Number ONE for Takeoff

Photo by Blake Guidry on Unsplash

After 10 weeks of social distancing, suspended travel, and creating a new normal, I cautiously boarded my first flight on May 11th and this is what I experienced…

Airport Experience

Arriving at the SLC airport looked exactly like you would expect at 2:00 AM, except it was 5:00 PM.

Masks were as common as roller boards, but not always worn to be effective. Some travelers wore PPE as if their life depended on it, while others believed wearing their mask like a chin strap was the best use. I witnessed one individual quickly slide the mask off the recommended area to facilitate a sneeze…which would cause the average flier to rethink the six foot CDC social distancing guidance.

All security lanes were open; General, TSA PreCheck, and CLEAR. TSA has modified restrictions on liquids to accommodate small bottles of hand sanitizers.

Gate Experience

No change to gate area seating. Social distancing was ‘optional’, but it appeared most folks avoided sitting next to anyone.

Delta Airlines has modified the boarding procedures, now starting with the rear of the aircraft seats. This also means, First Class is last to board.

Delta Airlines Onboard Experience

  1. As usual, a Delta Flight Attendant was positioned in the forward galley to welcome passengers. However, you are now provided a single use anti-bacterial napkin.
  2. Announcements have been modified with enhanced gratitude, and safety messaging.
  3. The cabin crew standards were inconsistent, perhaps because guidelines may only require masks during particular activities. When they were wearing masks, they were the basic disposable variety.
  4. Delta provided a modified cabin service experience. Once airborne, passengers issued a ‘grab bag’. Inside each bag was a bottle of water, cookies, pretzels, and another anti-bacterial napkin.
  5. On our Airbus A319, most middle seat were empty.
  6. We push back, and taxi to an empty runway.
  7. “Folks we’re number one for takeoff. Flight Attendants, please take your seats”

On May 14th, I boarded a transcontinental Southwest Airlines flight.

Southwest Airlines Onboard Experience

  1. Boarding in small batches, to avoid crowding. Traditional line up by number gates has been suspended. “stay seated until we call you number”
  2. Flight Attendant greet each traveler and confirmed they were wearing appropriate face covering.
  3. No specific seating guidance provided, but most passengers found their way to an empty row. (Unless SWA limits capacity, I’m curious how SWA will handle more full flights.)
  4. SWA has suspended cabin service. (Not even a basic water service).
  5. My SWA flights flew at about 20% capacity.
  6. We push back, and taxi to an empty runway.
  7. “we’ve been cleared for takeoff…please double check those seatbelts”

On May 20th, I boarded my first United Airlines flight

United Airlines Onboard Experience

Since I’m a top-tier frequent flyer on United, my experience may admittedly have bias.

1. As usual, a United Flight Attendant was positioned in the forward galley to welcome passengers.

2. Announcements have been modified to with enhanced gratitude, and safety messaging.

3. It was difficult to understand if passenger were sitting next to each other by personal choice or airline mandate.

4. Prior to boarding each flight, my upgrade cleared at the gate. I was reassigned from Main Cabin to United First. The difference was, the gate agent provided me a choice between social distancing seat in coach or the at capacity United First seat.

5. Cabin service has been modified. In leu of a standard first class meal service, passengers are offered a snack box with unlimited beverage of choice.

6. Throughout the cabin, you will clearly notice procedural changes to avoid cross contamination.

General observations, hacks and recommendations…

  1. Rethink packing. I wore the equivalent of a fishing jacket to house the ‘new norm’ travel items. You will want easy access to your hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment, and your own snacks.
  2. Take a large trash bag (I used a laundry bag) to place travel clothes in immediately upon hotel arrival to avoid cross contamination via clothing.
  3. Know your surroundings. Assume everything is dirty. Assume every person has COVID-19.
  4. Pack your own snacks for the journey.
  5. Pack a refillable water bottle.
  6. It was extremely hard to find food available in any airport.
  7. Some airline club lounges are open, but not all. Delta Club was open at SLC. United Club at DEN.
  8. Pack large antibacterial hand wipes to better sterilize your travel environment…tray table, armrest, vents, any buttons or controls in your personal seating area.
  9. Passengers are required to wear mask each of the flights I took this week. I strongly suggest finding a mask that is a comfortable as it is protective. I took two onboard…the mask from luxury designer, Gia Rodriquez, was noticeably more comfortable for the entire journey. A mask deserves the same level of consideration as athletic support wear (trust me on this one). It need to fit right, allow movement, and not irritate your skin.

Fortunately, I had a matching number of take-off’s and landings…but will be a nervous wreck watching for any changes to my health over the next two weeks.

Wish me luck!

Feel free to reach out to me if I can help you better prepare for safer business travel…when Zoom isn’t an option.

Below are more images of my experience traveling…



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Earnest J. Morgan

Earnest J. Morgan

Construction & Built Environment Technologist, Husband, Advisor