent a car and make the 90-minute drive down.

Off we went. There were no glitches at IAH. There were no crowds. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed though enough remained open for us to grab a breakfast sandwich before boarding. (Note that some of the eateries are taking only cash at this point.) Everyone wore a mask.

IAH kiosk closed, pandemic
Throughout IAH, the free-standing kiosks are closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)

We were prepared with mini-bottles of hand sanitizer and plenty Clorox wipes, which we used to wipe down our seats, arm rests and tray tabes. We wore not only our KN95 masks but also face shields. Rubber gloves were at the ready. Reassuringly, the plane smelled lightly of disinfectant. As promised, first class boarded last and exited the plane first with little chance of breathing in the face of the 100 or so other passengers.

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  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)
  • Christopher Martin Gallery 1 - DALLAS (ROOMS)

But when we landed in Denver International Airport, we realized that I had made a big mistake. From your arrival gate, you have to board a subway train to get to baggage claim. The train was packed with travelers breathing down each other’s throat. Two stops later we arrived at our claim area. Easy breezy. Few people there.

With bags in tow, we realized that we then had to take a bus to the rental car station. The bus was packed to standing room only once again with travelers, their masks notwithstanding, breathing into each other’s faces.

By then, my husband, usually a very good sport, was no longer speaking to me. Except to bark, “I’ve encountered more people on this trip than I ever would have if we had flown nonstop to Colorado Springs (COS).”

Ugh.

My first task, after checking in at Garden of the Gods Resort for this week of working remote and playing golf, was changing our flights to depart COS, changing the rental car delivery and changing our airport pick up back in Houston. All with only a $300 change in fee status on United (it costs more to fly to COS first class than to Denver) and an $11 delivery change charge on the car rental.

Lesson learned: When contemplating flying commercial in the time of COVID-19, study airport logistics as well as the airline considerations.

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